Bright Young Collectors: Leif Norman

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Leif Norman of Winnipeg, who collects chemistry and photographic books, as well as books about the history of Winnipeg:

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Where are you from / where do you live?

I grew up in St James and moved to downtown Winnipeg as soon as I was 19.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

I initially wanted to be a High School Music Teacher, then a Chemistry Teacher, and so I got a 4 year Chemistry degree from the U of W. When I discovered that teaching was akin to babysitting I chose not to get the Education Degree, and because my serious hobby of photography was getting good results I became a photographer. I make all my money with my camera; but I don't do weddings.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

I collect 19th century Chemistry texts, anything to do with the History of Winnipeg, including old postcards and matchbooks. I also have a large collection of Photographic books from before the 1950's because they include the chemical recipes for mixing developers and making your own films.

How many books are in your collection?

There are about 100 books I keep behind glass in a 1930's cabinet.

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What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought which made me think I was actually being an active collector was John William Draper's 1851 Textbook on Chemistry for Schools and Colleges. Each chapter is a lecture covering very basic Scientific ideas. Anyone can understand it.

How about the most recent book?

The most recent book I bought was "The Growing World, or The Progress of Civilization" from 1885. It is a hodge podge of long and short writings about Astronomy, Exploring in Africa, French Shepherds wearing stilts and much much more. It's like a Victorian bathroom reader and includes gorgeous illustrations.

And your favorite book in your collection?

My favourite book is the 1st Edition Focal Encyclopedia of Photography from 1956.
It is comically huge with nearly 1300 pages; making it 4 inches thick. I bought it in Toronto and was reading on the VIA rail train back to Winnipeg and everyone was staring incredulously at me with this enormous book.

Best bargain you've found?

The best bargain might be a tract by Guy Debord called "Society of the Spectacle" from 1970 Detroit. I have a very small collection of Situationist books and I found this one jammed in a discount box for $5. There is one listed on Biblio for $300 CDN right now.

How about The One that Got Away?

The book that got away would be the one hiding in a corner I never looked in. My girlfriend and I drive to Toronto or Victoria every year and stop in as many vintage, thrift, junk stores along the way searching for treasures, but it's tiring and I get sloppy. One can only imagine the yard sale that had wonderful things that we never stopped at. Sigh...

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

The Holy Grail for me would be an original Pencil of Nature by Fox Talbot, or something by the French Chemist Lavoisier.

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

My favourite book store in Winnipeg is Bison Books. They have great stuff, and appreciate ephemera and the old stuff like I do. In Toronto I always go to The Monkey's Paw and Balfour Books, and in Victoria BC, Russell Books is an endless bunch of fun.

What would you collect if you didn't collect books?

If I didn't collect books, I would collect mid-century teak furniture, vintage film cameras and Victorian carte de visites, ugly coffee mugs and bizarre vinyls records. Wait, I already do that. I might collect vintage mopeds and scooters if I had all the money and space I wanted.

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Collectors series can be sent to