The Gerald Coke Handel Collection comprises over 12,000 items from the eighteenth century to the present, and is a major research resource for the study of Handel and his contemporaries. It includes manuscript and printed music and documents, books, journals, libretti, sound recordings, artworks and artefacts, and an important collection of performance ephemera relating to Handel and his circle. Handel’s singers, patrons, friends and working environments are well represented, making the collection is now a rich resource for eighteenth-century musical studies. There are periodicals and collected editions, together with modern scores and literature, and the large collection of ephemera comprises concert tickets, playbills, newspaper cuttings, programmes and advertisements from the eighteenth century to the present day, only a small number of which are on display in the museum’s Handel gallery.

Manuscripts include autograph letters from Handel, his librettist Charles Jennens, and others, as well as the earliest surviving score of his opera Teseo and numerous contemporary manuscript scores including those formerly belonging to the Earl of Shaftesbury.  There are many items relating to the earliest Messiah performances, including wordbooks for the first performance and the first published score of songs from the Messiah. These complement Handel’s bequest to the Foundling Hospital of the score and 28 performance parts of the oratorio, which are now in the library.  A highlight of the collection is Handel’s autograph will; written in 1750, it was later supplemented by four codicils, including one dated 4 August 1757 which includes his bequest to the Foundling Hospital of ‘a fair copy of the Score and all Parts of my oratorio called The Messiah’.

Major art works include oil paintings of Handel, Charles Jennens, the singers Richard Leveridge, Anna Maria Strada and John Beard, and Zoffany’s portrait of John Christopher Smith the younger. There are hundreds of prints and engravings of contemporary composers and performers, including watercolours by Rowlandson, as well as ceramic and bronze busts of Handel and a terracotta modello by Roubiliac for the monument to the composer in Westminster Abbey. Smaller items include a porcelain model of the singer Kitty Clive and numerous medals, tokens and memorabilia issued for various festivals from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Gerald Coke (1907-1990) was a businessman who created his collection over sixty years. It was bequeathed to the State in lieu of tax by his widow in 1995, and formally allocated to the Foundling Museum in 2008. The Collection continues to grow and a reading room provides access to scholars and students. 

The Gerald Coke Handel Collection reading room is open Wednesday – Friday for research by appointment. For all enquiries call +44 (0)20 7841 3606 or email handel@foundlingmuseum.org.uk Search the Gerald Coke Handel Collection online.