Zoe Wolstenholme, Project Archivist, and Rosie Dyson, Collections Officer, write:

The archive catalogue of the John Evan Bedford Library of Furniture History is now live on our Special Collections website and available for research. 

This archive, collected and compiled by the late art and antique dealer John Bedford, provides a wide-ranging resource for the study of furniture history. From papers relating to the renovation of London townhouses in the eighteenth century to Bedford’s own antiques business and the archives of furniture historians, the archive provides a rich resource for the study of furniture history from the 1600s to the present day.  

The archival structure follows the original order John Bedford established for his collection ranging from his General Archive Files and Cabinet Makers Archive which contain cuttings that he compiled covering a vast range of topics from furniture styles, country houses and furniture makers to his collections of trade cards, billheads and ephemera. The archive also contains archive collections of estate papers, auction catalogues, artwork, his library reference files and personal and family papers. 

Many parts of the archive retain Bedford’s original titles. One example is the Auction catalogues of household contents, collections, etc. which contains ephemeral pieces that were either produced to advertise the contents of a particular house for auction or were hand-written records of the items sold at such an auction, sometimes with the names of the purchasers. One particularly interesting item in this part of the collection is the catalogue describing the contents for sale at Moreton Paddox in 1959 prior to its demolition. The catalogue includes photographs of the house and interiors providing a glimpse into one of Britain’s many lost country houses. 

Several items in Bedford’s collection are also marked with original reference numbers that he assigned, and these relate to indexes to the collection which can be used to search by subject. These auction catalogues for instance are labelled with the ‘CTH’ reference which stands for ‘Catalogues – House Auctions’. We have recorded these references where they exist on the online catalogue as ‘Collector’s number’ showing Bedford’s original cataloguing schema.  

Another section of interest is the archive collections of estate papers which includes the Viscount and Lady Barrington Archive comprised of correspondence and accounts on the alteration and repairs to their home at 20 Cavendish Square in London between 1755 and 1757. Of particular note is a detailed bill from the gardener noting prices of plants, trees, flowers and herbs. 

MS 2241 John Evan Bedford Library of Furniture History. Charles Sleight advertisement (c 1890). Image credit: Leeds University Library.

The archive is especially rich in ephemera ranging from Bedford’s significant collections of trade cards and billheads through to his other ephemeral items, some of which have been labelled with the reference ‘EM’ which Bedford used to refer to ‘misc. Ephemera and trade leaflets’. Some examples of more unusual advertising ephemera include a vibrant late nineteenth century advertisement which  announces Charles Sleight’s Oriental Gallery on the prestigious Royal Arcade in London. It is printed on tissue paper and depicts two humanised fish by a stream. Fish are highly symbolic in Chinese mythology and represent affluence and abundance, a nod to Charles Sleight’s prestigious placement on the Royal Arcade. He was one of its original occupiers, dealing in oriental goods at Nos 4-7. By the time of this advertisement in circa 1890, he had reduced his business solely to No. 7. Today, No. 7 houses a jeweller’s shop and the arcade continues its reputation for luxurious goods. It is also known as the city’s oldest purpose-built shopping arcade.  

Traders were keen to use advertising to tap into styles of the time, no matter how traditional their craft may have been. Calendars have been used for marketing purposes since the Victorian period and it is a trend that still endures. This one from 1880 advertises James Stephens the ‘ladder, barrow, step and trestle maker’, combining a la mode Egyptian typography and iconography with early art nouveau style florals. Curiously, two 1826 York Theatre Royal bills have been pasted onto the reverse. The geographical difference and age gap between the items raises questions about their unity, long after their intended ephemeral lifespan.  

MS 2241 John Evan Bedford Library of Furniture History. James Stevens calendar (1880). Image credit Leeds University Library.

Another interesting discovery whilst cataloguing has been uncovering the links between different parts of the collection. Businesses for example might have records across different series in the archive, represented in archive files, trade cards, billheads and other ephemera but there are also links between people, exemplified in the furniture historian archives. 

The two furniture historian archives are those of Edward T. Joy and Pauline Agius. The Pauline Agius Archive contains her research papers on subjects ranging from Art Nouveau to British manufacturing industries and papers relating to her lectures and publications. But Pauline 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 Edward T. Joy in the Edward T. Joy archive. This is exemplified in one article found in the Cabinet Makers Archive in the file for Dowbiggin on ‘Thomas Dowbiggin, Royal Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’ written by Joy and which is listed as from the Edward T Joy Archive but was Agius’ copy. Bedford has written the provenance of this item to be the Edward T. Joy archive so it seems Joy must have acquired Agius’ copy of his article at some point, pointing to their collaboration and interest in each other’s work.​ 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.  ​  

These furniture historian archives also emphasise the link between the archive and print material collected by Bedford. The archive material is part of this larger collection which also includes over 3000 print items which are still being catalogued and together will provide a comprehensive resource for furniture historians.