Seymour Oppenheimer Collection


Prominent Chicago businessman and avid art collector, Seymour Oppenheimer (1905-1980), devoted many years to the acquisition of fine musical instruments. He traveled extensively and from the early 1950s focused his attention primarily on acquiring bells, gongs, lithophones, and rattles--idiophones of every sort from throughout the world. Many of the rarest instruments are from East Asia including numerous Chinese jade stone chimes and bronze bells dating from the Han, Sui, Ming, and Qing dynasties. There are rare Benin pieces cast in the lost wax method as well as bells and rattles from many different areas in West Africa. Old folk instruments from Mexico and Central America, early European and American bells, and a series of Middle Eastern bells, some of them dated as early as 1000 BCE, are represented in Mr. Oppenheimer's splendid collection.

Of particular interest is the carefully documented, illustrated notebook in which Mr. Oppenheimer recorded each acquisition, complete with simple hand-drawn illustrations. Dimensions are frequently included together with details concerning acquisition and, in some cases, accounts of subsequent exhibition of the instruments. Though his notes are are often brief, the inclusion of invoices and detailed descriptions with provenance from dealers such as J.J.Klejman of New York and Spink & Sons of London are a testimony to the seriousness with which Mr. Oppenheimer pursued his avocation. The last entries in his notebook date from 1979 shortly before his death.

The collection remained in the Oppenheimer family until until 1997 when heirs to the estate, knowing of the Eichheim Collection at UCSB, donated the instruments to the university. In doing so they honored Mr. Oppenehimer's wishes to have the collection reside in an institution where it would be displayed and contribute to the research, teaching and performance activities of faculty, visiting scholars and students alike. An exhibition, "Bells from around the World: Selections from the Seymour Oppenheimer Collection" was held in Davidson Library at UCSB from December 1997 through February 1998. On-going research projects involving the collection include the sampling of the sounds of the instruments by the Music Department's interdisciplinary Center for Research in Electronic Art Technology (CREATE). The initiative to establish an archive of unique acoustic sonorities is being expanded to include sound samples from the entire Eichheim Collection