Leather Archives & Museum – Chicago, Illinois - Atlas Obscura
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Chicago, Illinois

Leather Archives & Museum

Chicago's museum dedicated to the history of bondage and fetishism is more textbook than titillation. 

Cataloguing the history of both the BDSM and leather culture through artifacts, equipment, and a massive library of literature, Chicago’s Leather Archives & Museum is more than just a collection of handcuffs, whips, and chains, treating the history of fetish subculture as a serious movement worth preserving.  

The museum covers all manner of niche sexuality from straight fetishism to LGBT interests of all stripe. There are displays of bondage equipment, leather apparel, and the sort of underground artifacts one might expect from a leather museum. There are antique sexual devices as well as a dungeon in the basement complete with spanking apparatus. 

Possibly more remarkable, if only for its sheer academic mundanity, is the expansive library of writing, art, and video materials related to the movement. The library contains full runs of influential fetish magazines like Bound & Gagged, in addition to countless original writings from important figures in the culture. The museum houses the world’s largest collection of original work by famed homosexual painter Etienne, as well as a number of original works by possibly the most well known artist in the genre, Tom of Finland.

While there is plenty at the museum to titillate guests at the Leather Archives & Museum, the most shocking aspect may simply be the devotion to the history of an important and often underrepresented subculture.