It’s time for some realtalk: a lot of times, the friends and family of Obscuraphiles can be left in a lurch when it comes to [successfully] participating in the holiday gift-giving tradition.  For instance, last year I told my family that I didn’t want anything with an “on/off” switch, which stymied them pretty good.  

This year, to take some of the angst out of holiday shopping, the lovely ladies (and Nick) of Atlas Obscura have conspired to compile a guide worthy of your favorite family quirkster. The list is built to get the present-giving wheels turning in the minds of even the most staunch traditionalists in your lives.  Please note that prices, participation, and levels of realisticalness (yes, I made that up) may vary.  

Enjoy, and pass it along!  You’re welcome.

-Your Atlas Obscura Editorial Team

Hand-made Anomolies

Handmade Anomalies - Atlas Obscura Gift Guide - Holiday Blogger Presents

Deborah Brackenbury photographs taxidermy animals, then photoshops them into clothes and prints them onto her commemorative plates, the collection of which is called Wannabes. -Allison

Tiny terrariums and air plant ampules from Tortoise Loves Donkey on Etsy. -Michelle

I’m always wishing someone would get me some of Sarina Brewer’s leftover parts for Christmas, especially her bird wings (And no animal is ever killed for Sarina’s work: “no animals were killed for the purpose of creating the items I offer. I only use animal materials that would otherwise be thrown away. I believe wasting any part of an animal is disrespectful to Mother Nature, so I recycle every single piece I possibly can.”)  -Michelle

Monique Motil’s wonderful taxidermy creations - hand made by an extraordinary costumer in San Francisco and inspiration for the underworld creatures in the book A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore 

Jeannie’s costumed mice are hand-made in San Francisco, one at a tiny mousy time. -Annetta

Octopus tie tack & octopus jewelry by Deana Fukatsu - my sister gave me a set of tentacle earrings last Christmas and I love, love, love them. More here, too! -Annetta

Silver anteater rib bracelets cast from bones are the perfect balance of absolutely lovely and death-affirming. Feel free to buy several and mail them to: Atlas Obscura Post, P.O. Box 6087, Minneapolis MN, 55406. -Annetta

Obviously, We Love Books

Atlas Obscura Holiday Gift Guide 2010 - Book Want List


I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Everyone wants a copy of Mark Twain’s new autobiography -Michelle

The Naming of Names, by Anna Pavord is a beautifully illustrated, insightful book on taxonomy and the world. -Bekah

Hidden Histories of Exploration documents the often overlooked role of locals, guides, and other intermediaries in the history of exploration, while serving as a companion to the exhibit from the collections of the Royal Geographical Society. -Annetta

This edition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (one of the best American travel books ever?) was illustrated by Ed Ruscha, my favorite artist. There is an obvious reason I don’t yet own it, that you can quickly figure out. -Allison

…And if you can’t afford that, which is most of us, here is another sort of travel book, aka the most messed up and most brilliant book I’ve read all year. It’s called Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles, by Gerald Vizenor. It’s a post-apocalyptic story where a group of American Indians treks across the United States, like a reverse Manifest Destiny. They encounter a series of challenges, including an evil gambler and a cannibalistic witch restaurant, where witches hang from the rafters to be cut up for orders. -Allison

Abe Books complied an awesome collection of beautiful gilded bookcovers - and called it Riddled with Gilt, which is also awesome. Many of those featured, and more, are available for purchase on their site as well.  -Michelle

Tipu’s Tiger is a companion book to the beautiful and fascinating man-eating tiger organ at the V&A in London. -Annetta

The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos From Bookworms Worldwide Living in a studio where my large desk doubles as a table with bar stools, I’m without a coffee table on which to put this coffee table book. But I’ll find a place for it. A sucker for body modification and literature both, I welcome this book, which is smart enough to get a nod from the New York Times. It’s comforting to know that my tattoos – a floor plan of the Bauhaus and a simple design based on Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man – aren’t the only ones with meaning beyond, “Hey, it looked cool at the time.” From “Dickinson to Pynchon, from Shakespeare to Plath,” the official product description reads, this book is “part collection of photographs and part literary anthology written on skin.” -Nick

Marvelous Maps from the British Library is the companion volume to this year’s exhibit of historic maps and atlases from around the world. -Annetta

I own the complete archive of Rolling Stone on DVD; I think it’s about time I supplement that collection with something a little more … Atlas-like for fear of using, in print, a more derisive term. In this 6 DVD-ROM set, you’ll get not hours, but years of endless enjoyment: 8,000 articles over 1,400 issues with, most importantly, about 200,000 stunning photographs shot like only National Geographic can. Plus, having all 125 years of National Geographic in digital format saves four bookcases worth of space! A great anecdote from journalism school, meant to inspire those among us that are inclined to shoot, goes something like this: If you’re ever hired by National Geographic, considered the mecca for photojournalists, you’re taken to a secure basement and given your pick of expensive equipment complete with lenses, lights and more. In exchange, you’re told to never come back from an assignment without “the shot,” because, now, there’s no excuse. For 121 years, that threat has worked brilliantly. -Nick

 –And Then There’s Making Stuff

Crafting Gifts for Crafty Types - Holiday Present Guide - Atlas Obscura Blog


Vintage & vintage-style plastic cameras A recommendation cribbed from photographer friends much more talented than I. Old school plastic (film) cameras for panoramics, retro light-leak effects and other low-tech images. -Annetta

Time capsules from University Products - Worry the people of the future with a safely stashed, time-traveling wunderkammer. Also perfect for geocaches or other buried treasure. -Annetta 

For crafty types, crochet patterns of natural specimens, like jellyfish, mushrooms and more! …or if you like these but your gift-ee isn’t crafty, just buy one ready made! -Michelle

Entomology pins are just the ticket for pinning your own insects. -Annetta

Lego Architecture. It’s like being a grown-up and a kid at the same time! Getting to doodle around with Legos while also being artsy! And when playtime is over, you have a shiny new building to display. -Niti

Lomography pinhole camera For those (like me) who’d like to try really old-school photography techniques, this is a DIY papercraft pinhole camera project. You’ll need glue, some quality time and lomography film to make it go. Goes nicely with the book Primitive Photography. -Annetta

Field Notes notebooks are my favorite notebooks for travel journals and, well, field notes. -Annetta

Or how about a solar print kit? You’re never too old for solar prints! -Michelle

Home Decor & Wunderkammer Galore

Wunderkammen - Curiosity Cases - Atlas Obscura Gift Guide 2010 - Blog

Unbelievably beautiful hand-cut paper maps (& very affordable prints) by Karen O’Leary:  -Annetta

When in doubt, go for an image from The Animal Print Shop. Perusing this site not only made me need several of these for my walls, but also helped me to realize that my ideal pet may just be a baby fox. –Allison & Sarah

Nothing says ‘I love you’ like carnivorous plants! -Annetta

Stocking a wunderkammer? Every cabinet needs its own human skulls!  Too déclassé? Try some fancier, Tibetan, decorated human skulls! -Annetta

Hand-colored 19th-century lithographic prints of bugs! -Michelle

Dinosaur heads make elegant decor for your living room wall. -Annetta

Antique Reproduction Prints from Libris Lunaria, or how about some wooden printing blocks produced using traditional techniques? -Michelle

Porcelain lady’s hands… for holding stuff, duh. -Annetta

Who wouldn’t want these one (or all, who am I  kidding?) of these adorable Japanese mushroom lamps! Though it’s going to be tough figuring out how much they sell for, or if it’s even possible to buy online, we couldn’t resist including them! -Michelle

Evan Chambers art lamps - I love the combination of retro design and otherworldliess in this lamp. -Annetta

Facsimile Reproductions of Antarctic watercolours by Edward Wilson from the Scott Polar Research Institute - Paintings from the bottom of the world (Penguins! Ice! More ice!), created at the turn of the last century during the heroic age of Polar exploration. Wilson died as part of Scott’s tragic Terra Nova expedition of 1912. More about Wilson here. -Annetta

Concrete baby head (also comes in tea light holder form)! -Michelle

Historic travel and exploration images from the Royal Geographic Society photo archives - 205 pages-worth of images from epic explorations of the last 150 years: Everest, Antarctica, etc. -Annetta

Generally Awesome, Almost Useless Things

Useless But Awesome Holiday Gifts - Atlas Obscura Blog Christmas Guide

I would buy this stuffed giant squid if I didn’t already have so many useless objects (see below). And look at the fabulous package Amazon creates for you with those books… What a deal! -Allison

A few from Mothology -Michelle

I recently got an FM3 Buddha Machine. It’s a small plastic box that plays ambient music in a loop, mimicking the devices used in Buddhist temples to continuously play chants. -Allison

For a super cheap gift, these tortoise toothbrushes are kind of awesome. -Michelle

Three words: Lovecraftian. Playing. Cards. Need we say more!? Okay, fine… The face cards show Cthulhu, Shub Niggurath and Nyarlathotep, while the ace of spades bears an Elder Sign and Lovecraft himself is the joker! -Annetta

Beetle Serving Trays are a must. -Michelle


Stay tuned for “Part Two: Experiences” of our Holiday Gift Guide, in which recipients will actually leave the house to participate in the world, thanks to awesome presents bequeathed unto them, courtesy of ideas from yours truly!