Back in August, Rick and I took a trip over to Accrington to visit The Weird & Wonderful and North West Barber Co, where we were invited for the official opening night. Rick was requested to do what he does best and I took it upon myself to test the champagne.
Norman Wright, owner of The Weird & Wonderful, dubbed the business ‘The North’s Finest Natural History Store’ which I think is a very fitting description. The space certainly stands out in its surroundings – the slick, dark brand, with close attention to detail and bespoke interior, has been designed and adapted by Norman himself to fit in with his specific taste and ideals. Previously a 3DD New Practice student, you can feel the quality of his brand oozing into the slightly run-down town outside.
We fell in love with the place instantly. Probably helped by the fact that Chris offered us our favourite ginger beer upon arrival, never before had I met such an intimidating yet welcoming bunch of guys and I strongly recommend a visit. Even if it requires a 3 hour detour, go! Now!
It’s safe to say that Norman’s concept is a rare one, stocking and trading ‘oddities’ that give the store much more of a museum feel than a retail one. There are only a few dealers in the country and even fewer as young, so I was fascinated to hear how a man in his early 20’s had climbed into such an unusual career.
That day, Norman had more than 10,000 followers on Instagram and now has more than 13,000. It’s clear that there is a buzz around his company and it’s not very hard to see why; you can spend hours getting lost in his stock, simultaneously feeling taken aback and taken in…
I took this opportunity to ask Norman some questions and he was kind enough to satisfy my curiosity –
1. Are you named after anyone famous?
I was named after my grandfather, he was the local dominoes champion, but I don’t think that classes as fame.
2. How did you come up with your store/brand name The Weird & Wonderful?
The Weird & Wonderful is something that just kind of stuck, I used it as my ebay name: theweird.n.wonderful when I first started selling antiques and the branding developed from there.
3. Can you summarise what you do in one sentence?
I buy and sell natural history items from around the world.
4. How did you get into collecting these fascinating oddities?
I got into taxidermy after dealing vintage cameras. The vintage camera market was dying and I wanted to find something cool and unusual in the antiques trade and decided to start buying taxidermy. I started out with a set of fallow deer antlers and a kudu skin rug.
5. You’re kind of young for the antique stereotype, huh?
I’m definitely one of the youngest guys on the block that I’ve seen. There are some good young dealers out there but the antiques business is developed from a lifetime of knowledge, which is why all the best guys are very old. I’m just doing it differently.
I tried the standard approach of standing in markets and car boots flogging your wares and decided it wasn’t for me. So I tackled the antiques trade in a completely different way to anyone else developing a very successful online store outside of eBay, where younger people feel comfortable to shop online and get involved in collecting natural history.
6. How old were you when you started this career?
I went to my first auction when I was about 17, I bought pocket watches and lighters and sold them on eBay to cover the petrol costs of driving to college and back but never thought of it as a career.
When it was at university I spent my first student loan on starting a clothing company, I guess I’ve always been interested in business.
The Weird & Wonderful started its life as an eBay store in 2011 but the website really started generating interest in late 2012.
7. What’s the best part of your job?
The best thing about the job is new stock. I get packages in the store most days now from different suppliers but every single one is like opening a christmas present, even if I already know what’s inside.
8. Which was the first skull in your collection?
The first skull I bought when I decided to jump in at the deep end of natural history was an oryx. I rarely keep anything that I buy as my “collection” is a constantly moving one. The stock that passes through the store is my collection and it’s always changing. I think that’s the best way to collect things. When something sells the money is put into buying better things.
9. Can you pick a favourite item in your entire collection?
My buffalo is probably my favourite thing, one of the only pieces in the store not for sale.
10. Which item has the most interesting history?
I have several things that are display only as the start of a museum collection. One of these is a study skin of an “Underwoods Watermouse” and it has the orignal label from C.F. Underwood, the man who discovered the species. It was probably one of the original study skins brought back for scientific study.
11. In your opinion, what item freaks the most people out?
Wet specimens (things in jars of fomalin) usually creep people out the most but everyone has their own dislikes. Some people don’t like human bones and some people don’t like beetles.
12. Is there anything you’re dying to stock?
I would really like a large taxidermy bird section, but I normally shy away from stocking too many birds due to the strict CITES regulations that protect them. Several colourful tropical birds would look great in the store!
13. How many times a month do you get a hair cut next door?
Having a barbershop connected to the store is awesome! When we first opened I was like a kid in a candy store wanting to get my hair cut literally every other day. Now it’s usually once every 2 weeks.
14. What are your dreams for the future of your store?
I definitely want to branch out, whether it’s opening more stores around the country or a big city centre store I’m not too sure yet. We’ll see what the future brings.
15. Is there anything you’d do differently a second time around?
I don’t really look back over the build. I think everything happened just as it should have done. With every build or renovation you do, you could always do with more money but the store is evolving every day with new stock.
16. If someone else ran the store for you, what would you be doing with your time?
Visiting more museums and travelling hopefully.
17. Is there a certain question you get asked over and over again?
The number 1 question has to be “When are death heads back in stock?”.
18. Have any of your items been on TV or in movies?
I have a pelican skeleton that is an ex-prop. It was used in Nanny McPhee and can be seen in the movie in the kid’s bed room!
19. Do you have any pets – if yes, what? If no, would you like any?
Not yet. I’m hoping to get a shop dog at some point. Maybe a Boston terrier or French bulldog.
20. What are your plans for your own bones when you no longer need them?
I’ve never really thought about it. I think I’ll just have a regular burial.