The Tams-Witmark Collection

URLs to browse or search the collections

The 19th & early 20th century American musical theater offered an amazing variety of entertainment. Grand opera, operetta, vaudeville, revues, burlesque shows, minstrel shows and musical comedy were all performed in every city and town across the United States. The Tams-Witmark/Wisconsin Collection has 1,600 of these shows, of all types, in 37,000 physical items:

  • promptbooks
  • piano-vocal scores
  • orchestral parts
  • full scores
  • stage mangers’ guides
  • libretti and dialogue parts
  • production material, such as scenery, lighting, costume plots

Professional and amateur groups used this material to put on their shows. Cuts, stage directions, English translations, added songs, or other changes were routinely made to customize performances. These can be seen in the numerous annotations to the published and manuscript materials, and in the multiple editions of piano-vocal scores and scripts, including those made for specific traveling companies, such as the Seguin Opera Troupe and the Emma Abbott Opera Company.

Access to the Tams-Witmark/Wisconsin Collection

To see the complete list of shows and materials in the Collection, search the Library Catalog or WorldCat. To view material in the Mills Music Library, to inquire about digitization or print copies, and for further details on the Collection, please contact Askmusic.

History of Tams-Witmark

In 1885, Arthur W. Tams (1848-1927), at the time stage manager for the Casino Theater, founded his Music Library. By 1923, it was hailed as the largest circulating music library in the world. Tams built his library through the purchase of materials from opera troupes, such as the famous Conreid Opera Company and Seguin Opera Troupe, and from individuals, such as George Henschel, the owner of an important orchestral library.

In 1886, the Witmark and Sons publishing house was established in New York City. Under the management of Isidore Witmark (1869-1941), who fostered and encouraged a number of successful stage writers, the company grew to be a major publishing company. In 1898, the Witmark firm diversified, offering “Constantly on hand, for sale and to hire, the largest collection of Vocal Concert Numbers and Excerpts in America.” Among the luminaries represented by Witmark were Victor Herbert, Reginald De Koven, Harry T. Burleigh, George M. Cohan and Sigmond Romberg.

For thirty years, there was an intense rivalry between Tams and Witmark. The two founders were not on speaking terms and often involved in legal battles over properties. Through the efforts of Sargent Aborn, a popular producer who was managing the Tams Library, a consolidation was proposed. The two libraries merged in 1925, becoming the largest supplier of music and production materials for staged performance in the United States.

Additional Tams-Witmark Collections

In the 1960s, the Tams-Witmark firm generously donated much of its old inventory to libraries in the United States. The material was divided by type of music, with some overlap.

Eastman School of Music, Ensemble Library
Orchestrations of vocal excerpts from operas and sacred music
Contact the Ensemble Library

Library of Congress, Music Division
19th-century operas and operettas
Finding Aid available

Rider University’s Westminster Choir College, Talbott Library
Cantatas and oratorios
Holdings in Library Catalog

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mills Music Library
19th and early 20th century musical theater
Holdings in Library catalog and WorldCat.

Tams-Witmark continues its distinguished role in American musical theater, as a Concord Theatricals Company. To license performances of current musicals and shows, please visit