The MINIM-UK Musical Instrument Database

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Are you interested in historic pianos? If so, a fantastic new online resource has just been launched. The project, known as MINIM-UK, takes the form of a database featuring the UK’s historic musical instruments. It sounds like a simple idea, but when you consider that the database contains over 20,000 individual exhibits, held in more than 100 different public collections across the country, you will appreciate the enormity of the project.

Erard grand piano

Erard grand piano (included in the database) at Hatchlands Park, Surrey. Photo: ©Cobbe Collection / National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

Most importantly – access to the database is freely available to everyone.

Various search/browsing options are available. A “Search for Instrument” using the term “piano” currently brings up 241 results, from over 60 museums/collections. Some of these are piano-related, rather than actual pianos (e.g. sansas, lamellaphones, thumb pianos etc.), but there are still nearly 200 actual pianos. An image and detailed description is provided for most entries.

Audio and video clips are also included for some instruments, giving an even more immersive experience.

Many of the musical instruments have not previously featured online, and the project required a considerable amount of new photography and documentation.


The locations of the instruments are given, and the site features an interactive map showing all the currently listed museums and collections.

The MINIM-UK map – find an exhibit near you!

Part of the MINIM-UK site is entitled “Stories”. These are specially commissioned articles on various subjects related to the UK’s musical instruments. For example “Unusual materials and richly decorated instruments” examines some of the more extreme materials used to give various instruments visual impact.

The Royal College of Music initiated this project in partnership with the Royal Academy of Music, the Horniman Museum, and the University of Edinburgh. Additional support has come from the Higher Education Funding Council for England Catalyst Fund, and the Google Cultural Institute.

At present the database incorporates just public collections. There are over 200 additional private collections, and hopefully some of these will be included in the future.

This really is a great resource, not only for exploring the history and providence of all manner of historic pianos, but also for locating where they actually are. Most are on public display, and so, if you are in the UK, you can easily discover what is near to you, and go and see these great instruments for yourself.

The MINIM-UK website can be found here.

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