Classification Methodology

The content of the Conservatoire’s Historical Instrument Collection is largely confined to European wind and brass instruments, and string bows of the 18th to early 20th Centuries.

The catalogue uses many specialist terms specific to the type, age and make of instrument.

Below is a detailed explanation of the information that was recorded and how measurements were made.

View a list of instrument-specific terms.

In addition to this information, details of the classification methodology specific to Woodwind and Brasswind, and String Bows are also available.

Acquisition number (eg 3.4)

For this catalogue, a new numbering system was implemented.

Despite many of the items having existing numbers from previous catalogues, it was deemed necessary to assign new numbers due to missing items; items with no previous number; and new items being acquired.

The new decimal system allows for further additions to the collection whilst maintaining the numeric sequence of the instrument categories.

Original name

This is the name (or names), where known, of the instrument in the country where it was made or first sold.

Common name

The vernacular modern designation in the language of the catalogue. This may include a conventional designation of size or pitch, such as ‘half-size violin’, ‘25-inch kettledrum’ or ‘Bb piccolo’.

Nominal pitch

Applies to wind instruments ‘in’ a certain key. On brass instruments, this is generally the fundamental pitch of the tube without keys or valves being pressed, or slides extended. On woodwinds, other than bassoons, this is generally one tone lower than the ‘six-finger’ note in the lowest register for instruments overblowing at the octave, in the second register for instruments overblowing at the twelfth. For example, the instrument with traditional English nomenclature ‘Bb piccolo’ has the nominal pitch Ab.

Type or system

The principal technical characteristic, relating where possible to an established designation. In general, the type or system is that characteristic requiring a particular technique of the player. For example, ‘Boehm system’, ‘six-string’, ‘one-key’ ‘hand-tuned’ (timpani), ‘French fingering’, ‘Thumbplate system’, ‘valve’ (trombone) etc.


The maker’s name is given, whether the actual maker or the firm. In cases of doubt, the standard definitions developed by Sotheby’s have been used:

  • ‘By’: The instrument is, in the cataloguer’s opinion, the work of the named maker. This category also includes instruments made especially for a dealer and originally sold under his name, and where the actual maker is unknown or unidentifiable.
  • ‘Ascribed to’: A traditional attribution.
  • ‘Attributed to’: The instrument is believed to be by the named maker, in the opinion of the cataloguer or the authority whose literature is referred to.
  • ‘School of’: The instrument is, in the opinion of the ‘… school’ cataloguer, by a follower of the maker indicated, or is in the style of instruments associated with the area indicated.
  • ‘Labelled’ or ‘Stamped’: The instrument is not, in the cataloguer’s opinion, by the maker indicated but merely ‘inscribed’, or bears their name. In some cases, the instrument may be a later copy or be modelled after the maker indicated.

Place of origin

The town or country of origin of each item is given, if known, using modern day names. This field also includes the date of making. For all items, a date of making is given, no matter how vague the known information.

Serial number

All known serial marks are described for each item.

Further information on maker

Where further information on the maker which is relevant to the specific item is available, it has been recorded here, sometimes with bibliographic references.

Overall size

The height or length of the instrument.


    The text of all inscriptions found on the instrument, whether original or added later, has been included in this catalogue.

    The method of inscription (such as branded, inscribed, carved, engraved, labelled, stamped, written etc.) has been noted, as have details of motifs and logos.

    Cases etc.

    Items such as cases, reed-caps, tool-kits, cleaning equipment, tuning hammers etc associated with an instrument, but not used in playing, are mentioned here.


    Any faults or missing parts which impair the appearance or may affect the performance of an instrument are described here.

    Repair history

    Any repairs, modifications or other deliberate alterations which were carried out and brought the instrument into its most recent playing state are described.

    General literature references

    References to published descriptions of the class of instrument (not referring to the particular item being catalogued) may be made. Each reference should include title, author, publisher, place and date of publication, and the relevant page number.

    Usable pitch

    The playing pitch determined by the construction of the instruments, for example ‘Plays at a’ = 440 Hz’ is given where it was possible to measure.

    If the instrument was made to be used at a particular pitch standard, such as ‘Diapason Normal’ (a’ = 435 Hz), or ‘Old Philharmonic’ (a’ = 452.5 Hz), this has been stated.

    Performance characteristics

    The playing features of the instrument and any appreciable strengths or weaknesses are given.

    Association with other items

    Where separately catalogued items are directly associated with each other, this has been noted.

    For example, all brass instrument mouthpieces are catalogued separately, whether they are known to be original to the instrument (in the case of the Cornopean, item 6.11, and its mouthpiece, item 13.20).

    Clarinet mouthpieces which are known to belong to an instrument have not been catalogued separately.

    Specific literature references

    Where there is published literature referring to a specific item, it is noted with full bibliographic details.

    Illustration references

    Most of the items in the collection have been photographed and can be seen by browsing the collection.

    Specific recording references

    Many of the items in the collection have been recorded, are included on a CD and can be downloaded via Audio Resources.

    Previous ownership

    The names of former owners, collectors or players are given.

    Collection assignation

    Where a donated collection retains its identity within the collection as a whole (i.e. Key Collection), this has been noted.