The musical instrument collection contains approximately 900 instruments from all over the world, including an important collection of 19th century western instruments and over 400 diverse types of whistles. They mostly come from private collectors who later sold or donated their instruments to the museum.

The Spencer Collection

Photo of black instrument featuring multiple s-shaped curves
Serpent, S shaped wit brass and copper fittings

A collection of 120 instruments, mostly of western origin, demonstrating technological changes to brass and woodwind instruments in the first third of the 19th century.  The Spencer collection has a strong link with the Royal Pavilion, as the time period covered by the collection shows the kind of instruments the musicians in the King’s band would have played for concerts in the Royal Pavilion.

Albert Charles Spencer was born into a musical family and played in a family band until WW1. In 1931, he married Gladys, a fellow musician with whom he collected musical instruments.  Mr Spencer sold his collection to Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 1968, after having loaned it to Worthing museum for display from 1957.

The Willins Collection

A collection of over 400 whistles dating from between 1780 and 1934.  The whistles come from a variety of places as diverse as Java, Japan, Switzerland and even Brighton. The whistle collection includes tourist souvenirs, working whistles such as policemen’s and boatswain’s whistles, novelty whistles, whistles shaped as other instruments like trumpets and horns, children’s toys and a small kettle.

A J Willins was an avid collector and the collection was donated to the museum by Mary Willins, his wife, after his death in 1950.

Other collectors

Other collectors sold or donated smaller numbers of instruments or single instruments to the collection. This part of the collection adds up to around 350 instruments, which come from all over the world; including a mandolin collected by Baroness Zouche of Harringworth, a collection of Angolan instruments collected by WC Horton and a collection of instruments from several African countries collected by a Mr Byrne. Many of these instruments were collected prior to 1912.

Explore the collection

Many of the instruments have been photographed and researched as part of the MINIM project.  Run by the Royal College of Music, MINIM aims to create a wide-ranging database of historic instruments held in museum collections across the UK.

Some of the instruments from Sierra Leone were also photographed and researched as part of a wider Sierra Leone Heritage project.