The college’s collection includes a Strad, a pocket violin and a curious, unplayable contraption

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In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) will be showcasing the treasures within its museum and archives to the public during the Heritage Open Days on Sunday 17 September. Not normally open to the public, the collection tells the college’s story, as well as the story of music in Manchester, and includes priceless pieces of curiosity, wisdom and of archival significance.

Certain pieces within the collection will pique the interests of string players, among them a 1685 Stradivari violin, a tiny violin measuring only 10cm long, as well as a curious ‘contraption’ that cannot be played.

Take a close-up look at these treasures from the RNCM collection, and check out more information on the pieces below, thanks to the RNCM college archivist Heather Roberts.

The 1685 Stradivari violin

This three-quarter size violin was made by Antonio Stradivari. Its small size lends itself well to some of the more Baroque-era classics such as Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto, historically informed performances of which we are able to loan out this instrument. While the scroll is not the original, but one attributed to the Amati family, the glowing maple back allows its original beauty to shine through.

It came to Manchester in 1883, after passing through the hands of various French and English collectors and players, before finally landing in the possession of George Adolphus Chanot, a Londoner that had settled in Manchester. The famous collector, Richard Bennet of Stockport, then took possession of it in the early 1890s and was soon sold to a Mrs Cock for her son. A few decades later it came the Mancunian collector, Josiah Chapman, then to be returned to auction after he died, only to be rebought and returned to Manchester by his son James in 1946. 

The mini of the mini-Strad

Dated 1901, this model is fitted with all the luxury expected of a full sized piece – silk and satin lined box, silver mounted bow ’complete and perfect in every detail’ according to the catalogue, with a Birmingham silver casket for spare strings, and meticulous detail in the body. 

A ’Contraption’

Every Victoriana collection needs a mystery, a curio, a ’thing’. We do not know when it was made, who made it, where or why. Could it be a practical joke? A mistake someone tried to make the best of? A failed invention? Who knows. It could be an adaptation of the ’alto-violin’ attributed to Nicolas a Paris, with one violin and one viola , but with the way it has been assembled, it can’t actually be played!

The RNCM museum and archives are open to the public for Heritage Open Days on Sunday 17 September from 11am to 4pm. Entry is free and no pre-booking is required. For further information on the RNCM’s museum and archives visit

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