Psychical Research Collection at the Fisher

In the materialistic and commodity-driven Victorian world emerged the popular phenomenon of speaking to spirits through innovative devices.

These objects of wonder attempt to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown, the normal and the paranormal, the physical and the psychical. The books in the Psychical Research Collection demonstrate some of the materials and methods the Victorians used to try and document, communicate with, and ultimately fail to prove the existence of the spirit world. However, their fantastical books and devices ended up being hidden predecessors to both legitimate scientific and technological advancements, and the pop culture phenomenon of paranormal research.

The Fisher Library houses one of the largest collections on psychical research, donated by psychotherapist Adam Crabtree, who spent decades building the collection in order to understand the origins of psychology.

Spanning over three centuries, the collection includes everything from an original copy of Franz Anton Mesmer’s treatise on animal magnetism, to books on supposed UFO encounters and how to shield yourself from demonic possession. The devices and methods used by Victorian spiritualists and psychical researchers are just one of many intriguing topics that can be examined using this collection.

See more images of the collection here.


Sophia Arts, Material Culture Intern and Independent Study Student, University of Toronto.

Supervised by Alexandra Carter, Librarian, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

This project was completed in 2021-2022 for the Fisher Library as part of Victoria College's Internship in Material Culture program.