This collection of European stringed instruments, while not large, is world famous. Several of the instruments are among the rarest and most beautiful of their kind.
The collection was founded on a group of instruments the Ashmolean received from the firm of W.E. Hill & Sons in 1939, and it has since been increased by two bequests and by an important group of bows and instruments given by Albert Cooper in 1999.
W.E. Hill & Sons had an unrivalled reputation for making, restoring, and selling stringed instruments. In the course of handling and repairing instruments, the firm had become increasingly concerned about the damage to early violas and violins by constant playing and repeated restoration. This gave rise to the idea of donating a select group of rare instruments to a museum where they would be preserved.
The collection is frequently consulted by instrument makers, as well, as W. E. Hill & Sons' commission of a series of working drawings by John Pringle and Stephen Barber to meet the needs of the craftsman instrument-maker serve as invaluable resource materials for professionals and collectors.