1924 – 2011
I first met Norman Comben in the 1990’s when he visited the famous eerie of J. .A. Allen’s office above the J. A. Allen ‘The Horseman’s’ Bookshop’ opposite the Royal Mews. Mr. Allen and he were necessary rivals, and in truth each had their own delightful eccentricities.
He was charming and enthusiastic and had a great sense of humour along with a profound knowledge of his subject made him endearing. After Norman sold his practice he went traveling and then was offered a position with the US Feed Grains Council and following that moved on to Hoffman La Roche working with animal nutrition and Health products. He was involved in the development of ‘Biotin’, the great hoof hardener.
His real love was that of veterinary history and when in 1962 Sherwin Hall set up the Veterinary History Society Norman was quick to join. His outstanding collection of antiquarian books on Veterinary Science was acquired by the Science Museum and in 1992 a catalogue of this collection was published.
That collection is unique and remains one of the greatest and most valuable collections of its type in the world. Norman did not just collect, he was discerning. The books he purchased were always the best he could find. I know for a fact that he invested much time and money having valuable books repaired ensuring their survival.
His fascination for unusual subjects like the Durham Ox led him on some unusual wanderings and he published his account of the journey and ‘wanderings’ of the Durham Ox, together with a facsimile copy of the original book by John Day. The book is a delight not only because it is thoroughly researched, but it is also a good read. Following the fame of the great Ox, pottery manufacturers produced fabulous blue and white tableware sporting the many images of the Ox and its handler that charmingly and visually tell the tale of the eccentricities of country life at that time.
It seems there was no end to Norman’s enthusiasm for his chosen subject. He and I often met at the Movenpick restaurant in Victoria and choosing our dishes would discuss such matters as a manuscripts or some bill of sale he had found, or the excellence of Swiss food.
In 2005, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship, ‘A Lifetime Contribution Award’ by the RCVS, followed in 2011 by the RCVS Charitable Trust, for his years of dedication to the library.
His passing is of great sadness to me and all his many friends and admirers. He supported the work of the Museum of the Horse website and was always there to offer me support and information.
I was one of so many who enjoyed his lively intelligent and knowledgeable company, he will be missed by so many people. He leaves behind his lovely Swiss wife, Annamarie and their two sons Martin and Peter and their families.