The University of Edinburgh's rare and unique collections catalogue online.

Sir Nicholas Shackleton Collection

TitleSir Nicholas Shackleton Collection
DescriptionThe Shackleton Collection consists of more than 800 clarinets and also includes a number of interesting flutes, oboes, bassoons and french horns. The clarinets collected by Sir Nicholas Shackleton over more than 40 years constitute a significant and unique resource. The outstanding importance of this collection is due not only to the quantity but even more to the quality of these carefully chosen instruments. Professor Sir Nicholas John Shackleton (23rd June 1937 - 24th January 2006) was the son of a distinguished geologist, and a distant relative of the Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. He was educated at Cranbrook School, Kent, and Clare College, Cambridge. He remained in Cambridge for his whole working life, rising to become Professor and Director of the Goodwin Institute of Quaternary Research. As a collector, Shackleton was astute and tenacious. Not only did he buy instruments from the leading dealers in the field, he was one of the first to harness internet auctions to serious collection-building. He enjoyed cordial relations with many fellow collectors and refined his collection through numerous exchanges. The importance of Shackleton's collection was widely recognised in his lifetime, and some of the instruments were well known through his generous loans to exhibitions and his warm and gracious hospitality to researchers. Shackleton assembled the collection according to various criteria: he collected clarinets of all sizes, starting with small clarinets in high A, A-flat, G, F, taking in the more usual clarinets in E-flat, D and C, and including of course numerous clarinets in B-flat and A, as well as basset horns and large (bass and contrabass) clarinets. Another aspect of the collection documents differing approaches to the solution of specific problems of the clarinet's intonation, sound quality or fingering. Nearly every important patent is reflected in the collection, including Carte's patent, Spencer's model, the Barret action, and the Pupeschi system, to name but four. Boldly imaginative but commercially unsuccessful models such as the Louf system and the Schaffner system are also present. The most important aspect of the collection is perhaps the regional origin of the instruments. Shackleton was very interested in comparing the styles of clarinet making in different regions, and we find instruments made over the last 250 years in London, Paris, Lyon, Amsterdam, Brussels, Dresden, Bayreuth, Munich, the Vogtland, Vienna, Prague, Italy, Denmark and the U.S. This offers us the possibility to research the development in specific regions as well as to compare different provinces, allowing new insights and conclusions about the music culture, the status of virtuosi players, and the condition of composing in these areas. As a researcher particularly interested in the sounds of the instruments, Shackleton was always sought instruments with their original mouthpieces. In addition there are numerous modern mouthpieces in the collection. Of great importance are the fourteen early 19th century clarinet reeds. Thanks to Shackleton's devotion to his instruments and his well planned, careful maintenance, most of the clarinets are in a playable condition. This gives us the important opportunity to play and hear these instruments, and to learn musical history from the evidence of their sounds.
CustodianNicholas John Shackleton (23rd June 1937 - 24th January 2006)
Custodial HistoryReceived by bequest in 2006.
OriginEurope; North America
Parent Collection MIMEd