Royal College of Music launches UK-wide virtual museum

5,000 years of musical heritage from 200 UK collections is brought together for the first time in a project led by Royal College of Music, with a major new website documenting 20,000 historically significant musical instruments

MINIM-UK – a virtual museum featuring sound, pictures and information about the UK’s most important musical instruments launched in October 2017.

From instruments owned by Charles II, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria and composers such as Elgar and Chopin, to the earliest known stringed keyboard instrument in the world (c. 1480), ancient Egyptian bone clappers in the form of human hands and an extremely rare narwhal-horn flute, the public will be able to visit a single virtual location for the first time and freely explore the UK’s most important musical instruments.

The instruments, currently held in 200 separate collections across the UK, are brought together at MINIM-UK thanks to a major project led by the Royal College of Music, in partnership with the Horniman Museum and Gardens, Royal Academy of Music, University of Edinburgh, and Google Arts and Culture, with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

Many of these collections have not been easily accessible to the public before, many of them hidden in local collections and remote locations, unseen in storage, or not previously documented online. MINIM-UK has brought together the resources that were already online (e.g. collections held by Victoria & Albert and British Museums) and, for the first time, fully documented and digitised others. Its cataloguers travelled over 10,000 miles for 200 days to collect photographs, video and sound recordings and stories spanning from the Scottish Highlands to the South coast.

Among the precious instruments whose sound is available online for the first time are the Habeneck Stradivarius violin from 1734 and the earliest known stringed keyboard instrument in the world, which dates from ca. 1480. So far the sound of over 400 musical instruments has been captured, and this is set to grow in future years.

Thanks to the partnership with Google Arts and Culture, which works to digitally preserve ‘important cultural materials’ internationally, MINIM-UK represents a new model for a single resource that creates easy and free access to an otherwise greatly fragmented area of British heritage. MINIM-UK also aims to promote visitors’ numbers to small local museums and draw attention to little-known collections within large museums. It also dramatically increases the British music presence in international databases such as Europeana and MIMO – the largest worldwide resource on musical instruments funded by the EU in 2009.



Edinburgh Serpent, Royal College of Music
Edinburgh Serpent
Narwhal flute, Royal College of Music
Narwhal Flute

Clavicytherium, Royal College of Music
Clavicytherium