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Special Collections Research Centre

John Bedford's collection and benefaction

John Bedford was a noted antique dealer and collector who amassed a significant rare and modern book collection on the history of furniture design over a period of 40 years. Alongside the generous bequest, which is supporting the extension and refurbishment of the Special Collections Research Centre, he also donated the John Evan Bedford Library of Furniture History to the University of Leeds Special Collections for teaching and research.

The John Evan Bedford Library of Furniture History is an exceptional collection covering all aspects of the English home, from interiors and furnishings to lighting and metalwork, drapery and upholstery to architectural and garden design. The books, which also touch on household life and management, date from the seventeenth century onwards.

John Bedford’s father, the physician Dr D. Evan Bedford (1898–1978), was also a bibliophile. In 1971 he gifted his own collection of books on cardiology to the Royal College of Physicians in London. It was John’s wish that his own library, named in memory of his father, should also be housed in a suitable repository and made available to researchers.

The book collection comprises over 3,000 printed items, many of them extremely rare and in some cases unique. The hundreds of manuscripts include furniture pattern books, ornamental designs and inventories of country houses. The archive is particularly rich in ephemera including trade cards, labels and pamphlets, many of which are unknown outside this collection. 

With great understanding of what is needed to make a collection accessible and useful, Bedford also provided funds for cataloguing the collection and for research projects based in the collection. Our project team have already begun work and have found some beautiful and intriguing items.

See our blog posts on the Bedford Collection for some of the highlights of this fascinating collection.