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Our collections

Barak Norman viols
The Royal College of Music Museum maintains and preserves more than 25,000 instruments, portraits, images and engravings. These items are used to support learning and research whenever possible and many are made available to a global public through an extensive programme of digitisation.

In addition, the RCM library holds equally impressive collections of manuscripts, prints, letters, concert programmes and books.

During the redevelopment of the Museum building most of the items we hold have been moved off site. The student lending collection remains on-site and access to items in storage can be arranged as needed, including for use by external researchers.

 

Musical instruments

The collection includes c1,000 musical instruments from the late 15th to the mid-20th century. Among them is the earliest dated guitar (Belchior Dias, Lisbon, 1581), the earliest known stringed keyboard instrument (clavicytherium, Ulm, c1480), a harpsichord by Alessandro Trasuntino (Venice, 1531) and a remarkable collection of English viols (John Rose, c1590, Henry Jaye, 1619, Richard Meares c1680, and Barak Norman 1692 and 1694).

Several of our instruments are maintained in playing condition and can be heard at concerts or as part of our research and dissemination activities.

Our musical instrument collection can be explored through the following digital resources.

Digital exhibitions

Our interactive digital exhibitions feature many items from our collections, including pictures and recordings of many of our instruments.

Find out more

 

Printed instrument catalogues

Printed versions of our catalogues and publication can be purchased through the RCM shop. All catalogues are also freely accessible online.

Find out more

MIMO project

Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO) is an international database, initially funded by the European Community, of more than 55,000 musical instruments from major institutions all over the world. MIMO provides a primary access point for information about the instrument collection and their links to other museums in Europe. Around 800 instruments from the RCM's collection are listed here.

Use of the MIMO thesaurus has provided an authority for the consistent management of instrument names, makers and categories in collections management.

Find out more

Paintings

The RCM has an internationally significant collection of more than 130 paintings celebrating music, musicians and patrons of music, spanning between the 16th and the 21st century.

Notable portraits include the earliest official portrait of the famous castrato singer Carlo Broschi ‘Farinelli’, the best known portraits of Joseph Haydn, Johann Peter Solomon, William Boyce and William Shield, as well as of many of the famous musicians who studied or taught at the College (Ralph Vaughan Williams, Charles Villiers Stanford, Herbert Howells to name a few).

View on Art UK

Image reproduction

Licensing and copyright for publication and any public use of images from our collections is managed by ArenaPAL image library. Currently available material includes:

  • Images from the collections of instruments and portraits.
  • Carte de visite (visiting cards) of eminent 19th century musicians and other historical figures.
  • 'Spy' caricatures of musicians from Vanity Fair, 1873–1911.
  • Late 19th/early 20th century photographs and postcards from the Bayreuth Opera House and Festival.

To view the materials, or to make an enquiry about image reproduction, please visit our collections’ partner ArenaPAL.

Visit ArenaPAL

Research

The RCM supports individual research by staff, students and external researchers whose work focusses on items in our collections or in related cultural areas.

Research access

Most of the items in our collections are currently in storage while a major redevelopment of the Museum building takes place. We have made much of the information about our collections available online.

Access can be granted to researchers who need to examine items in our collections. If you are an external researcher and would like to request access, please fill in our research request form and email it to the Museum office. Your request will be considered and we will get back to you within 10 days of receipt to let you know whether special access is possible. Please be aware that requesting instruments from our storage facility can take time.

Research request form

Royal College of Music Museum office

General enquiries

+44 (0)20 7591 4346

museum@rcm.ac.uk

Upcoming research

Over the course of our Heritage Lottery Funded redevelopment we will be carrying out some more in depth research and scientific analysis on a number of our treasures. The results will be shared in a series of papers, events and online.