UPDATE: This article was originally published in Summer 2020, but since we’re back into the countdown to Autumn over here and spooky season is right around the corner, enjoy this updated list of oddities and curios we’re loving in 2021.
Something a little different here on Indy Wishlist, but here goes…
A Cabinet of Curiosities – or Wunderkammer – reportedly has its origins in 16th century Europe among royalty and the aristocracy, and features items including unusual medical specimens, fascinating works of taxidermy, occult ritual objects, and countless other pieces that exhibit the collector’s travels and bizarre interests.
You can display all your strange and wonderful interests in the cabinet, which can fit onto one shelf or fill a whole room. You can use it to display things that might not be possible in your living room.
The voguishness and popularity of Wunderkammer have fluctuated over the years. They reached their peak in 17th century popularity.
That hasn’t stopped them from coming back once more over the last few decades, with popular shows like Oddities introducing the wider public to modern collectors whose fascinations lie in the uncanny, and museums around the world such at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum and London’s own Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History carrying to torch for modern lovers of the weird.
Many of those who love the weird have their own collections, some inviting others to see their works via social media.
Popular musician and YouTuber Aurelio Voltaire even offers up ways to darken up your living space with his fascinating Gothic Homemaking series where he has not only posted dozens of videos on home projects but also interviewed and toured other like-minded fans’ homes to see what they have creeping behind closed doors–this clip featuring the decorator’s own organs on display is a favorite. You might consider starting your own collection of unusual and strange keepsakes if all this talk seems to resonate with your heart.
While your cabinet should include items that are meaningful to you and give visitors an idea of your true personality, travels, and interests, we’ve compiled a list of starter objects that may spark inspiration and encourage you to manifest your own captivating collection.
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Ouroboros Large Spyglass Necklace
Now for something you can wear and display comes the Ouroboros Large Spyglass Necklace from Philadelphia-based independent jewelers Bloodmilk. A rustic but chic silver snake coils tightly around a crystal clear magnifying lens, here meant to represent “looking closer with intention and attention to detail,” and nestled snugly amid the ouroboros, an ancient symbol that references the cycles of time and nature.
The piece was originally meant to be worn as an extended necklace. However, it can also be displayed in a showcase with a bit of black velvet, or wrapped around the fingers of a hand-shaped rings holder.
Vampire Chalice print
Massachusetts-based artist Dana Glover specializes in gorgeously grim imagery in both her tattoo work (viewable on her Instagram) and visual art pieces (as seen in her Etsy store), and no true wunderkammer is complete with some appropriate artwork to fill out the room and set the mood.
One of Dana’s most impressive works is the Vampire Chalice, here in print form, which sees a detached, pointy-clawed hand grasping an ornate drinking cup filled presumably with blood as bats and smoke emerge from its contents and swirl into a pretty night sky scene. At only $10, it’s easy to snag this and several other pieces from the store so as to fill out your space and create a dark, cohesive theme near your growing unearthly assemblage.
Sarimoire Cauldron 5.25 Inch Triple Moon Cast Iron Cauldron with Lid and Handle
Should your cabinet resemble the original meaning of the word and take up an entire room, a fun way to really set the scene for visitors or even just some quiet reading time in there is by burning incense or a Palo Santo stick to add an air of murky esotericism.
To keep your other specimens clean, it is important to collect the ash. Let your scented products smolder inside this miniature cast iron cauldron to create a magical atmosphere.
Memento Mori Gravestone Casting
Many contents you’ll find here are rooted in death fascination, and the Memento Mori–a Latin phrase which implores you to remember your own mortality–piece seen here is a prime example of the beauty to be found in an appreciation for that which ceases to exist.
The Gravestone Girls, in their own words, “create decorative artwork using the beautiful and primitive images carved on olde New England gravestones,” so adding this very affordable and simply stunning piece to your cabinet will add the northern chill it needs and remind you year-round to stay mindful of the hard truth that death is always near.
Tiny Human Deluxe Kit
For an affordable, hands-on experience in creating a little something special for your growing creepy collection, the Tiny Human Deluxe Kit offers up a miniature version of the human skeleton that comes with pre-cut paper bones, borosilicate glass display dome, exhibit base, glue, tweezers, and a magnifier to build your two-inch hominosaur in 20 to 30 minutes.
You can grab your own and make great gifts for adults and children alike with macabre sensibilities.
This kitschy whatsit is a blast from the tacky souvenir past, now gathered from a farm-raised specimen used for its meat and hide while the head is freeze-dried for taxidermy collectors like those who shop at New York’s premiere weird stuff store, Evolution.
The American Alligator, or Alligator mississippiensis is a living fossil. It is also the largest North American reptile. This makes it an excellent topic of conversation for anyone curious about the wide, toothy smile that peeks out from a dark bookcase or curio.
For $19, small heads and larger models, prices range from $39 to $39.
Perfect for the traveler who wishes not only to showcase their collected ephemera but the locales from which they were snagged, a cork globe provides the perfect opportunity to stick a pin in each city you visit.
While they come in two sizes with the smaller’s price point at just $80, the larger will accommodate frequent flyers’ chaotic road map and gives room to include string should you wish to chart your journeys in real time, flowing from one vacation to the next in representative form.
We have one more entry from Evolution, and this one’s a doozy: The Feejee Mermaid. Serious collectors will love this specimen’s horrifyingly unique presence, named by circus tycoon PT Barnum but likely created in Japan, as it combines half monkey and half fish parts to create a spooky hybrid creature that will delightfully haunt your guests with its terrifying expression and deep-sea ghastliness.
This model was sculpted in resin and hand finished to avoid the cost of a dusty relic. It can be proudly displayed as the focal point of any wild collection.
Witchie Poo ~ Taxidermy Art by Soul Perchers
It’s almost impossible to choose just one item to include from the brilliant artist Soul Perchers here, but In the Blindness of Color is a particularly stunning creation that uses an ethically sourced (as with all the shop’s works) bird’s head donning a regal crown and gown as a centerpiece for a darkly Victorian-themed framed piece.
Most often using roadkill or animals that have died other natural causes, Soul Percher’s work subverts the grisly reality of death by infusing an air of surrealist whimsy through crafting elaborate and often dreamlike scenes in which bird queens with rabbit’s claws hold scepters and the skulls of other small rodents. Here we have a cute piece that’s less morbid than many others in the Witchie Poo, an adorable bird posed eternally in her mourning finery.
Life Size Replica Aged Relic Human Skull
No curious collection is complete without the most iconic representation of death itself, the human skull. This stunningly realistic skull, aged with paint and other tricks, is a great choice for anyone not ready to become a full-time bone collector.
Aphrodite Display Cabinet
You can’t reasonably display your new and old wares without proper shelving or furniture in which to do so, and Haunt Cult is exactly the company designing those piece with your gothic needs in mind.
The exquisite Aphrodite Cabinet has intricate carvings that wrap around the glass windows. This allows for the eye to see the shelves. The entire room can be customized for free, as long as you only use Haunt materials. You can also change the color scheme to suit your unique visions. This will make the space look grander and more museum-worthy. Keep in mind Haunt only ships to America on a limited basis, so check the website and inquire here to reserve this high-quality, exclusive cabinet that could stay in your family for generations.
Porcelain Phrenology Head Bust
Though considered pseudoscience today, the history of phrenology is still quite fascinating and few can deny the visual appeal of a vintage-looking model that guides the amateur practitioner (that’s you) around the lumps and bumps that were previously believed to tell us about ourselves.
This particular model claims to be an “exact replica of the Staffordshire china fine cracked porcelain originals,” and for under $70, makes a great addition to any medical-themed shelf or corner of your collectibles.
Alandia Absinthe Accessory Set
This set is a very “when in Rome” idea to keep on hand considering Absinthe’s popularity peak hit during the same Victorian heyday of the Wunderkammer, making this a fantastic small investment if you plan to host nights of entertainment centered around your growing collection and need libations to keep the conversation flowing in traditional style.
Although Absinthe can be a strange and difficult drink, it is easy to enjoy. To get an idea of proper technique, you can check out this YouTube video.
Salvador Dalí Tarot Card Gift Set
Spirituality of the uncanny ilk often calls for tools of divination, perhaps most popularly the tarot.
While most experts recommend starting off with a simple Rider Waite deck such as the one seen here to get you started, advanced readers appreciate variety and artistry in their spreads. The Dali deck from the Museum of Modern Art’s best sellers section provides just that. But let the museum explain its significance better than we can:
“Legend has it that when preparing props for the James Bond filmLive and Let Die, producer Albert Broccoli commissioned Surrealist maestro Salvador Dalí to create a custom deck of tarot cards. Inspired by his wife Gala, who nurtured his interest in mysticism, Dalí eagerly got to work, and continued the project of his own accord when the contractual deal fell through.
The work was published in a limited art edition in 1984 that has since long sold out, making Dalí the first renowned painter to create a completely new set of cards. Drawing on Western masterpieces from antiquity to modernity (including some of his own), Dalí seamlessly combined his knowledge of the arcane with his unmistakable wit. The result is a surreal kaleidoscope of European art history.”
Killstar Coffin Shelf
Starting small with your strange collection? This adorable wall shelf is coffin-shaped and can be used to organize your collection. It’s perfect for holding crystals, a tarot deck, small candles, or even select medical oddities.