In every article we publish, invariably there are one or two or more sheet music covers that need some digital restoration work. Our October, 2000 article about newspaper music supplements is one of the most extreme cases as virtually every piece of sheet music was in various stages of deterioration and I had to rework and restore every one of them. If you have not seen that article before, I suggest you visit that page now to see these examples. Some were so extreme that I had to reconstruct them in a freehand manner as large chuncks of the sheet was missing. In that article I showed both the original The American Soldier restored covercondition and restored condition in a manner that allowed the reader to "mouse over" the image to seethe original and then when mousing off, the restored one would re-appear such as in this example on the right:

The newsprint supplements are an extreme example of the difficulties we face with every article but almost all sheet music from a century ago presents a challenge. The browning or oxidation that one sees is called foxing and is nearly universal, no matter how carefully a piece was handled. Mold and mildew, stains, damage by animals and insects and general wear and tear all contribute to the deterioration. Even exposure to the sun over time can seriously fade or discolor a beautiful cover. Also, there were some ownership practices over the years that added to the need for restoration such as coloring in areas and the addition of names written in, stapling to hold pages together and the worst indignity, cellophane or opaque tape that covers areas or discolors the sheets in the extreme.

The process must begin for us with a wide format color scanner that allows a single pass scan of the sheet music cover so that we get a uniform image without needing to "stitch together" two or more images. This is essential in getting a high resolution, uniform image. The image must be scanned in at least 300dpi (dots or pixels per inch) preferably up to 600 for some covers. The next step requires a high quality, versatile image processing software product such as Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop. In many cases, I use both as each has important features that the other does not so I will sometimes switch between software to ultimately get to the final image that most closely matches the original printed sheet music.

This cover, Charge of the Uhlans, which we featured in our February 2000 tribute to the cover artist E. H. Pfeiffer typifies a typical reconstruction effort. I should say now that one of our objectives is to preserve the original sheet music and stop further deterioration. That represents an entirely different process that includes use of archival buffering products to stop the acid erosion of the paper, protection (usually in individual plastic sleeves) and storage in a climate controlled area. We always save the first scan of any sheet music as is in a digital format then work from the original scan to restore it for presentation to you. In doing so we are not out to "improve" upon the original art work, but to present the covers in a way that suggests the original look of the piece, which in some cases means fade correcting the colors and at times generating missing pieces of a sheet from scratch.

Using the charge of the Uhlans, you can see at left, the scan of the original with that nasty opaque pasted paper tape along the spine and a number of completely missing pieces. The colors are faded and the page is dirty from decades of collecting dust. The paper was extremely fragile so we buffered it, protected it and stored it after scanning.
The next step involved digital removal of the tape. This was done by using cloning tools in the software. A cloning tool allows you to copy one part of an image to another. As a part of that, we often have to "borrow" other parts of the image to reconstruct another. In this case we had to carefully copy, paste and recolor parts of the other horses to complete the edge which was damaged by the tape. If I need a spare hand, hoof, weapon or other image I may go to another sheet, copy a similar replacement, resize, rotate, change perspective and blend it in. In this manner we can also restore publisher logos and even titling. That left us with the next stage on the right.

Now for the next stage, cleaning the image up, blending it all together, making the colors vibrant and as close to what they looked like originally. Aside from the damage, one of the problems with this cover and many others is color shift. This occurs as a common problem with scanners and digital cameras where the colors often come out looking impure or "shifted to another color. Color shift also appears as a result of the "foxing" or aging process. Color shift is apparent in the white horse in the examples above. Most of the horse appears more pink than white.

Sometimes it is necessary to select individual colors and either use the fill tools or the paintbrush tool to "paint" in the proper color. Sometimes it is even necessary to color in individual pixels at close magnification to get the shadows, colors and blending to look accurate. At this stage the process can be very laborious and time consuming. Once that is complete, the entire image can then be fade corrected, brightness and contrast adjusted and all final color balance adjusted till we reach what appears to be a fresh off the press copy of the original as seen here.

In most cases, we "retouch" virtually every sheet music cover that we include in our articles so it often takes many hours of painstaking work to bring you the music in our articles. But for us, it is a labor of love and it is exciting to see the complete restoration of music that without our efforts and those of many other libraries around the country would be lost to future generations. If you are interested in seeing any of the original scans of some of the music on our site, write to me with your request and time permitting, I will try my best to accommodate you.

Rick Reublin

Article published and Copyright © March, 2012 by Richard A. Reublin. For educational or commercial use of this material, please see our usage policy.

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