Friday, November 26, 2010

First Edition of The Star Spangled Banner Estimated at $200,000-$300,000

by Stephen J. Gertz

One of only eleven extant copies of the first printed edition of the combined lyrics and music of The Star-Spangled Banner, the United States national anthem,  will be auctioned at Christies-New York on December  3, 2010. It is estimated to sell for between $200,000 - $300,000.

This, the original sheet music, is the only copy in private hands. It was found within an album of sheet music bound c. 1820. It was originally sold by Carr's Music Store in Baltimore via catalog.

During the War of 1812, inspired by a shipboard vigil on the night of September 13-14, 1814 when a British naval flotilla bombarded Fort McHenry for hours, prefatory to a planned full-scale assault, Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer and amateur poet, along with a colleague, had gone on board a British ship under a flag of truce to secure the release of an American held as a prisoner, physician  William Beanes.

To ensure that  military intelligence on the impending attack by the British would not be passed to the Americans, Key was also detained. With a sweeping view of the dramatic scene from the ship upon which he was held, Key anxiously watched as the British cannonade, incendiary bomb, and rocket salvos were fired onto the American fort.

During the shelling, the large United States stars and stripes flag waving from Fort McHenry's ramparts was clearly visible but when the bombardment ceased, the flag was obscured. Francis Scott Key's spirits sank;  had the fort surrendered?

Later edition.

At dawn, however, when the smoke from the bombardment had cleared, the flag was again visible; the fort had withstood the assault. Key's patriotism was stirred and his anxiety relieved by the sight of Old Glory.

 He wrote the first draft of the anthem on the back of a letter while still aboard ship. The final version, containing four eight-line stanzas, was completed in the next few days upon Key's return to Baltimore.

The music is not Key's. The melody of The Star-Spangled Banner is that of a popular British drinking tune, The Anacreontic Song, one already known, with varying lyrics, to Americans. And as difficult to sing then as now.

The Star-Spangled Banner was officially adopted for use by the U.S. Navy in 1889. On March 3, 1931 it was proclaimed the national anthem by a resolution of Congress.

On August 17, 1969 Jimi Hendrix performed an electric guitar screaming feedback rendition at Woodstock. Establishment critics went ballistic, their rockets aglare and eyes seeing red.

On July 25, 1990, comedienne Rosanne Barr had the bombs bursting in air with her explosively off-key and out of tune performance at the beginning of a baseball game. Afterward, President George H.W. Bush declared her vinnegar tone-deaf version ending with a crotch-grab flourish, "disgusting." You be the judge. I be stuffing my ears.

KEY, Francis Scott. The Star Spangled Banner. A Pariotic [sic] Song. Baltimore: Printed and Sold at Carr's Music Store, 36 Baltimore Street, n.d. [Sept. - Nov. 1814]. Quarto (13 x 9 1/2 in; 338 x 245 mm). Two pages printed from engraved plates.

Image courtesy of Christies.

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