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Antique dealer’s gift supports tomorrow’s learning

 March 27, 2020 | Simon Jenkins

Renowned art and antique dealer John Victor Bedford bequeathed his collection of rare books, manuscripts and objects to the University. Now a financial gift from his Trustees is enabling us to make the most of this remarkable archive.

Gathered over almost half a century, the John Evan Bedford Library of Furniture History is an exceptional collection covering all aspects of the English home – interiors, furnishings, drapery, lighting and plasterwork, its architecture and its gardens, from the 17th century onwards.

It holds a host of decorative items while its 3,000 printed works include all the important volumes relating to the subject, many of them rare and some unique. The manuscripts include furniture pattern books, architectural drawings, ornamental designs and inventories of country houses. Mr Bedford also amassed an outstanding collection of trade cards of which he was justifiably proud.

As a resource charting the changing tastes and styles across 300 years of British society, it is quite simply unique.

Though Mr Bedford was not a Leeds alumnus, the gift recognises his long-standing friendship with Leeds academic Mark Westgarth, a former antique dealer who has conducted 20 years of research into the history of the trade.

The Bedford Collection opens a host of possibilities for research and teaching across art, history and the social sciences. And a gift from the Trustees of Mr Bedford’s estate will make the use of the collection every bit as remarkable as its contents.

The donation will transform the library’s Special Collections Research Centre, putting items from the collection on permanent display and creating a modern, accessible and flexible space, where students and academics can examine rare books, historic objects and art – alongside rich digital archives both from Leeds and other collections.

At its heart, the new John Bedford room will be a digitally-connected environment for classes and events, enabling curators from across the globe to interact with students working with items from the collection. A four-strong project team will work to make the collection accessible.

Antique dealer’s gift supports tomorrow’s learning