December 3rd 2010 is your chance to own a very significant piece of US history, a first edition of the lyrics & music of the Star Spangled Banner, the US National Anthem. An 1814 first edition of The Star Spangled Banner is heading for Christie’s auction block in New York City. It’s estimated to go for $200,000 to $300,000 at the sale early next month.
Especially remarkable is the fact that this is the only known first edition copy of the Star Spangled Banner in private hands. Overall, 11 first editions are known to exist in the world. The other copies are all held in institutions or university libraries – and many such institutions would undoubtedly like to own this example.
As for the history, the anonymous melody of The Star-Spangled Banner began life as a London drinking song, first published in 1780 and sung at the Crown and Anchor Tavern by members of the Anacreontic Society. The composer may have been John Stafford Smith. In September 1814, attorney Francis Scott Key (1780–1843) published a patriotic poem after the British navy abandoned the bombardment of Fort McHenry, and the American flag was seen to be still flying.
Commemorating what would be America’s last war against England, the poem was called The Defense of Fort McHenry, and by October it had been published in Baltimore with the accompanying music and retitled The Star-Spangled Banner. The rare first edition was soon followed by numerous other printings. In 1931 it became the national anthem of the United States. The actual flag that inspired Key to write his poem, full of shell holes, can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Perhaps the most interesting anecdote about the first edition of The Star-Spangled Banner is not its rarity, but rather, that the easiest way to identify this as a first edition is by the misspelling of the word patriotic as pariotic on the sheet music’s first page! [Source: The New York Public Library]