Conservatory Special Collections > Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History, 1500s-1900s

Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History, 1500s-1900s

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Frederick (Eric) R. Selch was a collector, scholar, performer, advertising executive, magazine publisher, and Broadway musical producer. His primary area of scholarly research was the musical cultures of the American Colonial-Federal period (1775–1830).

The Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History contains items from the early 16th century through the late 20th century. It includes nearly 700 musical instruments and 6,000 books, as well as a variety of visual and manuscript materials.

Overview | Inventory | History | Using The Collection


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 nineteenth century American luthier Abraham Prescott. In addition to print materials that document amateur musical practices in America, such as nineteenth 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, a 2008 article detailing the arrival of the Collection at Oberlin, 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 at:


Series 1: Personal and Research Files:

This series includes: biographical materials (such as calendars and address books), correspondence, Selch’s publications and presentations (such as articles, monographs, dissertation files, project plans, exhibit files, and Ovation magazine files), musical productions (such as concert programs, “Play Me a Country Song” files, Federal Music Society records, and audio materials), research files (on topics including instruments, genres, places, and courses taken at NYU), and Frederick R. Selch Corporation records.

Series 2: Visual Materials:

This series [PDF] includes: iconography, reproductions, photographs, tintypes, trade cards, slides, and paintings, and additional items are being added on an ongoing basis. A digital collection of selections has also been compiled.

Series 3: Books:

The Collection’s books are being inventoried and cataloged on an ongoing basis. A list of fully-cataloged items is available in the Oberlin Library Catalog (OBIS), and there is also an additional list of minimally-inventoried items [PDF].

Series 4: Printed Music:

The Collection’s printed music is being cataloged on an ongoing basis. Individual items are listed in Oberlin Library's Catalog as they come available. List of currently cataloged printed music.

Series 5: Musical Instruments:

The Collection’s nearly 700 musical instruments will be available for study once the inventorying, currently underway, is complete.


Frederick (Eric) R. Selch was a collector, scholar, performer, advertising executive, Broadway musical producer, Ovation magazine publisher and editor. He enjoyed binding books and arranging music as well as building and repairing musical instruments. Born in South Royalton, VT in 1930, Selch received a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in 1952, and a master's degree in radio and television production from Syracuse University in 1953. Having completed a master’s degree in music history in the1960s, he later completed the dissertation ''Instrumental Accompaniments for Yankee Hymn Tunes: 1760-1840” (2002) and was posthumously awarded a PhD in American Studies by New York University.

While Selch worked in advertising at the J. Walter Thompson agency in Britain and New York from 1955 to 1974, he also began collecting musical instruments and books. He and his wife, Patricia Bakwin Selch, traveled often and acquired instruments, books and artwork along the way. At the time of his passing (New York, NY 2002), Selch had amassed a remarkable collection of musical instruments, books, manuscripts, and printed music as well as paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs depicting the history, design and use of instruments. Mrs. Selch gave Oberlin her husband’s collection and created an endowed professorship in musicology at the Conservatory, which in sum becomes the centerpiece of the college’s Frederick R. Selch Center for American Music.

As an outgrowth of his interest in organology and instrument construction and repair, Selch helped found the American Musical Instrument Society in 1971, serving as its second president (1977-1981). In 1976, he instituted and performed in the Federal Music Society, a twenty-six-member ensemble specializing in music of the American Colonial-Federal period (1775–1830) that played over seventy concerts in the decade of its existence. In 1982, he produced a Broadway musical, ''Play Me a Country Song,'' that featured his own original compositions. From 1983 to 1989, he was the owner, editor, and publisher of the monthly music magazine, Ovation: The Magazine for Classical Music Listeners. He served as chairman of exhibitions at the Grolier Club beginning in the 1980s and was a longtime member of the Visiting Committee to the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For much of the 1990s he was involved in a series of American Music Festivals at Illinois Wesleyan University. In addition to Ovation magazine, his articles may be found in the Journal of the Violin Society of America, the Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, and the New Grove Dictionary of American Music.

Using the Collection

Restrictions: Collection is open for research.

Rights: The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Oberlin College.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History, Oberlin Conservatory Library


Last updated:
July 13, 2016