Before photography, film, or the internet changed the world, scientists and the wealthy had limited means of study. In order to have hands on experiences with rare minerals, natural items, and art, many scholars began creating “Curiosity Cabinets.”
These cabinets were not just shelves or bureaus, but entire rooms covered floor-to-ceiling with anything the collector found fascinating, culturally important, or strange. Counterfeits were rampant; a common “exotic item” sold to collectors were angel feathers (parrot feathers) and unicorn horns (the long “horn” of a narwhal, actually a tooth).
Since these were rare and unusual items, the wealthy also began to create curiosity cabinets, hoping to outdo each other with lavish and extensive displays. Scientific and adventure clubs were founded around these displays, and collectors would give lectures on the relevancy of new additions. Often these collections proved expensive, impractical, or unwieldy, and the collections would eventually be sold off or turned into museums. The infamous P.T. Barnum purchased one of the larger curiosity collections and founded his dubious American Museum. Another famous oddity collection is Ripley’s series of Odditoriums.
Today, people continue to collect items pertaining to the rare, bizarre, scientific, and macabre for a variety of reasons. In honor of these warriors on the edge of the weird, we are drawing up a list of seven common areas of focus for curiosity collectors. Collections never have to encompass only one genre; this is just a sample of oddity collections to whet your interest:
Medical collections could include everything from vascular scissors to human skeletons. These collections focus on medical diagrams, equipment, furniture, and dioramas. Often these people work in the medical industry or have a fascination with the workings of the human body.
Funerary collections are for people who enjoy Memento Mori (Latin, “Remember death”) and can encompass autopsy supplies and tables, Victorian death photography, as well as murder memorabilia. Their fascination with death rises beyond the grave and sometimes even extends to the headstones or grave markers. Some notable collectors work in the mortuary sciences, some are historians with a sense of humor(s), and others just find a beauty in the treatment and handling of the deceased.
Mineral collections include everything from loose jewels to large rock specimens. These collectors obtain and house treasures from the earth. A well-established mineral display has a beauty and intricacy other categories of curiosity collectors can only dream about. A lot of times these people are geologists or earth scientists, but some people find a harmony in rocks and minerals that can’t be found in other forms of collecting.
Bone collections include both animal and human bones, and are sought after by people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are arguments in these communities regarding whether decoration added to the bones helps or hinders the appearance. Both sides agree that the weirder and rarer the bone the better. Highly sought after bones are human skulls, rare or extinct skeletons, or carved ritual items.
Taxidermy collectors are similar to bone collectors, but they like the skin on. Traditionally these are prizes from hunts or adventures which are displayed in realistic poses. Some Taxidermists focus on birds and bugs, while others have the room for large mammals like elephants or whales. Taxidermy also has a strange side in which animals can be posed or made to wear clothes, taking taxidermy far beyond your grandpa’s mounted, “prized bass.”
Wet Preserve collections are dead animals in jars. This can be anything from preserved human organs to entire animals. Usually these preserved creatures are in some form of alcohol or formaldehyde, the latter needing maintenance to keep the fluid clear. Occasionally these extend beyond the wet and are plasticized or encased in acrylic.
"Fake” or Gaffe collections include things like Jackelopes, Tahitian mermaids, or the dongs of long dead famous people. These are the freakshow side attractions that seem too weird to be true--usually because they are. Sometimes the artificial quality is obvious, like with alien skulls or yeti heads, but other times they are intricate combinations of animals that seem unearthly and real. Many times these collectors also collect film props because the artisans who make movie props occasionally make the other for fun.
At Las Vegas Oddities we have a bit of everything including each of the seven categories we’ve explored here. As both collectors and resellers, we’re creating an atmosphere of the obscure and macabre that connoisseurs and casual fans can enjoy. Whether you’re looking to expand your collection or just need a knickknack your friends have never seen before, come down to Las Vegas Oddities for even more than these seven styles of strange.