When I approached the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library in late 2010 with the ambitions of a volunteer book duster, I had no idea that I would be invited to guest curate this online exhibit of my book collection. In fact, it’s been quite an interesting and unexpected “book year” for me. In addition to this exhibit, I was honoured to win the Second National Book Collecting Contest for Canadians under 30 Years Old.

I have always been passionate about books. I was a reader from a young age, an accumulator of books since I developed the ability to read them, and a conscious collector for approximately 12 years. An avid fisherman and an avid reader, I began my collecting with books on fishing. Any book would do, as long as fishing was the primary subject. Over the last several years, I have shifted to collecting antiquarian books on fish published before 1901. As a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology who studies fish, I know much of the information contained in my books is, well, antiquated, but that is precisely part of their appeal. My collecting is inspired by three unifying purposes. First, and most generally, collecting satiates the impulse to acquire. For what collector does not enjoy the thrill of the hunt— discovering, obtaining, and integrating a “new” book into a collection? Second, and more specifically, my collection affords the opportunity to immerse myself into the history of my chosen field, to better understand the research and researchers who came before me. Third, and most personally, collecting pre-twentieth century books allows me to appreciate intimately the book as an object. I love everything about a book—binding, paper, type, illustration, provenance— everything. These three unifying principles motivate and focus my collecting.

This online exhibit presents some highlights from my personal collection. I have organized images from my books into several different categories, some based on a topic (e.g., anatomy, sea monsters, etc.) and some based on a time period (e.g., sixteenth century woodcuts). The collection is also browsable by book title and author and is fully searchable. Each book in my collection has an individual story. Couch’s A History of the Fishes of the British Islands was salvaged from a library fire over 100 years ago, and it now sits on my shelves. A tiny chapbook published in 1847, A History of Curious and Wonderful Fish, was intended for use by children, and thus amazingly, it survives to the present as part of my collection. The stories of some of my books are less evident but alluded to by their imperfections— peeling leather, curious stains, and scribbled marginalia that witness a book’s passage through time.

By uniting my books in a collection, I hope to create something that transcends a simple assembly of titles. My books were printed centuries and continents apart and cover a diversity of topics within the general subject of “fish”. I believe that books unified in a collection can play off one another to tell stories, each book like a key struck in a composition for piano. Just as a piano produces innumerable songs with the same keys, books in a collection combine and recombine to reveal many different narratives. So, please enjoy your visit to this virtual exhibition. I hope the images presented here have stories to tell you.


  • Total book pages in database: 139
  • Total images in database: 420