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The Associates started out with a bang – 160 members by the end of their first year, growing to 285 by 1974.  The early membership was a mix of community leaders; local, national, and international scholars; scholarly institutions; book dealers; and members of the Bell family and friends and associates of the family and the Associates’ organizers.

The Associates held an annual meeting, organized to coincide with the presentation of the annual James Ford Bell Lecture, of which they were, and continue to be, major sponsors.  One of the Associates’ first projects was to fund the publication of the annual lectures.  It also partnered with curator Jack Parker to establish The Manifest newsletter as a means of communicating news about the Bell Library to the Associates membership. The first issue was published in February, 1965.


When, in 1967, the Regents of the University of Minnesota approved the Library’s name change from the James Ford Bell Collection to the James Ford Bell Library, the Associates also changed their name.  At the annual meeting on 30 October 1967, the membership unanimously voted to change the name to the Associates of the James Ford Bell Library.

  • Associates are founded, December 1963
  • The first Bell Lecture, presented in early 1963, “The European Image and Mapping of America, A.D. 1000-1600,” by R. A. Skelton, is published in 1964.
  • The first Manifest is published, February, 1965
  • The Associates change their name to the Associates of the James Ford Bell Library, October 1967


  • The Associates and the Library partner on The Winter Seminar.  Professor Rutherford Aris, Chemical Engineering and Classics at the U of M, presented the 1975 seminar on medieval paleography.
  • Associates voted to assume the cost of publishing the Library’s occasional, journal-like publication, The Merchant Explorer, November 5, 1975.


  • Publication of The American Revolution: A Heritage of Change, a volume of essays on the American Revolution drawn from papers presented at The James Ford Bell Library Bicentennial Conference, May 1973, and edited by Jack Parker and Carol Urness, 1975.
  • The Associates publish The World for a Marketplace.  Episodes in the History of European Expansion, by John Parker, in 1978, commemorating the Bell Library’s 25th anniversary, with support from the James Ford Bell Foundation.


  • Contributions from the Associates members contributed 38 acquisitions to the Library’s collection.  The Associates also helped to fund one of the Library’s most important acquisitions to date, Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s Itinerario (Amsterdam, 1595-96). 


Throughout their nearly 50 year history, the Associates have been close partners with the curators of the Bell Library in their continuing effort to bring word of the treasures of the Bell Library to the world.  The following are some of the highlights of those efforts.