Sale of 'Star-Spangled Banner' sheet music sets record

Rare first edition sells for more than half-a-million dollars

  • This photo shows an 1814 first-edition copy of the lyrics and music of "The Star Spangled Banner," by Francis Scott Key. It is the only known copy in private hands and was sold on Dec. 3 at Christie's auction house in New York for more than half a million dollars.
This photo shows an 1814 first-edition copy of the lyrics and… (Christie's Images Ltd. )
December 06, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun

Oh Say Can You See …half a million dollars?

A rare first edition of the sheet music for "The Star-Spangled Banner" sold for $506,500 at Christie's Auction House in New York Friday, doubling pre-auction estimates of its value and setting a world auction record for sheet music.

The two-page piece of sheet music, published by a Baltimore printer in 1814, was sold to a private U.S. collector who wishes to remain anonymous, Christie's spokeswoman Sung-Hee Park said. It is one of only 11 copies of that first printing known to exist, and apparently remains the only one in private hands.

"It's always great when something goes over its estimate," Park said, "and when it makes for a world auction record, that's icing on the cake."

The pages originally were owned by Mary Barnitz, a young girl living near York, Pa., who probably had it bound along with other pieces of sheet music around 1820. That bound volume, 50 pieces of sheet music in all, was purchased in 1989 by two Pennsylvania antique dealers. They paid $50 for the entire album, or $1 per piece of music.

Christie's officials would not identify the former owners. They did say, however, that the couple plans to use the hefty profit they realized on the investment to fund their retirement.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was written in 1814 by Frederick lawyer Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry from a British warship. It was adopted as the U.S. national anthem in 1931.

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