The 17th century Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, was a sort of cross between a natural history museum and Guillermo del Toro’s house: a personal collection of scientific specimens, feats of art or engineering, real and fake oddities, and other items of intrigue. A typical Wunderkammer might contain small automata, taxidermied creatures, miniature sculptures, rocks and minerals, horns and claws, paintings, and artifacts from abroad. The most noteworthy collections filled entire rooms with hundreds or even thousands of items, collected painstakingly over years. But thanks to Amazon’s speedy shipping, you can outfit your own small-scale Wunderkammer–or build one for a friend–in mere days.
This is one part of Atlas Obscura’s eight-part 2015 gift guide. See the rest.
17. MEGALODON SHARK TOOTH
$99.95 at Amazon
Why not start your Wunderkammer with the tooth of an actual monster? The Megalodon was a supersized prehistoric shark the size of a luxury yacht. This four-inch tooth is a great reminder of the vast variety of nature, and how much of it you wouldn’t want to meet.
16. Useless Box
$19.99 at Amazon
Renaissance cabinets of curiosity would often contain small and marvelous machines. Our modern life is saturated with marvelous machines, so how about a distinctly non-marvelous one: the Useless Box, which automatically turns itself off every time you turn it on.
15. GOLD FERROFLUID
$14.00 at Amazon
Run a magnet over this bottle of ferrofluid, made of nanoparticles of a magnetic iron-containing compound suspended in a liquid medium, and it will burst into spiky shapes. Comes in standard black, too, but gold is much more festive.
14. FETAL SKULL
$53.09 at Amazon
Don’t worry, it’s not a real fetal skull, but this baseball-sized scientific replica will add the right note of ghoulishness to your Wunderkammer while reminding your guests that human reproduction is a marvel in itself (it represents a fetus midway through gestation).
13. RESURRECTION PLANT
$6.70 at Amazon
The Rose of Jericho looks like something you might want to crumble up and stick in a pipe. But pop this dried-out husk in water and it unfolds into a vibrant green fern. A plant that can play dead is truly worth featuring in any collection of wonders.
12. URANIUM ORE
$39.95 at Amazon
Give your Wunderkammer an element of danger with this sample of uranium ore. The material included in this metal tin is safe to handle if you use common sense (don’t lick it), but is also certified to be measurably radioactive. However, reviews warn that it will not work in your Mr. Fusion home energy reactor.
11. TRINITITE SPECIMEN
$34.60 at Amazon
Next to your sample of naturally-occurring uranium ore, you can display a specimen of trinitite–a distinctly non-naturally-occurring material that was created during the Trinity nuclear bomb test in New Mexico. It’s basically just glass, made when the heat from the blast melted the surrounding sand, but it’s extremely rare glass, since it’s now illegal to remove any more material from the Trinity site.
10. BED SPECTACLES
$16.99 at Amazon
Wunderkammers don’t just highlight the marvels of nature–they are also concerned with feats of human invention and ingenuity. These spectacles, whose prism lenses function like a periscope to allow you to read while lying in bed, are a perfect exhibit.
$8.00 at Amazon
At first glance, gallium looks like any old metal, but drop it into your hand and it will melt into liquid from your body heat alone. For extra fun, buy yourself two chunks: one to display in your Wunderkammer, and one to melt, pour into this spoon-shaped candy mold, and give to guests to stir their coffee.
8. TAXIDERMY BAT
$27.00 at Amazon
It’s not a cabinet of curiosities without some kind of stuffed creature, and this bat is a great candidate; what’s more wondrous than a flying rodent that also inspired one of our most brooding superheroes? This one is a lesser bamboo bat, with a seven-inch wingspan but a body no bigger than a fuzzy cockroach. It’s ideal for the modest studio apartment Wunderkammer.
7. FOSSILIZED LIGHTNING
$12.75 at Amazon
When lightning strikes the ground, it can fuse some kinds of sand, clay, or soil into glass. This produces a hollow tube called a fulgurite. Fulgurites can be as long as 16 feet, but these are only a couple of inches. What are you going to do with a 16-foot sand-glass tube, anyway?
6. DINOSAUR POOP
$5.00 at Amazon
This dino poop fossil, also known as a “coprolite,” is odorless, mess-free, scientifically valuable, and hilarious. For best results, wait until visitors to your Wunderkammer are holding the coprolite before you tell them what it is.
5. MUSIC BOX KIT
$16.99 at Amazon
Classical cabinets of curiosity featured works of engineering and works of art. This tiny music box covers both categories. Punch any melody you want into one of the included paper strips, and astonish the masses with your ability to make a tiny hand-cranked metal mechanism play “Master of Puppets.”
4. SHRUNKEN HEAD
$25.99 at Amazon
That’s right, you can get real shrunken heads on Amazon! Okay, that’s wrong–you can’t. But you can get these convincing replicas, made out of rawhide leather and hair. They’re four inches tall, much smaller than a regular head but plenty big enough to show you mean business.
$22.85 at Amazon
This inch-long chunk of meteorite (very much not the one pictured) comes from Argentina, and before that from space. Now it can reside on your shelf and lend a little cosmic flair to your Wunderkammer.
2. ALLIGATOR HEAD
$15.50 at Amazon
Many Renaissance Wunderkammers featured a taxidermied crocodile hanging from the ceiling. If you’re in a rush or on a budget, though, you’ll have to make do with this preserved alligator head.
1. PITH HELMET
$44.95 at Amazon
Sure, you could admit that you ordered all your Wunderkammer materials off Amazon. But wouldn’t it be more impressive if you found them in the Amazon? Hang this pith helmet casually near your cabinet of curiosities, and imply that you’re a mighty explorer without having to actually tell any outright lies.