History of Oliver Ditson Company.

The Musical Courier,

Vol 70 #8 (Feb 24 1915), p. 8[1]


            The following interesting history is culled from the preface to the 1915 piano catalogue issued by the Oliver Disson [sic.] Company of Boston:


            “The founder of the house, the late Oliver Ditson was born in Boston, of Scottish ancestry, October 20, 1811. His parents were then living nearly opposite the home of Paul Revere at the lower end of Hanover street. In 1823, young Oliver, fresh from the grammar school, entered the employ of Col. Samuel H. Harper, father of J.C.D. Parker, the organist and composer. Col. Parker owned a book store on Washington street, near Franklin, and kept in addition to his regular stock a few pieces of music. At this time the Waverley novels were making their appearance and Col. Parker was republishing them as rapidly as they could be procured from England.

For a period young Oliver left the congenial bookstore to master the printer’s trade. About 1834, fire destroyed the store of Col. Parker. With what was saved he moved with his now indispensable young friend into a wooden building on Washington street, near School street, and later took a single counter in the famous ‘Old Corner Bookstore,’ then kept by William D. Ticknor in the gambrel roofed building erected in 1712, at the northwest corner of Washington and School streets.

Here, in 1834, was formed the firm of Parker & Ditson. Mr. Ditson was then twenty-three, and putting his whole force into the business changed it into a music store.

In 1840, he bought out Col. Parker’s interest and unaided by capital or influential friends carried on the business of music seller and publisher under the name of Oliver Ditson. At this date, Boston was the second city in the country, with a population of 85,000, New York was the metropolis with 312,000, Chicago a frontier village of 4,729; while Kansas City, St. Paul, Minneapolis and San Francisco had not been heard of; there was not then a telegraph line in the world, but few miles of railway, and musical culture in America was in its infancy.

In 1844, Mr. Ditson moved from the ‘Old Corner Bookstore’ to more commodious quarters at 115 Washington street (now 25507), where the business remained until its removal in August, 1857, to a building owned by Mr. Ditson and erected for the purpose at 277 (now 451) Washington street.

In 1845, Oliver Ditson employed John C. Haynes, then a lad of fifteen, as boy of all-work at $1.50 per week. The boy so proved his worth that on his twenty-first birthday, September 9, 1850, he became a participant in the profits of the store, and on January 1, 1857, he was made a business partner and the firm name became Oliver Ditson & Co.

In 1858, a strong link to the musical profession was made by the purchase of Dwight’s Journal of Music. Its founder and editor, John S. Dwight (1813-1893), may justly be called the father of musical criticism in America, and the magazine he established in 1852, the pioneer musical journal of the country. Its pages during the first fifteen years of its existence are the history of music in the United States, and it did a great and important service in the cause of musical progress and in the formation of public opinion on musical affairs.

With the issue of December 21, 1878, the firm ceased to publish this magazine and established the Monthly Musical Record, which in 1898 was succeeded by the Musical Record, a high class magazine under the brilliant editorship of Philip Hale.

In October, 1898, the issue was begun of a pocket monthly magazine to bulletin the publications of the xxxx under the name Musical Review.

In January, 1901, this magazine was combined with the Musical Record under the name Musical Record and Review, with Thomas Tapper as editor. After more than two years issue in its enlarged form another combination was made by the purchase from the Hatch Musical Co. of Philadelphia, of The Musician. The smaller magazine was dropped and the new magazine in its present form issued under Mr. Tapper’s editorship from November, 1903 to August, 1907, when he was succeeded by W.H. xxxx, who has conducted the paper ever since.

In 1860, Mr. Ditson established in Cincinnati, John Church, a young man who had been with him from boyhood. The business successfully launched was in turn sold to Mr. Church, and is now well know as the John Church Company.

In 1864, two young me, P.J. Healy and George W. Lyon, were established in Chicago by the capital of Oliver Ditson & Co., under the now honored name of Lyon & Healy.

On March 4, 1867, the firm purchased the music plant and stock and good will of Firth, Son & Co., of New York City. This led at once to the establishment of a branch house in the metropolis, under the management of Oliver Ditson’s eldest son, Charles, with firm name of Charles H. Ditson & Co.

After remaining a few months at 563 Broadway where Firth, Son & Co. had been located, more spacious quarters were taken at 711 Broadway. The purchase by the parent house of the music catalog and business of Wm. Hall & Son, New York, in 1875, and of J.P. Peters, of New York in 1877, necessitated the taking of more spacious quarters in 1878, at 843 Broadway.

In 1833, the property at the southwest corner of Broadway and Eighteenth street was purchased and the Ditson Building erected. Here at 867 Broadway the remained until the constant uptown trend of retail trade led to the erection of a new Ditson Building at 8-10-12 East 34th street. Into these handsome quarters the firm moved in in 1907, just forty years after its establishment.

In 1875, the purchase of the catalog of Lee & Waxxxx of Philadelphia, led to the opening of a branch house in that city under the management of another son, James Edward Ditson, under the firm name of J.E. Ditson & Co.

In 1879, the stock and music plates of G. Andre & Co., of Philadelphia, were purchased.

In 1881, the uptown trend of business led to the removal from 922 to 1228 Chestnut street. In the same year occurred the death of J.E. Ditson.

In 1890, the entire catalog, stock and music plates of F.A. North & Co., of Philadelphia, were purchased.

In 1910, changed conductions of business led to the discontinuance of the Philadelphia branch house.

In 1877, the purchase of the catalog and good will of G.D. Russell & Co., of Boston, and the constantly expanding business of the parent Boston house compelled the taking of the adjoining store at No. 449 Washington street as an addition to 451.

On December 21, 1888, Oliver Ditson the pioneer of music publishing in America, passed away at the ripe age of seventy-seven. The surviving partners, John C. Haynes, Charles H. Ditson and the executors of Oliver Ditson’s estate, then organized the corporation, Oliver Ditson Company, with Mr. Haynes as president.

In 1891, larger quarters being needed, the extensive property at 453-463 Washington street, known as the Dexter Building, was leased and occupied until 1901.

Charles H. Ditson having erected a modern xxxx story building at 451 Washington street, on the site of the five story building erected by his father in 1857 for Oliver Ditson & Co., the business was in 1901 moved into Changing conditions and the necessity of still larger quarters caused the removal on January 25, 1904, to the new building constructed for its special needs at 150 Tremont street, facing Boston Commons.

With the death, May 3, 1907, of John C. Haynes at the age of seventy-seven, the presidency of the corporation and the direction of its great interests devolved naturally and fittingly upon the son of the founder, Charles Healy Ditson.



[1]. Due to tight binding, words at the spine are often not readable and are replaced by XXXX.