Weiser Antiquarian Used and Rare Books. Miscellany.
Dr. Michael Coleman: A Biographical Note.
Dr. Michael H. Coleman was born in Bristol, England, on January 20th, 1928. When still a child he began to take a great interest in
science, especially chemistry, whilst a chance introduction to the books of Harry Price triggered a fascination with supposedly-true tales of
ghosts, life-beyond-death, and other aspects of the occult. On leaving school he worked as a laboratory assistant before joining the Royal
Navy shortly after his seventeenth birthday, where he served with the Fleet Air Arm as an aerial reconnaissance photographer during the
final months of the war.
Not surprisingly his inquiring, scientifically-orientated way of thinking, combined with his interest in the occult, soon led him in the
direction of "Psychical Research," the investigation of the supposedly-supernatural using the methodology of science. His photographic
duties allowed access to a darkroom, and when a comrade from the Royal Marines made mention that he possessed mediumistic skills, it
seemed a perfect opportunity to set up a practical test. By Coleman's own account the séance that followed was "remarkably unimpressive,
with the medium pulling faces and intoning platitudes in a pseudo-oriental voice"; and failed to produce any results deemed worthy
of further exploration. Despite this he continued his investigations, including some apparently equally-uninspiring experiments with a
home-made planchette, a device much favoured by Spiritualists of preceding generations.
Following his demobilisation Michael Coleman returned to laboratory work, before being accepted as a student in the faculty of
science at the University of Bristol. Whilst there he and other students interested in psychical investigation formed a small society to explore
the subject, and were successful in persuading a number of notables in the field — including Elliott O'Donnell, Dr. S. G. Soal, and G. N.
M. Tyrell — to address them. At the time there was a considerable vogue for experiments that might offer scientific proof of telepathic
communication, and Coleman invented a device for this purpose, based on principles put forward by Tyrell, but although the machine
functioned as intended, the tests failed to produce any evidence confirming the phenomenon.
In 1954 Coleman transferred to the University of Nottingham, where he joined the University Psychical Research Society, and in his
spare time engaged in further research into paranormal activities, this time using an electroencephalograph to try to fine-tune or harmonise
the neural rhythms of participants in experiments in telepathy, although once more the outcome was negative. Fortunately his studies
in conventional science were far more successful, and he was awarded a Doctorate in 1957, the same year that he married his fiancée, Betty.
After a short period teaching science at Birkenhead Grammar School he accepted an appointment as a research scientist at the Colworth
Research Laboratory of Unilever, where he worked until his retirement in 1986. He and Betty also raised two sons; Roderick (b. 1961) and
James (b. 1962) both of whom opted for careers that refl ected their father's scientific interests.
On leaving University Michael Coleman appears to have largely abandoned any "practical" involvement in the mechanics of Psychical
Research, although he remained fascinated by the history and philosophies that lay behind it. In particular he was interested in the
way that ideas about the supernatural had evolved and been presented and re-presented over the centuries, and the methods by which they
had been — and continued to be — expounded. He had bought his first books on the subject in 1951, and soon began to amass what would
become an extraordinary library that eventually filled the family home in Bedford to near-overflowing. While the core of the library was
focussed on books and periodicals devoted to Psychical Research, it really extended to cover all aspects of the occult, from alchemy to
witchcraft, with centuries-old books of the utmost rarity jostling for shelf-space with modern paperbacks.
Clearly Coleman cherished some of his books as artefacts; he once prevailed upon the ever-patient Betty to allow him to spend a
significant proportion of a modest inheritance on one particularly rare volume, the sum in question being roughly equivalent to the purchase price
of a modest new car. He was also a regular visitor to the Clapham premises of the renowned book-binder Bernard C. Middleton who
undertook the painstaking restoration and preservation of some of his more significant treasures, and rebound others in stunningly-crafted
and tooled leather bindings. These manifestations of bibliophilia aside though, there can be little doubt that Coleman's real interest lay in
the books’ contents, with which he had a familiarity that was almost certainly without rival.
A long-term member of the Society for Psychical Research, Coleman used his knowledge and familiarity with the texts as the
basis of numerous letters that he contributed to the group’s Journal on subjects as diverse as the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory and
the means by which poltergeist effects might be created, to a debate on the construction of wax moulds that were supposed to have been
made of "spirit limbs." He was also a keen reviewer, who in later years took on the job of Review Editor of the SPR Journal, served
on the Society’s Library Committee, and on the Survival Joint Research Committee, a group founded in 1963 with the intention of bringing
scientists and Spiritualist together to investigate "life after death." In 1988 he contributed a volume of his own to the literature of Psychical
Research: "The Ghosts of Trianon," a book length study of Moberly and Jourdain’s "An Adventure," their famous account of a haunting
or "time-shift" said to have taken place in the grounds of the Petit Trianon near the Palace of Versailles in 1901.
As his son, Rod, described it, Michael Coleman spent much of his life researching "claims of supernatural activity, a sceptical, but
honest and able scientific mind attempting to find truth, and identify fakery, quackery and specious argument wherever it arose." He was
fortunate to be largely untroubled by health problems until his eighty-third year, when he was admitted to hospital and died after a relatively
Michael Coleman's library was simply extraordinary, having been intelligently put together around very specific themes, for a period of
more than half-a-century.
Purchasing Books from the Coleman Collection.
Weiser Antiquarian Books is honoured to be able to offer for sale the highlights of the Coleman collection, most of which will be list in our on-line catalogues. Weiser Antiquarian Books typically issues about one catalogue a month. Most of the catalogues are themed around one of our specialist areas: Alchemy, Hermetica, Aleister Crowley, Magic, Spiritualism, Witchcraft, etc., although we also issue regular "Miscellany" lists. The catalogues give us the opportunity to present collections or groups of related items in a more detailed and sympathetic context than the normal website allows and also enable us to give our established customers first choice at some of the more interesting new arrivals. Books from the Coleman collection feature heavily in the Witchcraft, Spiritualism, and Miscellany catalogues. The items in these catalogues will not be advertised on other bookselling sites until at least several days after the emails advertising the catalogue have been sent out and it has been posted on-line. Of course many of the better items sell quickly, and are therefore never advertised elsewhere. If you would like to be notified by email when we post a new catalogue on-line, please send an email with 'subscribe' in the subject line to
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COPYRIGHT: The Text and Images on this page are © Weiser Antiquarian Books, & the estate of Dr. M. H. Coleman, 2015.
No reproduction without permission please.