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

The digital Tams-Witmark/Wisconsin Collection has just begun! Sample pages of promptbooks, directors’ scores, set designs, scripts and dialog parts may be viewed by clicking the browse link above. Kerker’s Belle of New York is the first show to have all pages of every component digitized: orchestra parts, dialogue parts, vocal scores, vocal parts, chorus parts and promptbooks. More shows are in the scanning queue.

To see the complete listing of everything in the Collection, see the Library Catalog. WorldCat also includes all the collection information. Google searches sometimes work, but not always, so please double check with us.

To use 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 such well-known production libraries as the famous Conreid Library, by which means he obtained sole control of all German and English royalty operas that had been played by the Conreid and McCaull Opera Companies. He was the sole purchaser of the entire library of George Henschel, one of the most important orchestral libraries owned by an individual. Tams was also chorus master of the famed Clara Louise Kellogg Opera Company, which put him in contact with an important American operatic tradition.

In 1886, the M. Witmark and Sons music publishing house was established, also in New York. Under the management of Isidore Witmark (1869-1941), who for much of his 50 years in the music business fostered and encouraged a number of successful stage writers, the company quickly grew to be one of the major popular publishing companies of the country. In 1898, the Witmark firm diversified, incorporating as a rental agency as well as publishing company and 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, Weber and Fields, Gustave Luders, Sigmond Romberg, and Julian Edwards.

For thirty years, there was an intense rivalry between Tams and Witmark. The two founders were not on speaking terms and were often involved in legal battles over properties. Through the efforts of Sargent Aborn, the popular producer who had taken over management of 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.

Other Tams-Witmark Collections

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

Eastman School of Music
Ensemble Library
Orchestrations of vocal excerpts from operas and sacred music
Web-accessible database in progress

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

Rider University’s Westminster Choir College
Talbott Library
Cantatas and oratorios

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

The Tams-Witmark firm remains “America’s premier musical theater licensing company!” To license performances of current musicals and shows, please visit the