What's in your Wunderkammer? 16 objects to inspire your own cabinet of curiosity

Kelsey Chapman
Tuesday 20 October 2020 14:30
Home & Garden
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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.

And given that the cabinet can be as small as a single shelf or fill an entire room, it's a great way to display your weird and wonderful interests. Think of it as a space to showcase that which may not fit in your traditional formal living area.

In the period since they were first given a name, the voguishness of the Wunderkammer has waxed and waned throughout multiple eras after reaching peak popularity in the 17th century.

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.

Outside of these niche institutions and ones like them, plenty of those lovers have begun their own collections to privately display, many even inviting voyeurs to peek in at their wonders 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. If all this talk of the strange and unusual seems to resonate in the chambers of your still-beating (for now) heart, you may consider beginning your own collection of keepsakes.

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.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing, expert advice and our own research. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

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. Primarily meant to be worn as a long necklace, the magnificent piece can take on a whole new life displayed properly within your showcase, perhaps draped neatly over a scrap of black velvet or entwined in the fingers of a hand-shaped ring 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. Collecting the ash is key to keeping your other specimens dust-free though, so let your scented products smoulder in this adorable miniature cast-iron cauldron for a more 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. In addition to grabbing your own, they make wonderful gifts for anyone with even passing macabre sensibilities, adults old and young alike, so grab a couple extra to have on hand for last-minute gift giving.

Alligator Head

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. This particular breed, the American Alligator or Alligator mississippiensis, is considered a living fossil and is the largest reptile in North America which makes it a fantastic point of conversation for visitors curious about that wide, toothy grin peeking out at them from a dark bookshelf or curio.

Cork Globes

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.

Feejee Mermaid

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 particular model has been sculpted, cast in resin, and finished by hand to capture the fee of a dusty relic, so display proudly as the centerpiece of any wild collection.

Witch In A Shoe by Soul Percher

It’s almost impossible to choose just one item to include from the brilliant artist Soul Percher here, but Witch In A Shoe is a particularly cute and creepy creation that uses an ethically sourced (as with all Soul Percher works) bird's head donning a witch's pointy 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, so the Bunny Duchess is a more streamlined, entry-level way to gild your cabinet with the weird without offending anyone with a very sensitive demeanor.

Life Size Replica Aged Relic Human Skull

No curious collection is complete without the most iconic representation of death itself, the human skull. For those not quite ready to make the leap from amateur browser to full-on bone collector, this realistic likeness aged to perfection with paint and other trickery is great and looks truly menacing while containing a richness that elevates it from Halloween decor to true display quality.

Real human skull

If you love the skull above but want to really impress your most morbid friends, visitors, and spectators alike, you may consider investing in a real human skull which, yes, is legal to own. Detailed on the buy page as “European vintage preparation; note infused metopic suture and shoveling on teeth - part Asian? Uncut skull, 24 teeth, 1 broken, interesting bridge dental work; slight damage to right orbital,” the skull is that of a 32 year old white male from some time ago and provides the ultimate way to face your own grisly, fading mortality for merely the cost of one month’s rent for a studio apartment in Brooklyn–exorcism not included.

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 stunning Aphrodite Display Cabinet features deliciously intricate carvings throughout the sweep and swirl around the glass windows that let onlookers peek in at the shelves inside. Full customizable for no additional charge as long as you use materials in the Haunt catalog, you can switch up the color scheme to best fit your extraordinary visions and lift up the whole room to look rich, grand, and frankly 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.

Cephalothoracopagus Desk Weight

Featuring a laser-etched image of rare conjoined twins born with Cephalothoracopagus, or a fusion at the head, this paper weight is a good entry-level way to incorporate a bit of macabre medical history into your otherwise normal office without scaring potential visitors or shifting your current theme. Based on an actual skeletal sample in the famed Mutter Museum’s permanent collection, the small cube is a fascinating example of their extensive osteological specimen collection that begs further questioning, research, and subsequent learning.

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. Absinthe is peculiar and often acquired taste, but serving it correctly will enhance the intense flavors and experience for first-timers and experienced sippers alike, all while doing so in style when drained from this shapely fountain into the appropriate glass over a beautiful absinthe spoon. Check some YouTube videos on the pouring process (like this one) to get a feel for proper technique.

Pythia Botanica Oracle Deck

If the magical air of the rest of these objects speaks to you, you may be inclined to explore your own spiritual side by exploring the tarot, and this gorgeous deck from Brooklyn’s Catland Books features an intuitive Oracle deck rooted in mythology and infused with plant magick” that are tea-stained and hand-illustrated by artist Nicole Rallis.

Don’t forget to browse Catland’s book collection as well, lest you be stuck with a deck without the necessary knowledge to help you discover the true meaning of the cards.

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