Enter one Joseph E Smith resident of Winston Salem, North Carolina, about whom very little is known. There is no trace of biography on the Web or in the records of the Winston Salem Museum. It seems his only legacy is an eclectic collection of 137 autographs of composers and musicians now located in the archives of Wake Forest University Library.

The collection contains signed images, plain cards with signatures and signxed letters. A quick audit of the collection suggests the scope a range from the 1860s (Hector Berlioz) across the first six decades of the Twentieth Century.

It is self-evident (viz Berlioz and others) that much of the collection is the result of purchases from dealers rather than direct requests to composers for a signature.

Alongside Berlioz signatures include Beecham, Berg, Bizet, Britten, Copeland, Debussy, Delius, Elgar, Holst, d’Indy, Ives, Mahler, Ravel, Satie, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and, of course, Vaughan Williams.

There are two Vaughan Williams signature items in the collection. The first is a ‘purchased’ postcard announcing a meeting of the Cambridge Musical Society on 21st February 1894 (Image 1). The second is a letter from RVW, written on 21st February 1951, is a reply to a request from Joseph Smith for an autograph.

While the text of the Smith letter to RVW cannot be traced, the reply can be found in two online locations – the text of the reply is online in the comprehensive Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams * website (Image 2) while the original of RVW’s reply is held in Joseph E. Smith Music Manuscript Collection and can be seen both in the University’s online library catalogue * (Image 3) and also in the Digital Public Library of America * together with a small number of other RVW-related artifacts.

Image 2 – source: The Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams

Image 3 – source: Digital Public Library of America