How to Make a Cabinet of Curiosities
How to make a cabinet of curiosities? See tips and photos on building a personal collection of oddities.
If you are like me, you love all things beautiful and strange. Do you have a collection of lovelies that you’d like to display? Do you like to stare at beautiful things? Then you need a Cabinet of Curiosities!
What you’ll need:
A receptacle of sorts (if you don’t have a glass cabinet or box, a few large mason jars work just fine. I prefer them, because they have more visual interest.) Anything glass will work. Even wineglasses. If you want to add bones to your collection, boil them first. This will get rid of all of the marrow and yucky bits.
Collections! Shells, bones, teeth, snake sheds, hair, antique buttons, clock parts, pottery chips, feathers, marbles, broken costume jewellery, coins, glass eyes, or whatever tickles your fancy. I have butterfly wings, hair, seed pods, feathers, various found metal objects (clockworkings and such), and one crab leg bleached by the sun.
A large area for display (one shelf works fine, or whatever you have available).
How to make your cabinet of curiosities:
If you already have your collection, it is merely a matter of display. If that is the case, skip to step 3.
1. Start collecting! Spend lots of time out-of-doors, and you’ll be sure to find something lovely. I have found most of my ‘curiosities’ while out walking my dog. If you set out not looking for anything in particular, you’ll likely stumble on to something great. If you aren’t having luck, go to the beach. There are always interesting things on the beach. If you live by a forest, go out with a basket and a sunhat, and don’t go home until you find something great. Also, it is important that you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty. I have found some of my favourite things half-buried in the dirt. Going to charity shops and flea markets is also a good idea. People sell all sorts of weird things. Flea markets are especially good for costume jewellery, buttons, spoons, and coins. Collecting takes time and patience. If you are lacking these, many people sell pre-assembled collections on etsy.com. However, I do advise against this, as collecting is the fun part.
2. Wash your finds. Lots of what you find will be a little bit gross at first. Most organic things are too delicate to be washed (Don’t try to wash a butterfly wing or a locust leg). Metal, wooden, ceramic and glass things should be washed in a heavily-diluted solution of organic soap and water. I use Dr Bronner’s. If you collect things like preserved dead mice, small animal pelts, snake sheds, and bones, be prepared for a slight odour. That will never really go away. Bones have a very distinct, yet subtle smell. Don’t worry if that bothers you. I will address that in the next step. If you want a more steampunk look, don’t bother washing anything. Age and wear do add character.
3. House your wares! Arrange them according to your tastes. If you have multiple jars and glasses, select one for each sort of item. One for hair, one for baby teeth, one for ribbons, one for fake pearls, etc. If you have a glass cabinet, you can use one shelf for every variety, or you could mix and match. The top shelf could have feathers and doll parts, the bottom shelf could have jars filled with preserved animals. I would suggest filling small glasses (shot glasses, absinthe glasses, small jars) and place these within the case. If you are using a glass box, buy a cheap piece of red velveteen to line the bottom with. Then, lay the items out as you wish. If you have bones, taxidermy, pelts, etc., I highly recommend putting a lid on your jar, keeping your box closed, or sealing off the area. Not only will this keep the smell from spreading, it will also slow decomposition rates. If you are using jars for inorganics, and you don’t have lids, large silk flowers ork very well. Just stick it over the opening, it looks really cool.
4. Share your collection. Invite friends over to look at your completed cabinet. Invite them to ask about each item. Tell stories about how you found each thing.
5. Never stop collecting. The key to an interesting cabinet is to always add new things to it. Every time you find something new, add it! When you run out of room, swap things out. If you store things in Tupperware, you can put them in your closet and switch them out seasonally. This will also keep things fresh.