Zoe Wolstenholme, Bedford Project Archivist, writes

We are now over halfway through cataloguing the archive of the John Evan Bedford Library of Furniture History

The archive ranges from the late art and antique dealer John Bedford’s Cabinet Makers and General Archive files, containing cuttings and research that he compiled on various furniture makers, sellers and subjects, to the archives of furniture historians such as Pauline Agius and Edward T. Joy.

It also contains significant collections of trade cards, billheads, trade catalogues, archives of estate papers and personal and family papers. The archive is part of the wider collection which also contains over 3,000 printed items including rare books such as ‘The ladies amusement: Or, the whole art of Japanning made easy’, by Jean-Baptiste Pillement.  

The scope of the archive is also wide ranging with large files in the Cabinet Makers Archives on well-known furniture makers such as Gillows and Thomas Chippendale but also featuring the work of modernist designers such as Eileen Gray and Betty Joel. Subjects in the General Archive Files span an array of furniture styles, materials and techniques with examples such as tea caddies, Blue John/Derbyshire Spar and penwork to name just a few. Mirrors, marble items and maps/globes also appear particularly well represented. 

The first phase of detailed cataloguing work has been completed by our Collections Officer Rosie Dyson who has catalogued Bedford’s significant collection of trade cards. Rosie has written that the trade cards are ‘highly collectable [and] give clues to social, political and cultural attitudes and assumptions of the time. Prior to the introduction of street numbers in the 1760s, they also served as an important means of direction to a business location. The oldest item in the collection is circa 1712 and the most recent is circa 1993, although the collection is predominantly nineteenth century. There is a strong focus on British metalworkers and furniture makers, with a particular geographical interest in Birmingham and London makers. The geographical scope is not limited to Britain, with a distinctive collection of Belgian cartes porcelaine and other examples from as far afield as America, France, Germany, Holland and Japan’. 

MS 2241/4/1/159 J. G. Pluys-Costermans trade card depicting furniture and chocolate making in decorative cartouches. Image Credit Leeds University Library

Rosie has now moved onto cataloguing the billheads in the Bedford archive which contains Ironmongers, Cabinet Makers and Trunk Makers, Military and Camp Equipage, Saddlers and Harness Makers billheads. There is also a miscellaneous series which contains billheads for businesses from builders, contractors and decorators to Oil and Italian Warehouses and 18th century bills and billheads.  

An interesting discovery whilst cataloguing the archive has been uncovering the links between different parts of the collection. Businesses might have records across different series in the archive, represented in trade cards, billheads and trade catalogues, but there are also links between people. 

For example, the Pauline Agius Archive contains the furniture historian’s research papers on subjects ranging from Art Nouveau to British Manufacturing Industries and papers relating to her lectures and publications. Agius studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture, read History at University College, London and was a council member of the Furniture History Society from 1970–1975. But Agius material is not only found in her discrete archive. There are also books with the provenance listed as Pauline Agius in the Bedford print items and correspondence between Agius and another furniture historian Edward T. Joy in the Edward T. Joy archive. This is exemplified in one article found in the Cabinet Makers Archives series in the file for Dowbiggin on ‘Thomas Dowbiggin, Royal Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’ which is listed as from the Edward T. Joy Archive but was lent to Joy by Agius. Both archives were acquired by Bedford and together they depict the relationship between these historians as well as providing access to their own research and book collections. 

MS 2241/5 TC/FE 64 Druce and Co. trade catalogue (1939). Image Credit Leeds University Library

Georgina Burgess, Special Collections Intern, is also writing and updating Wikipedia articles for some of the makers and sellers in the collection. She is using information found in the archive to enhance and edit existing Wikipedia entries such as this for Maple and Co. and has written a new entry for Druce and Co.

We look forward to sharing more of the archive which will be published as sections are catalogued on our online catalogue.