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In 1932 Carlton Sprague Smith (then Chief of the Music Division) outlined a plan for the growth of the division's collections that contained, among other initiatives, the creation of an iconography department within the Music Division. Inspiration for the proposal came from Smith's acquaintance with Joseph Muller, a private collector, who reportedly had the largest and most valuable collection of musical iconography in the country. Muller's support of Smith's proposal resulted in Muller's joining the Music Division staff on July 1, 1934. Muller not only helped to build the Iconography Collection but also soon became the Curator of the Americana Section, a newly established collection.
Muller's impressive collection of prints, manuscripts, scores, books, and other musical material came to the Music Division in 1940 after his death. Later, the Division dispersed the images from Muller's donation - many joined the general Iconography Collection or its clipping files; those deemed most valuable became part of what is known today as the Muller Collection. During the 1970s, the individual images in the Muller Collection were matted and eventually stored in acid-free boxes. In time, all images in the Collection will be digitized; updating bibliographic descriptions - to enhance access points - will be ongoing.
Born of German-Belgian parents, Joseph Muller (b. Frankfurt-am-Main, 1877?; d. Closter, NJ, May 9, 1939), who started collecting during his student days, studied violin at the Brussels Conservatory, where, as a student of Alexandre Cornélis, he won first prize (with distinction) in July 1895; but his love of travel led him to a career as a ship's steward. During his many travels he sought out print dealers worldwide, adding to his growing collection. He collected music manuscripts and letters in addition to portraits (not surprisingly he was especially attracted to those of string players). His interest in music and collecting led him to do extensive research, making him an authority on early music and early American music in particular. In his 1935 publication The Star-Spangled Banner: Words and music issued between 1814-1864, Muller compiled an annotated and richly illustrated bibliography, tracing variant early publications of the text and tune of our national anthem.
An amateur artist, Muller drew copies of prints and, to a lesser degree, made portraits from life (usually at the back of a concert hall). Some of these drawings are included in the Muller Collection as well.