A Publishing History

By Zack Allen

          The first edition of William Walker’s The Christian Harmony was published and copyrighted in 1867. The printer and co-publisher, E.W. Miller, proclaimed it “Just Published,” in the April 1867 Uniform Trade List Circular for the benefit of publishers, booksellers, news dealers, and stationers and he also lists this date in The Awards and Claims of the exhibitors At The International Exhibition of 1876, (Philadelphia) stating: TheChristian Harmony’ . . . first issued in 1867.” Some have assigned 1866 as the year of first publication, relying on Walker’s preface date of October 1866. Walker himself seems to have cleared up the matter when he stated in the preface of his 1869 Sunday school songbook, Fruits and Flowers, that The Christian Harmony was published in 1867. The Miller Bible and Printing House had clearly planned a November 1866 publication date. In another Uniform Trade List Circular . . . . , dated November 1866, “E.W. Miller, Publisher,” advertised: “The Christian Harmony. Now in the process of stereotyping, and will be published in November,” a deadline that seems not to have been met. It also appears that, at least for a time, both of Walker’s major songbooks were simultaneously in print. In The Publisher’s Uniform Trade List Directory, dated July 1,1868, E.W. Miller, Publisher, lists both The Christian Harmony and The Southern Harmony for sale and, in the above-mentioned 1876 exposition report, states that the “many editions (of The Southern Harmony) . . . have reached 500,000.”


          There are minor differences between copies of the first edition. For instance, on page 162, some copies have the song title as “Heavenly Light” with no attribution. Other copies add the words “Or Eden” to the title and attribute the song to L. Mason. Since this song is generally attributed to Lowell Mason, I believe we should count the unattributed version as an earlier printing. An additional difference is in the number of sales agents listed on the back cover. The edition with the fewer dealers corresponds to the one with the Mason attribution. A printing is usually described as those copies of an edition printed at one time, without the type or plates being removed from the press, making at least two printings for the first edition.


           In 1873, Walker and the Miller Bible Publishing House offered a revised second edition of The Christian Harmony. The copyright date is 1873 and this date is also mentioned on the preface page, along with a statement that many new tunes had been “added.” It was, like the first edition, bound in yellowish-tan printed boards with the front being a near copy of the title page and the back being an advertisement for the publisher. In both editions the front and back covers had ornate foliate engraved borders. The title page changes, with the main title now printed in an ornate engraved typeface. There is also additional wording, praising the merits of the “seven-syllable character note system of music.” The remainder of the title page is much the same, with slight alterations, including the publisher’s imprint. There are, by my count, 61 tunes added and no tunes removed. The added songs were accommodated by shortening two-page tunes to one page and shortening one-page tunes to half pages. These reductions involved some compromise and in most cases the lyrics were reset in a slightly different and smaller typeface. Readability suffered and would worsen with each subsequent printing from the same plates. There is reason to believe that the 1873 revised edition, virtually unchanged, continued to be reprinted and sold throughout the last quarter of the 19th century with the 1873 date remaining on the preface page and the copyright date unchanged. There are slight changes in the publisher’s address but no specific chronology has been assigned. There also appears on the title page the words: “Handsomely Bound in Cloth with Gold Side Stamp, Arabesque back and antique edges.”   There is evidence that the publisher may have intended to produce such a copy. The Temple Harp (E.W. Miller, Sansom St. Phila., 1872) has an advertisement for The Christian Harmony that describes a special  “384 pp.  Agents’ Edition, handsomely bound, arabesque back, cloth sides, with elegant side stamp in gold and blank, with fancy edges. Subscription price, $1.50 each.” However no such binding has been reported on any 19th century printing.


           There are several known The Christian Harmony printings from the first half of the 20th century. We can’t assign dates but it seems likely that they were printed after 1901 as they all seem to share that date on the preface page. Earlier ones may have been bound in the same yellowish-tan boards as the 19th century editions. Other printings, bound in simulated leather and possibly later, have been reported. I have seen at least two distinct editions marked 1901. One is a Miller imprint (E.W. Miller, 814 Walnut Street) and is a very near copy to the 1873 edition with printed board covers and minor changes. The other edition is a revision and is also dated 1901. I have seen the revised 1901 edition bound both in boards and in embossed simulated leather. The revised 1901 edition differs substantially from earlier editions. These changes include the title page with the added note: “Revised edition, greatly improved and with many new and exceptionally good tunes,”; the publisher’s imprint “Published in Philadelphia by “Edward W. Miller Company” (814 Walnut Street). The revised 1901 copyright notice is at the bottom of the title page: “Copyrighted, 1901, By Edward W. Miller Company.” The rudiments are different and there have been 43 songs removed and 41 added. The revision seems not to have achieved a following as copies are rare and the added tunes seem not to have survived in later editions.


           The last half of the 20th century brought a branching of The Christian Harmony family tree. Printings of the so-called “Carolina Book” (used primarily in Western North Carolina and portions of bordering states), remained virtually unchanged, maintaining the original Walker shapes. In the so-called “Alabama Book” the original Christian Harmony was substantially revised, dropping the Walker shapes in favor of the Aiken shape note system widely used in mid-20th century gospel singing. These two versions are often described as “the brown book” and the “black book” respectively. In Western North Carolina singers would carry both books to singings and leaders would announce which tune was to be sung, and from which book -- by color. There is also another known reprint edition, possibly from the early 1950s and published by J.A. Garrison and Hulon Gilleland at Canton, GA. It appears to be a direct reprint of the 1873 edition with the exception of the publisher’s imprint on the title page. It is bound in dark leatherette with “CHRISTIAN HARMONY” printed in capital letters on the cover.


          In 1958, John H. Deason and O.A. Parris headed up a major reworking of The Christian Harmony. They described it as “the first major revision . . . in more than an fifty years.” In the preface the editors state: “We have removed from the old book 179 songs. These will be found to be the songs very rarely if ever used. We have changed numbers on but 34 songs and in all cases this was not easily avoidable. On 37 of these songs we have given them more room in order that they may be more easily read. We have included 102 songs both old and new that we feel will help very much to make a better and more useful book.”

          There is also what appears to a “prequel” to the 1958 revision. Warren Steel has shared the following information: “There is a 1954 ‘Christian Harmony Book 1,’ published by The Christian Harmony Publishing Co., Birmingham. Printed by Fleming Printing Co. in Birmingham, it is the work of O. A. Parris, and claims to be ‘A partial revision of the original Christian Harmony published by William Walker nearly 100 years ago, together with a number of new songs in the old-style harmony.’ Published in the upright gospel music format, with a list of contributors on the title page, it seems to be a kind of “prequel” to the Parris-Deason revision of 1958, with typewritten text and Aikin shapes stenciled by hand. It includes many of the new songs published in the 1958 book, plus a good selection of standards from the Walker Christian Harmony.”

           There have been a number of further revised printings of the Parris-Deason book, most notable are the 1994, and the 2002 editions. Michael Spencer has shared the following information: “...  I have at least four print ‘versions’ of the Deason-Parris revision. . . In addition to the 1958 version, there is one that looks much like the 1958 version, but with handwritten and typed attributions and verses added. There is a larger smooth brown edition dated 1994, and a rougher smaller brown edition from 2002. There were changes over the years, including resetting using “machine notes” on certain random songs, and verses added or changed, title changes, etc. There were certainly multiple printings of many of these ‘versions,’ often with subtle changes. For example, I’ve got at least two printings of the plain 1958 version; there are subtle differences in the picture titles, sponsors, etc. in the front material, and the edge staining is different. If you are holding Walker’s 1873 book and the Deason-Parris 2002 printing, I think the only song you are missing from both is The Heavenly Home. (I’m not including the 1954 CH paperback version, there were songs there not in any other). This song appears in the 1958 version on page 337b and the odd “written in” version only. We included The Heavenly Home in the 2010 edition.”

          In 2010, the Christian Harmony Music Company, Inc., published a new edition with the intent of merging the Deason-Parris revision with the 1873 edition. The result is a most readable and singable book of more than 580 pages, containing some 672 songs. All music and text have been newly typeset, using Aikin shapes. One reconciliation count reports: “Pages 1–381 largely reproduce the contents and pagination of the 1958 Alabama book. Pages 397–541t contain songs present in the Carolina book but omitted by the 1958 revisers, in order (approximately 200 songs). (Pages 388, 393b, and 545b also contain music from the Carolina book, out of order.) Pages 382, 384–385, 543–545t, 546–548, and 549b (the final song in the book) contain new music not included in the Carolina book or in the 1958 Alabama book. The remaining twelve and a half pages are songs from the 1958 Alabama book that have been moved for a more spacious layout.”


           In 1979, Brent Howard Holcomb, of Columbia, SC, reprinted the 1873 The Christian Harmony using a 19th century copy to create plates for offset printing. An editor’s introduction, an index of composers and authors, and an index of first lines were added. This became the familiar “Brown Book” or the “Carolina Book.”   In 1994, Folk Heritage Books, then in Asheville, NC, published another reprint of the 1873 edition, using the pages from the Brent Holcomb reprint to create plates for offset printing. Four often-sung songs from the 1958 Deason-Parris revision (in Aikin shapes) were added at the end, becoming 381-A through 381-D and maintaining original page order. One-hundred subscriber copies of this edition were bound in blue cloth and the remainder bound in brown cloth, with embossed lettering. In November, 2015, Folk Heritage Books, published the current book, the 2015 Folk Heritage Edition, in response to the exhaustion of the supply of 1994 reprints and a perceived need to preserve the almost 150-year unbroken tradition of singing the Walker shapes. With access to several early copies of the book, new scans were created from original pages and electronically reworked to enhance readability, removing or minimizing foxing, bleedthrough and other artifacts of aging. The original cover has been recreated and bound so as to match, insofar as possible, the appearance of the original 1873 printing.

-- Zack Allen,  Folk Heritage Books ©2015