Here in the UK, Marks and Spencer has been part of the high street for well over a hundred years. Institutions have to change to survive though. Nowadays M&S is associated with food, clothing, home wares, and financial services. Back at the start of the twentieth century, the M&S Original Penny Bazaars (both market stalls and shops) sold haberdashery (small scale sewing requirements) and household items. So no food or clothing at all, and everything was a penny (1d).

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Another item the original shops sold was sheet music. I didn’t realise this at all, so it was quite a surprise to come across items in our collection with M&S as the publisher. The M&S archive has a fascinating page on their current plans for using the substantial holdings of music represented in the company archive. This comment from the article shows music was an integral part of the offer at the start of the twentieth century.

Sheet music was a bestselling product at Marks & Spencer during the 1910s and 1920s, at a time when gathering round the piano was a popular form of entertainment for families; many stores would also have a pianist on the shop floor. The M&S Company Archive now holds a significant collection of sheet music including music for dancing, romantic songs, storytelling songs and folk music.

A clock marking the centenary of where M&S started in Leeds. (Photo via Geograph Project CCA2.0 licence)

We only have a few examples hiding in our song / popular piano music sheet collections. ‘Hiding’ being the operative word as our collection is very largely uncatalogued. Still, here’s a couple I found.

Marks & Spencer’s Dance Album no. 3 (publ. ca. 1910)

Marks and Spencer Dance Album
The well-used, battered cover

For something which presumably cost a penny, it’s not surprising the cover looks basic. More sophisticated offerings from music publishers sold for six pence each. I wonder if they saw the heavily-branded M&S sheet music as competition. It obviously sold well as this copy is badged as being the ’14th series’. Domestic music making formed the target market (as noted earlier), but ‘Home circle’ makes the point. A piano was at the centre of a family’s entertainment – if they could afford one, of course.

For a penny, the purchaser got three waltzes, a couple of polkas, a march, and a Schottische, all ‘easily arranged for the pianoforte’. If like me, you’re not sure of a Schottische, it’s a partnered dance which originated in Bohemia and was a craze at late C19 dances.

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The back cover, as you might expect, offered ample opportunities for M&S to advertise. It does so with vigour. I’m amused the word ‘monster’ seems to be the popular way of describing what’s available, including of course, their music offerings. The blurb is as follows:

The following numbers are now ready, each containing a series of songs, with full pianoforte accompaniments, mostly original, thoroughly revised and brought up to present day requirements. These books are clearly printed from large size type and are the greatest value ever offered at the price.

The other element of the advertising is a list of where else M&S goods were to be found. One of the market halls listed is Newcastle upon Tyne. This branch in the city’s Grainger Market is still operational and holds the record for being the world’s smallest M&S branch.

Marks&Spencer's, Grainger_Market
M&S branch in Grainger Market, Newcastle (Photo via Geograph Project CCA2.0 licence)

The volunteer organist / Three fishers went sailing / When twilight comes (publ. early 1920s)

M&S song collection
‘Three favourite songs’

It’s always difficult to put a year on publications like these. There’s no date (for copyright or anything else) and you have to take clues from the context. The front cover looks more professional in its design and layout; there’s no mention of ‘Penny Bazaars’; the series name has changed (‘Albion Edition’); and monsters don’t feature at all.

The 43 listed titles on the back cover a wider range than previously: popular songs and dance music now share the space with ‘Selections from Lohengrin’, ‘Marche des Troubadours’ and ‘Nazareth’. M&S was optimistic in how many copies it might sell though. Also on the back page are listed rates for sending up to 24 items through the post. Internet ordering in the 1920s perhaps?

To close, here are recordings for two out of the three songs in our publication: