The collection of musical instruments is small but it includes some of the rarest and most renowned instruments in the world. It was founded on a group of instruments which was given to the Ashmolean by the firm of W.E. Hill and Sons in 1939. The Hills had acquired an unrivalled reputation as dealers in stringed instruments, and their gifts comprised some of the finest instruments to pass through their hands. Among them are a group of viols from northern Italy and England by makers such as Gasparo da Salo and Giovanni Maria da Brescia, together with citterns and guitars by Italian, French, and English makers. There is an exceptional sequence of violins, violas, and cellos by members of the Amati family, Antonio Stradivari, and several later craftsmen. These include the earliest dated violin, made by Andrea Amati in 1564; and the most famous violin in the world, Stradivari's 'Messiah' of 1716. Complementing the bowed and plucked stringed instruments is a collection of bows by some of the most celebrated English and European makers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In addition, the collection comprises a ceremonial silver trumpet by William Bull c. 1700; an extremely rare virginal by Adam Liversedge (1670); and a two manual harpsichord by James Kirckman (1772).
Jon Whiteley, Stringed Instruments: Viols, Villins, Citterns, and Guitars in the Ashmolean Museum (Ashmolean Handbooks), Oxford, 2008
Musical Instruments in the Ashmolean Museum: The Complete Collection, ed. John Milnes, Berkhamsted, 2011