Leeds University Library

Fay and Geoffrey Elliott

Image of Fay and Geoffrey Elliott reading room

Fay and Geoffrey Elliott share a passion for books - not only for their contents, but for their physical presence - and began collecting some 40 years ago. They decided early on that book collecting would not dominate their lives, but that they would acquire at times that suited them, with the aim of quality over quantity.

They began collecting the work of Oscar Wilde in the late 1970s with the intention of acquiring items worthy of any collection in the world, in the knowledge that they could not rival longer-established Wilde collections in size. In the 1980s and 1990s, collecting Wilde was a central theme for the Elliotts, the most striking purchase being the autograph manuscript of his second play The Duchess of Padua in 1993.

Of 20th-century authors, Evelyn Waugh appealed to Fay and Geoffrey most and his work came to have an equivalent weight to Wilde's in the collection. Exceptional copies of the rarities The Life to Come and P.R.B. and Waugh's precocious childhood typescript Pistol Troop Magazine were acquired in 1988, to be joined triumphantly by the autograph manuscript of Vile Bodies in 1990.

The Elliots were always eager for others to enjoy their collection. They offered access to scholars, sometimes at personal inconvenience, and were delighted to lend items for the great Wilde exhibition mounted jointly by the British Library and the Pierpont Morgan Library in 2001. In this spirit, they began to think of making the collection permanently accessible by presenting it to a public institution. Most of the collection originated in England, leading them to consider an English university library. By chance, two acquisitions made at this time were connected with the collections of Leeds University Library.

The first was the splendid Foley copy of Andrew Marvell's Miscellaneous Poems, 1681. Fay and Geoffrey were not to know until much later that another copy of the work had been the first rare book acquired by Lord Brotherton.

The second was two inscribed Russian copies of Kim Philby's My Secret War and Philby's 1930s passport. Geoffrey, a published historian, came to the Leeds Russian Archive when researching Anglo-Russian Cold War relations. The positive experience of his visit convinced the Elliotts that Leeds University should be the home of their collection. The gift was made in 2002.

The collection continues to develop in the Library's care. Fay and Geoffrey Elliott are ideal benefactors - generous, supportive, and expertly knowledgeable. Moreover, they say they have never regretted their choice of Leeds University Library.