The Spencer Collection’s rare and interesting material dates from the mid-16th century. It contains lutes and guitars, printed books and manuscripts for the lute and guitar, song sheets, an instruction sheet for fretting, pages from the Mynshall, Burwell and Margaret Board lute tutor books, concert notices and advertisements, and playbills. It has strong visual material, such as engravings, mezzotints and lithographs relating to the guitar, lute, musical patronage, performers, performance venues, patrons, composers (particularly in relation to the lute and guitar), and allegorical scenes (such as representing the Five Senses or the Seasons), effigies and tombs, portraits of British kings, queens and aristocrats, and musical scenes. It also has exhibition panels relating to the life of Henry Purcell, used for the tercentenary of the composer’s death in 1995 in an exhibition curated by Robert Spencer at Wigmore Hall.
The Spencer Collection’s creator, Robert Spencer Hon RAM (1932-1997), was connected with the lute as a performer, scholar, teacher and collector of instruments and of manuscripts. He was professor of early English song at the Academy for nearly 25 years. Spencer used his collection as a working library, enabling him to carry out the detailed scholarly research that underpinned his performing and teaching activities.
Various instruments, manuscripts and prints from the Spencer Collection are on public display in the Museum’s Strings Gallery. The Spencer Collection was acquired by the Academy in 1998 with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Mrs Jill Spencer, the Britten-Pears Foundation and contributors to a public appeal.