Song Gems (Scots): the Dunedin Collection: a commercial failure?

Research output: Contributions to conferencesPaperpeer-review



Dr Karen E McAulay (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)
‘The introduction to the musical world of yet another collection of Scots songs may possibly in certain quarters seem to demand something in the nature of an apology’,
said editor James Wood in the preface to his song book in 1908. Since Scottish song collections have appeared with monotonous regularity since the early nineteenth century, many would agree he had a point!
The title was distinctive in its clumsiness, avoiding using either the obvious words ‘Scottish’ or the plural ‘Songs’. Embossed on the cover, the stylized lettering of the title incorporates a curved lozenge/roundel of the Dunedin cross - the first clue hinting at one inspiration behind it.
I’m currently working on a monograph about Scottish music publishers in the late Victorian era prior to the mid-twentieth century folk revival. I take a particular interest in Scottish song collections, and Wood’s collection intrigued me because of its scarcity. Due to the pandemic lockdowns, it proved particularly hard to track down; my copy came from an antiquarian dealer in Boston, Massachusetts. Since it was published by a London publisher, and distributed by agents in Edinburgh and Boston, mine may have spent its life in America.
James Wood was eminent in Edinburgh, and the musical editor, Learmont Drysdale, was a musician of considerable promise. The acknowledgements enumerate another eleven Scottish musicians, locally significant in their day. Photographs depict the baritone who was the dedicatee, and another three ‘notable exponents’. The index, not uncommonly, details the composer and lyricist alongside each song title.
This interesting but uncommon volume was possibly not printed in anything like the numbers of more obviously commercial collections; in my talk, I shall outline some of the reasons for my assertion that it may not have sold very well, based on the clues present in the paratext.

Bibliographic note

Paper was recorded and given remotely due to Covid. Will be published in proceedngs in due course.


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 27 Apr 2022
EventAround the text:: history of printing conference - Appelby, Carlisle, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 May 202227 May 2022


ConferenceAround the text:
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

Author keywords

  • Scottish songs, Music publishing