How to Create a Cabinet of Curiosities

Updated: 16/10/2023

A century-old tradition of collecting intriguing artifacts and peculiar oddities, often amassed during captivating journeys to far-flung corners of the globe, cabinets of curiosities have long captured the imaginations of enthusiasts and collectors alike. Also known as "Wunderkammer," these cabintes are repositories of the world's wonders, offering a glimpse into cultures, nature, and the inexplicable. While once the exclusive domain of explorers and scholars, this age-old tradition is currently experiencing a modern-day resurgence, thanks to the convenience of online shopping and international delivery services.

In this blog post, we'll take you on a global adventure to discover captivating curiosities from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, helping you curate a collection that's both intriguing and spine-tingling. So, let's dive into the fascinating world of curiosities and uncover some extraordinary items that will make your Halloween season truly exceptional. 

The History of Cabinets of Curiosities

Cabinets of curiosities, also known as "Wunderkammer" in German, have a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the Renaissance period in Europe. These collections served as precursors to modern museums and reflected the intellectual and cultural climate of their time. 

Cabinets of curiosities originated in the late 15th century and were most popular during the Renaissance. They were created by scholars, collectors, nobility, and wealthy merchants who were passionate about exploration, discovery, and the pursuit of knowledge. These early collectors would gather a wide array of items that piqued their curiosity, including natural specimens, rare artifacts, artworks, and oddities from around the world.

These collections were often housed in specially designed cabinets, rooms, or entire buildings. They were intended to showcase the collector's diverse interests and encompassed fields such as natural history, art, archaeology, ethnography, and more. Collectors would acquire items through exploration, trade, and gifts.

Cabinets of curiosities served multiple functions. They were symbols of wealth, power, and knowledge. They were also considered educational tools, reflecting the collector's appreciation of the world's wonders and diversity. These collections often served as sources of inspiration for artists and scientists of the time.

Over time, cabinets of curiosities evolved. They became more specialized and began focusing on specific areas of interest, such as natural history, art, or antiquities. As the Enlightenment era progressed, these collections played a role in the development of modern natural history museums and other institutions.

Many items from historical cabinets of curiosities formed the basis of today's museum collections. As interest in the sciences and the cataloging of the world grew, these early collections laid the groundwork for the creation of modern museums and educational institutions.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in cabinets of curiosities as a form of art and personal expression. Contemporary collectors and artists often create their own interpretations of these cabinets, blending historical curiosity with modern sensibilities.

Japanese Items for Your Cabinet of Curiosities 

Collecting traditional Japanese items for a cabinet of curiosities, also known as a "wunderkammer," can be a fascinating endeavor. Here are some traditional Japanese items that you can consider collecting and displaying:

Japanese Items for Cabinet of Curiosities
  • Netsuke: These are small, intricately carved toggles traditionally used to secure the cord of a pouch or container to the obi (sash) of a kimono.
  • Inro: Inro are small, decorative containers used to hold small objects or medicine. They are typically lacquered and adorned with intricate designs.
  • Tansu:Japanese tansu are traditional chests of drawers or cabinets often made with beautiful woodwork and metal fittings. They come in various styles, including clothing tansu and merchant tansu.
  • Kimonos and Obis: Collect vintage or antique kimonos, obis (sashes), and related accessories, such as kimono jackets (haori) and undergarments (juban).
  • Japanese Tea Sets: Traditional Japanese tea sets, including teapots, teacups, and serving trays, are prized collectibles and often feature exquisite ceramics and patterns.
  • Japanese Calligraphy: Collect scrolls or pieces of Japanese calligraphy (shodo) featuring beautiful handwritten characters and artwork.
  • Woodblock Prints (Ukiyo-e): Ukiyo-e prints depict scenes of daily life, landscapes, and kabuki actors. They are famous for their artistic quality and historical significance.
  • Swords and Katana: Antique Japanese swords, including katana, wakizashi, and tanto, are highly collectible items, though they may require special permits and care.
  • Japanese Dolls (Ningyo): Traditional Japanese dolls, such as kokeshi dolls and hina dolls, are intricate and culturally significant collectibles.
  • Japanese Ceramics: Collect traditional Japanese ceramics like Imari, Kutani, or Seto ware, known for their craftsmanship and artistic designs.
  • Bonsai Trees: Bonsai cultivation is an art form in Japan, and collecting bonsai trees can be a unique addition to a cabinet of curiosities.
  • Noh and Kabuki Masks: Collect traditional masks used in Noh and Kabuki theater, each with its own character and symbolism.
  • Japanese Fans: Vintage or antique Japanese folding fans (sensu) or hand fans (uchiwa) often feature intricate artwork and designs.
  • Sake Sets: Traditional sake sets, including sake bottles and cups, can be both functional and decorative.
  • Japanese Lanterns: Collect traditional Japanese lanterns made of paper or silk, often used in festivals and ceremonies.
  • Japanese Woodworking Tools: Antique woodworking tools, such as planes and saws, can showcase Japanese craftsmanship.
  • Kokeshi and Daruma Dolls: Kokeshi dolls are handcrafted wooden dolls, while Daruma dolls symbolize good luck and perseverance.
  • Japanese Armor (Yoroi): Antique samurai armor pieces or display sets can be captivating collectibles.
  • Japanese Coins and Currency: Collect vintage Japanese coins and banknotes, which can reveal historical and cultural aspects.
  • Japanese Maps and Prints: Antique maps and historical prints can provide insights into Japan's past.

Remember that when collecting traditional Japanese items, it's essential to research their cultural and historical significance, as well as their proper care and preservation, to fully appreciate and respect their value.

German Artifacts to Add to a Cabinet of Curiosities

Collecting traditional German items for a cabinet of curiosities can provide a window into the country's rich culture and history. Here are some traditional German items that you can consider collecting and displaying:

German Artifacts for a Cabinet of Curiosities
  • Beer Steins: Collect traditional German beer steins, known for their intricate designs and craftsmanship. They often feature scenes from German folklore, history, and culture. If possible, collect commemorative beer steins from Oktoberfest celebrations, showcasing different designs each year.
  • Nutcrackers: German nutcrackers, often associated with the Christmas season, come in various forms, including soldiers, kings, and characters from German fairy tales.
  • Steinzeug Pottery: Collect antique German stoneware pottery, known for its durability and often adorned with intricate blue and gray designs.
  • Cuckoo Clocks: Traditional Black Forest cuckoo clocks are iconic timepieces known for their intricate carvings and distinctive cuckoo bird sounds.
  • Beer Mugs: In addition to steins, collect traditional German beer mugs, which are often made of ceramic or glass and may feature brewery logos.
  • Dirndls and Lederhosen: Traditional Bavarian clothing, including dirndls for women and lederhosen for men, can be displayed as cultural artifacts.
  • German Christmas Ornaments: Collect hand-blown glass ornaments, such as those made in the town of Lauscha, known for its glass blowing traditions.
  • Smoking Figures (Rauchermann): These are wooden figurines often used as incense burners and come in various forms, including miners and forest figures.
  • Beer Labels: Vintage beer labels and labels from German breweries can be framed and displayed.
  • Traditional Toys: Collect antique German toys like wooden nutcracker soldiers, wooden animals, and tinplate toys.
  • Porcelain Figurines: Traditional German porcelain figurines from makers like Meissen and Dresden are renowned for their delicate craftsmanship.
  • Antique Clocks: German-made antique clocks, such as wall clocks and mantel clocks, are known for their precision and craftsmanship.
  • German Postcards: Collect vintage German postcards featuring scenes of cities, landscapes, and historic sites.
  • Stamps and Philatelic Items: German postage stamps, particularly historical or rare ones, can be collectible items for philatelists.
  • Traditional Musical Instruments: Consider collecting traditional German musical instruments like the accordion, zither, and Alphorn.
  • Wooden Carvings: German wood carvings, including religious figures, nativity scenes, and decorative items, showcase the country's woodworking traditions.

Items to Order from the UK for Your Cabinet of Curiosities

Collecting traditional British items for a cabinet of curiosities can offer a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the United Kingdom. Here are some traditional British items that you can consider collecting and displaying:

Items from the UK for a Cabinet of Curiosities
  • Antique Teapots: British teapots, often made of porcelain or ceramic, come in various shapes and designs, showcasing the artistry of British ceramics.
  • Teacups and Saucers: Collect vintage teacups and saucers, including fine bone china sets with intricate patterns and gold accents.
  • Silverware and Cutlery: Antique silverware, such as tea sets, sugar tongs, and cutlery, reflects the craftsmanship and elegance of British silversmiths.
  • Victorian Jewelry: Victorian-era jewelry pieces, including lockets, brooches, and cameos, are known for their intricate designs and sentimental value.
  • Antique Books: Collect rare and antique books, especially those by British authors or about British history, literature, and exploration.
  • English Coins and Banknotes: Collect vintage and historic British coins and banknotes, including those from different periods and reigns.
  • Ceramic Figurines: British ceramic companies like Royal Doulton and Wedgwood produced collectible figurines and ornaments.
  • Spode China: Spode is known for its exquisite china and pottery, including collectible plates, vases, and figurines.
  • Trench Art: Collect items made by soldiers during wartime, such as World War I and World War II, including carved shell casings and other objects.
  • Antique Maps: Vintage maps of the United Kingdom, London, and other regions can be fascinating collectibles for geography enthusiasts.
  • Taxidermy: While not for everyone, antique taxidermy specimens, such as Victorian-era mounted birds, can be considered collectible curiosities.
  • Pocket Watches: Antique British-made pocket watches, often with intricate designs and craftsmanship, make for elegant collectibles.
  • Antique Telephones and Cameras: Vintage British telephones, including iconic designs like the GPO Bakelite phones, can be unique collectibles. Vintage British-made cameras, such as those by Kodak and Zeiss Ikon, are collectible for photography enthusiasts.
  • Royal Memorabilia: Collect items related to the British royal family, such as commemorative plates, medals, and souvenirs.
  • Antique Tools and Instruments: Vintage British woodworking tools, such as hand planes and saws, demonstrate traditional craftsmanship. Vintage scientific instruments, including microscopes and barometers, showcase British innovation and precision.
  • Antique Musical Instruments: Collect antique British musical instruments, such as violins, flutes, and pianos, known for their craftsmanship.
  • Tobacco Pipes: Collect antique tobacco pipes, often ornately carved and made from materials like meerschaum and clay.

Where to Shop for Oddities and Curiosities

Nowadays, the world of oddities and curiosities has expanded significantly. The internet has opened a gateway to an unparalleled array of unique and intriguing finds. From well-established marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, and eBay, Mercari, and Mandarake where you can explore a wealth of antiques and peculiar items, to prestigious auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's, showcasing the finest curiosities, the choices are as diverse as your own curiosities. 

But the journey doesn't end there. It's a golden era for small businesses and artists who delve into the world of the unusual. Their creations and discoveries can now be readily found online. These artisans, curators, and collectors offer a delightful twist to the world of oddities, infusing their unique perspectives and craftsmanship into every piece.

Recently, Etsy has established itself as the go-to destination for oddities and curiosities, offering both antiques and new items. You can find wet specimens, bones, fossils, insects, botanic specimens, art, prints, antique tools, and a wide range of other oddities.

Amazon's international platforms, including local websites in USA, Japan, Germany, and the UK, offer a diverse selection of antiques and new items, making it a convenient option for curiosities collectors. eBay, as a well-established online marketplace, also offers a wide variety of antiques, collectibles, and curiosities from sellers worldwide. Explore the UK, German, and Japanese eBay websites for unique local finds.

Auction houses are another option to source art, antiques, and rare objects. The London-based  renowned international auction house Christie's also has a Japanese branch that conducts online auctions in Japan, featuring antiques, art, and collectible items. Sotheby's, another major international auction house, offers online auctions featuring a range of fine art, first-edition books, antiques, and collectibles. Other UK houses known for art and antiques include Phillips and Bonhams. 

If big auction houses aren't your type of market, you can support local small businesses that create or distribute unique items. Here are only a few suggestions:

  • The Morbitorium (UK): The Morbitorium is a UK-based small business that specializes in curiosities, oddities, and unusual items, making it a great source for unique additions to your cabinet.
  • The Curio Cartel (UK): The Curio Cartel in the UK offers a curated selection of curious and eclectic items, including antiques and art pieces.
  • The Cabinet of Curiosities (UK): This UK-based business focuses on providing a diverse array of collectibles, antiques, and curiosities to collectors and enthusiasts.
  • Kyoto Handicraft Center (Japan): The Kyoto Handicraft Center in Japan offers a wide range of traditional Japanese crafts and collectibles, perfect for those interested in Japanese curiosities.
  • Beersteincenter (Germany): Beersteincenter in Germany is an excellent source for unique beer steins and collectibles that can add a distinct flair to your cabinet.

While the allure of sourcing items for your cabinet of curiosities directly from their country of origin is undeniable, it's essential to recognize that not all treasures are limited by geographical boundaries. In fact, expanding your search can lead to delightful discoveries you might not have encountered otherwise.

Take Japanese kokeshi dolls, for example. While they are a quintessential part of Japan's cultural heritage, you can also find these charming wooden dolls in unexpected places. UK-based websites like Japan Craft and The School of Practical Philosophy offer a unique opportunity to acquire these traditional Japanese curiosities from halfway across the globe. Another example is Artelino, a German auction house that specializes in Japanese art prints. 

So, when building your collection, remember to cast a wider net and explore the myriad of platforms and stores that offer curiosities from around the world. Your next extraordinary find may be just a click away!

What to Consider When Ordering Items for Your Cabinet of Curiosities 

When ordering items for your cabinet of curiosities with international shipping, it's essential to consider a few important factors to ensure a smooth and lawful process. Here are some key considerations:

  • Customs Regulations: Different countries have varying customs regulations, so it's crucial to research the import rules of your country to understand what items are allowed and which may require specific permits or declarations. Botanic specimens, animal products, and certain historical artifacts may be subject to restrictions or prohibitions.
  • CITES Restrictions: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that regulates the trade of endangered species. Items made from or containing materials from endangered species, such as ivory or certain types of wood, may be restricted or prohibited.
  • Botanic Specimens: Some countries have strict regulations on the import of plants, seeds, and plant products due to concerns about pests and diseases. Always check if there are specific import restrictions on the botanic specimens you wish to acquire.
  • Animal Products: Bones, fossils, and other animal products may be subject to regulations, and you may need to provide documentation to prove that they were legally obtained. Some items may require health certificates or permits to be imported.
  • Cultural Artifacts: Certain countries have laws protecting their cultural heritage, and exporting or importing historical artifacts may be restricted. Be aware of potential restrictions on coins, antiquities, and cultural items.
  • Declared Value: When ordering items for international shipping, declare their accurate value. This value may be subject to customs duties and taxes, so transparency is important.
  • Import Permits: Some items, like ancient artifacts, may require an import permit or certification to prove their authenticity and legality. Check if such permits are necessary for your acquisitions.
  • Research the Seller: Ensure that you are purchasing from a reputable and knowledgeable seller who is familiar with international shipping regulations. They should be able to provide accurate information and documentation as needed.
  • Documentation: Keep records of your purchase invoices, certificates, permits, and any communication with the seller, as these documents may be required during the customs clearance process.
  • Contact Customs Authorities: If you're uncertain about the legality or import requirements for specific items, contact your country's customs authorities or an expert in the field to seek guidance.

Start Your Cabinet of Curiosities with forward2me 

Curating your own cabinet of curiosities is not only an enriching hobby but now made even more accessible. Thanks to international delivery options, the world's most unique and peculiar items are just a click away. What's more, a parcel forwarding address from forward2me opens up exciting possibilities to obtain rare treasures directly from their country of origin. 

If you ever have questions about shipping peculiar items with forward2me, our dedicated customer care team is here to help. Your collection of curiosities awaits: explore, discover, and enjoy the wonders of the world!

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