Kenneth Richard Snell (1940–1993) was born in Melbourne and educated at St Joseph’s College, Geelong. He learnt violin at school, but his main interest was art. He was trained as an accountant and worked in the Taxation Office and later with an architectural business and hardware store in Melbourne. In 1975 he and his family moved to Bright, in northern Victoria, where he worked for the Shire Council, first as a clerk and later as an accountant. In 1980 Snell gave up his accounting job and moved back to Melbourne, where he established a bookshop selling music, sound recordings and books. The business was often shaky and it changed premises several times. In 1992, shortly before his death, he moved to the Buckland Valley in north-eastern Victoria.
It was his love of art, rather than music, that led Snell to start collecting sheet music. While browsing in second-hand and charity shops, he was attracted to the highly decorated covers that were a feature of sheet music in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His first major acquisition was the discarded collection of a music shop in Warrnambool. He began to exchange music with other collectors and gradually built up the large collection that formed the basis of his business from 1980 onwards.
Snell’s particular interest was popular music, the songs and piano pieces played in homes and at social functions in the 1850–1950 period. He arranged and sold his music in regnal periods: Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian, and also between the wars and post-war. He acquired a great knowledge of colonial printers, publishers and engravers and their work. In 1987 he published three listings of works by Australian composers published between about 1850 and 1985:
Australian Popular Music: Title Index
Australian Popular Music: Composer Index
Australian Popular Music: Lyricist Index
The Library purchased the first instalment of the Snell Collection in 1979. From 1980 to 1992 the Music Librarian was in continuous communication with Snell and over 25 instalments of sheet music and albums were purchased from him. Following his death in 1993, the Library bought further sheet music, programs and serials from his daughter. In 1994 the Library acquired from Snell’s estate his correspondence, financial papers, research material and copies of title pages of music, music catalogues and programs.
The Snell Collection comprises about 15 500 items of sheet music and about 700 music albums. Its main strength is Australian and British publications, but it includes a significant quantity of European and American imprints. The collection covers two centuries: from the late eighteenth century until the 1980s.
Songs and piano pieces make up the bulk of the collection and Snell had a particular interest in popular works performed in homes and at social functions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The following categories are not exhaustive, but indicate the scope and diversity of the collection: European classical music, Victorian and Edwardian songs, opera and operetta arias, sacred music, patriotic music, World War I songs, songs from musicals and movies, pantomime music, dance music, marches, ballads and glees, piano sonatas, Italian violin music, German lieder, jazz music, rock music, celebrity albums, Australian songs, songs of Jack O’Hagan, Australian band music, Australian patriotic songs and anthems, and L’Oiseau Lyre imprints (the publishing house of the Australian expatriate Louise Dyer). One of the earliest Australian works in the collection is a copy of Carl Linger’s Song of Australia (Gawler, 1859).
Snell had a passion for music covers and many of the older works have covers illustrated with lithographs. Later works often have art nouveau or art deco designs. Some have inscriptions by composers or performers. An example is Joseph Muset, Fourteen Organ Works from the Litany of Loreto (c. 1945) presented by the composer to Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Many of the works in Snell’s collection had originally been collected by musicians, such as the singer and composer Horace Stevens (1876–1954), the bass baritone Adolf Spivakovsky (1891–1958) and the violinist Adam Kriegel (1912–1995). Another major source was the archive of A. Kynoch & Co., the Melbourne printing firm that was closely linked with Allan’s, the music publishers.
Among the manuscripts that Snell collected were items that belonged to the singer Nance Osborne and manuscripts of Rolf Atkinson, Allan Dempster, Alice Meynell and other composers. Of particular importance is Percy Grainger’s own copy of his transcription of J.S. Bach’s Fugue in C Major, Book 1, arranged for two reed organs (MS 6526).
The papers of Snell consist largely of his research material on colonial publishers, printers, engravers, composers and lyricists, drafts of Australian popular music, material on band music and musicians, sources on the topography and businesses of colonial Sydney, newspaper cuttings, and a huge collection of photocopies of title pages of sheet music and album covers. There is also a small quantity of correspondence and business papers, dating from 1971 to 1993.
All the sheet music and albums in the Snell Collection have been catalogued individually. Part of the sheet music collection has been kept together in the Music Collection, comprising 16 boxes of Australian material and 57 boxes of overseas material. This material consists predominantly of eighteenth and nineteenth-century songs and piano pieces and also World War I songs (Australian). The call numbers have the prefixes MUS Snell N mba and MUS Snell mb. The bulk of the twentieth-century music and the albums have been integrated in the general music collection and the provenance is not shown in the catalogue entries. The Kynoch Archives are housed separately from the Snell Collection.
The manuscripts collected by Snell are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 6940, MS 6526 (Grainger) and MS 7747 (Atkinson). The personal papers of Snell are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 4932. A finding aid is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-328036737/findingaid.
The National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra and the State Library of Queensland also hold substantial collections acquired from Snell.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)