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Piano roll lending libraries

“Paling’s Reproducing Records” is not a publisher. Even though that company meticulously adhered their label over the original one (see below) on the container, Peter Phillips graciously let us know that Paling’s was actually a music store in Australia, not a publisher. It was one of several stores in Sydney and Melbourne where one could borrow a piano roll from a lending library for a few cents. This put some of the other stamps and labels seen on rolls into a different context.

Commercial lending libraries

In addition to Paling’s, the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls has also had Welte-Mignon rolls from “Allan's Reproducing Records” and Nicholson’s. It appears that these commercial lending libraries were held in music stores or bookstores. For a fee, borrowers could check out a piano roll, similar to video rental stores.



Public lending libraries

Evanston Public Library, in Evanston, Illinois, began collecting piano rolls for circulation in 1907. (1) It even had a piano and pianola in the music room, where patrons could try sheet music and recordings before borrowing them. (2) Soon, other public libraries across the United States followed suit and collected rolls. In Mooresville, Indiana the library acted as a host for local piano roll owners to donate at least three rolls for six months, then borrow up to two rolls for two-week periods. (3)

Even trade publications, like the Music Trade Review, began to tout municipal libraries as a distribution and promotion channel for the player piano industry:

"The public need to learn to respect the player-piano. The library will assist in teaching the public."  (4)

Recently the Archive of Recorded Sound received the Meyer Piano Roll Collection, donated by Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. Some of these rolls were clearly once part of the Milwaukee Public Library System. There are even due dates stamped onto some of the boxes.

Did you ever check out a piano roll from a lending library, either at a traditional library or from a music vendor? Which ones are you aware of? How much did the rental cost? Which systems did the lending libraries support? Help us understand this part of piano roll history by sharing your experiences and knowledge. If you have any documentation about roll lending libraries, we’re equally eager to hear from you; please contact the Archive.

  1. Marco, Guy A. The American Public Library Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited, 2012. 292. Print.  Also available through Google Books or at a library near you.
  2. Zueblin, Charles, and Helen B. Sweeny. American Municipal Progress. New York: Macmillan Co, 1916. 237. Print. Also available through Google Books or at a library near you
  3. "Library Work." Library Journal 41.10 (1916): 778-79. Print.  Also available through Google Books
  4. "Libraries and Rolls." Music Trade Review 58.9 (1914): 11. International Arcade Museum. Music Trade Review. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <>.