Back in the days before environmental conservation and endangered species lists, when the study of natural history was developing at a very rapid and exciting pace (from the 16th century all the way up to the early 20th century), natural science enthusiasts sometimes displayed their own collections of natural curiosities in their homes. From the Wunderkammern, or wonder chambers, of the Renaissance to the aptly named curiosity cabinets of the Victorians, collections could be made up of anything from the animal, plant or mineral kingdoms. These collections were the forerunners of today’s natural history museums.
Typically the objects on display in curiosity cabinets were not prized for their monetary value but more for their oddity. Objects tended to be bizarre or sometimes funny natural anomalies – take for instance, a stuffed two headed baby chick or a pearl still lodged inside an oyester’s mouth. The point was to amaze viewers with natural marvels and inspire a sense of wonder. If you want to read more about the history of these displays, there is a great article here.
Today, the idea of stuffing a rare (and probably endagered) animal for personal display is definitely not P.C., but the curiosity cabinet can still be a great source of inspiration. And believe it or not vintage taxidermy is in demand. There was even a recent article on the trend in the New York Times.
Personally, I don’t know how I’d feel having a stuffed animal in my home, and I’m not sure how my cat would feel about it either (my clear coffee table already confuses him enough!). But even if taxidermy is a bit extreme for you, you can still create the curiosity cabinet effect with vintage illustrations and things like coral and quartz crystal. In fact, you don’t even need a cabinet to create your own mini-collection of natural marvels. Just a well arranged collection of objects can create a nice effect, or you could use bell jars to make your objects feel even more precious.
There are great resources for starting your own natural marvels collection. In New York, the store Evolution has a ton of amazing items at a range of prices, and they have a great online store as well (see items above). There are also a bunch of Etsy shops that specialize in curios of all kinds.
So get started with your own weird natural science colletion! It might scare pets and children, but then again they’re always freaked out about something.