The Music Books of Ruebush & Kieffer

In 1975. the Virginia State Library published a Bibliography prepared by Grace Irene Showalter which presented a comprehensive list of publications by the Ruebush-Kieffer Publishing Company, Dayton, VA from its inception in 1866 to its demise in 1942. Unfortunately, this publication is no longer available but can be viewed in the Menno Simons Historical Collection room at the Eastern Mennonite University Library, Harrisonburg, VA. This writer is in the process of getting permission from the Virginia State Library to reprint that publication on this web site. In the meantime, here are some excerpts:


In an article published in Virginia Cavalcade (Autumn, 1956), musicologist Charles Hamm stated that the Rockingham County, Virginia area was once a center for the dessemination of an unusual type of song book. He was referring to the publication of "shaped note" song books, which had their greatest popularity in the early and middle part of the nineteenth century. During that period, "shaped note" hymnals were used by rural folk in fully half of the United States.

Many of these books were based on the compilations of Joseph Funk and his successors, the first of whom were Aldine S. Kieffer, a grandson of Funk, and Ephraim Ruebush, who had married Funk's granddaughter. The company which they founded continued in business from the 1860's to the 1940's.

The Ruebush & Kieffer Company became one of the most prolific publishers of these song books. A stream of titles, most of them in many editions, were printed by this company. For more than fifty years a new volume was published nearly every year, along with numerous reprints and new editions of previously published works. more than 200 titles were issued and the bibliographic history of many of them is complicated.

The Virginia State Library has published numerous bibliographies of Virginia interest, most of which have been prepared by members of the staff of the library. When we were given the opporutnity to examine Miss Showalter's bibliography on the Ruebush & Kieffer firm we were impressed with the scope and thoroughness of her work and offered to publisht it. We appreciate her cooperation and are glad to add this volume to our Publication Series.

[Ray O. Hummel, Jr., Assistant State Librarian, Virginia State Library, 1975]


[Here is an excerpt from Ms. Showalter's Introduction. For the complete text, see INTRODUCTION.]

The first evidence of Ruebush & Kieffer in the music book field was in 1866, at which time they began to sell books printed by Joseph Funk’s Sons with the Ruebush & Kieffer imprint added. The place of publication at this time was “Singers’ [or Singer’s] Glen, Rockingham Co., Va.” Beginning in 1872, their imprint appeared as “Ruebush, Kieffer & Company.” The principal organizers of this firm were Aldine S. Kieffer and his brother-in-law Ephraim Ruebush.

Kieffer’s grandfather, Joseph Funk, was well known as a northern Virginia musician and publisher of character or shaped note song books. After Funk’s death in 1862, his sons continued publishing for a number of years. It is understandable that the third and fourth generations of this family should become involved in music teaching, composition and publishing.

The new publishers zealously assumed their task of printing and selling shaped notes. Their belief that shaped notes were the means to teach music to the general public led to a singing school program and publishing venture that was probably unequaled in the South.

In 1846 Jesse B. Aiken published a music book in which he used seven shapes for the notes of the music scale [Jackson, p. 320]. Four of these were already in use, but he added three of his own to complete the scale. Other publishers did the same. Joseph Funk was among those who added his forms to the basic four. By the time Ruebush, Kieffer & Co. began publishing, there was a great proliferation of shapes in use [Jackson, p. 337].

The owners of Ruebush, Kieffer & Company realized that if the cause for shaped or character notes was to succeed, there would need to be unity for all seven shapes among the character note publishers. In The Musical Million of July 1, 1875, they saw the choice as narrowed down to their own (Funk’s) or William Walker’s shapes. But this was not to be the outcome.

According to The Musical Million, June 1, 1876, p. 89, Jesse B. Aiken visited Ruebush, Kieffer & Co. George Pullen Jackson [Jackson, p. 352-353] relates the story of Aiken’s visit to Virginia as it was told by an employee of Ruebush, Kieffer & Co. Aiken was adamant about the choice of his shapes as the ones to be used. Apparently because his shapes were the first to be published, he won the controversy. Jackson’s informant placed Aiken’s visit in the fall of 1877. He was probably referring to the visit of 1876, for beginning with the October 1, 1876, issue of The Musical Million, the majority of the printed music was in Aiken’s notes. The change is also reflected in the books the company printed in 1876 and 1877.

Throughout the early years of their publishing, they openly scorned round notes in their perodical, The Musical Million. Either because the publishers realized the case for shaped notes was failing, or they saw the advantages of publishing in both musical notations, round notes were also used by them beginning about 1892.

After 1891 the name of the company was written “The Ruebush-Kieffer Company” rather than “Ruebush, Kieffer & Company.”

The location at Singers Glen was a scenic one, but it was hardly ideal for a book publishing operation. There was no railway service nearby. For this reason, and perhaps others, they moved their business to Dayton, Virginia, in 1878.

In time the names of Ephraim Ruebush’s sons, James and William, as well as the name of Jacob H. Hall, began to appear as regular editors and contnbutors to Ruebush-Kieffer publications.

That they were businessmen is evident when one examines the books they published. Frequently a new book would carry advertisements of previously published works. They also used The Musical Million to support the shaped note cause and advise the public of new titles. Testimonials for their books were printed there and the number of books sold was given to woo prospective buyers. Even the format of their books gave evidence of their trying to reach the masses. Many of the books were bound both in boards and in paper. The paper bindings were inexpensive and readily available for use in singing schools and were ideal for persons wishing to secure books for group singing.

The company used the revival and temperance movements and the Chautauqua era to support its publishing. This is evident in such titles as Chautanqua Songs, The Temperance Harp, and Revival Gems. The religious song books belong to the gospe1 music tradition rather than the formal church music type.
The books reflect the trend of the time in the use of titles: Sunlight of Praise, The Mission of the Flowers, Pearls of Truth in Song, etc.

After 1911 the publishers gradually dropped the production of new music books. The last new title they issued which was their own publication was shared with another company. Their music books of 1938 and 1942 appear to have been simply printing jobs. They apparently continued to reprint popular works, such as Songs of the People and The Practical Music Reader, for many years.

[Copyright 1975 by Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA. Permission requested.]

George Pullen Jackson, White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands. (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1933), p. 320.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (only for years 1866 - 1900)
(Not all annotations have been included.)


The Christian Harp and Sabbath School Songster. Fourteen editions from 1866 - 1877.


The Song-Crowned King: A Compilation of New and Beautiful Music, Original and Selected, for the Use of Singing School, Home Circle, and Revivals. Singer's Glen, Rockingham Co., VA. Published by Ruebush & Kieffer, Joseph Funk's Sons, Book Printers and Binders, 1968.


The Golden City Songster: for Sabbath Schools, ed., Aldine s. Kieffer. Singer's Glen, Rockingham Co., VA. Published by Ruebush, Kieffer & Co.


Glad Hosannas: A Collection of New Sabbath School and Revival Music, Comprising a Variety of New and Beautiful Hymns with Appropirate Tunes, ed., Aldine s. Kieffer. Singer's Glen, Rockingham Co., VA. Joseph Funk's Sons, Printers, 1871.


Our School-Day Singer: A Collection of New Tunes and Songs for the Day School., ed., ed., Aldine s. Kieffer. Singer's Glen, Rockingham Co., VA. Ruebush, Kieffer & Co, 1872. [Large portion of music adapted to poems of McGuffey's Electric Readers.]

The Morning Star Songster, ed., Aldine s. Kieffer. Singer's Glen, Rockingham Co., VA. Ruebush, Kieffer & Co, 1872.

Evening Star Songster, ed., Aldine s. Kieffer. No copy has been located but advertised in The Musical Million, November, 1872.


The Gem [four books bound together: The Christian Harp; Glad Hosannas; Our Schoolday Singer; Golden City Songster. No copy has been located but advertised in The Musical Million, July, 1873.

Day Star Songster. No copy has been located but advertised in The Musical Million, April, 1873.

Silver Star Songster. No copy has been located but advertised in The Musical Million, August, 1873.

Golden Star Songster. No copy has been located but advertised in The Musical Million, December, 1873.


The Starry Crown: for the Sabbath School., ed., Aldine s. Kieffer. Singer's Glen, Rockingham Co., VA. Ruebush, Kieffer & Co., 1874. Five editions, 1874 - 1877. Revised and retitled as New Starry Crown, 1877.


Songs of Redemption: A collection of Old and New Hymns, Wedded to new and Attractive Music, for the Use of the Sunday School and Prayer Meetings,5ed., Aldine s. Kieffer. Singer's Glen, Rockingham Co., VA. Ruebush, Kieffer & Co., 1874.

Songs of Redemption, No. 2. No copy has been located but scheduled for printing in The Musical Million, February, 1875.

Songs of Redemption, No. 3. No copy has been located but scheduled for printing in The Musical Million, February, 1875.

The Normal Chorus Book: A Collection of Oratorio and Opera Choruses; Prepared Expressly for the Use of the Virginia Normal Music School. Suitable Also for Advanced Classes, Conventions, and Musical Societies, ed., Benjamin Unseld. Singer's Glen, VA. Ruebush, Kieffer & Co., 1875.

[More to follow soon.]

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