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Mary Church Terrell Main Library
148 W College St. Oberlin, OH 44074-1545


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The Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History

About the Collection

Tan bookplate called Ex Libris with an illustration of instruments, Frederick Selch written below.
Various Frederick Selch instruments on display on a black table with info cards.
Books open on display on a table in a reading room with info cards.
Open book displaying illustration of instruments on left page and text with instrument on right.
Open book with left page illustration of musician playing a flute and right title page information.

The Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History contains items from the early 16th century through the late 20th century. It has as its focal point nearly 700 musical instruments and 6,000 books.

Among the instruments are several double basses and church bass viols made by the 19th-century American luthier Abraham Prescott. In addition to print materials that document amateur musical practices in America, such as 19th-century instruction manuals and tutors for playing instruments, the Collection contains rare books that are among the most influential writings in the history of musical thought. Two examples are: Heinrich Loritus’s (better known as Glareanus) treatise, Dodecachordon (Basel, 1547), a treatise in part that explores a system of ecclesiastical modes, and which in turn influenced such writers as Gioseffo Zarlino, whose Istitutioni Harmoniche (Venice, 1558) is also in the Collection.

The Collection contains a large number of visual materials, including paintings, prints, drawings, tintypes, slides, and paper photographs. Sheet music also has a prominent place in the Collection, with hundreds of scores and bound volumes. Included in the sheet music are over 75 bound volumes and 125 individual pieces from the Fanny Kemble-Pierce Butler-Owen Wister family collection. Finally, the Collection includes a variety of manuscript materials related personally to Selch or to his numerous musical research interests. These include correspondence, address books, and personal calendars, along with Selch’s dissertation research, exhibition plans, and his activities with the Federal Music Society and Ovation magazine.

Additional information on the Collection is available through an exhibit mounted at Oberlin in 2010 and a digital collection of highlights from the Collection’s Visual Materials series.

To request access to the Collection, contact Conservatory Library special collections staff