Cabinets of curiosities

My nephew, Sébastien, has just started a blog (in French) about how he is building and assembling his own cabinet of curiosities. It is very interesting. He is suggesting lots of crafty and thrifty ways to create such cabinet. I particularly like his entry about old books. He is very creative (he is a writer after all) and has a very strong background in science (molecular biology); he really succeeds to combine both aspects with great ingenuity. With this blog he is sharing his passion for the scientific wonders and natural oddities of the past. I am quite impressed. It is fascinating and I recommend to have a look.

My nephew also reminds us that my great friend Mario Tessier, the venerable and learned scholar known as the “Futurible”, had introduced us to the history of the cabinet of curiosities in one of his famous “Carnets” published in Solaris #191 (p. 111-125). It is quite an edifying article that I encourage you to read if you want to push further your knowledge on this subject.

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Athenian Tetradrachma (5th c. BCE)

I have myself been collecting such curiosities since I am a child. When I settled in my home I placed a glass case in the center of the library room where I gathered a few of those items collected over the years. Unfortunately, for lack of space, it is a small display and most of my collection is still in boxes, spread around the house on top of bookshelves or even (for my most precious items like my Athenian tetradrachma, my Marc Antony or Lucius Verus denarii or my Leo I the Thracian solidus) in a safe. I have already introduced my collection in an entry about old books. However, inspired by my nephew, let me now elaborate a little more about my own cabinet of curiosities.

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Aesope’s Fables [1593]

Of course, most of my collection is articulated around books — mostly old ones. However, as a kid, I started collecting stones, minerals, fossils and coins (very few of those are displayed). At some point, because I was studying the origin of metallurgy in ancient Mesopotamia, I started collecting metal cups (mostly in silver and tin — choose wisely your graal!) and my roman studies prompted me to acquire many greek, roman and byzantine coins. Whenever I can I try to add some antiquities (pseudo or authentic) or pieces of old technology (but those are rare and expensive, so I’ve acquired them so far from family or friends). But I am mostly into old books and metal stuff… Here is the core of my cabinet of curiosities:

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Left side

Top: my collection of cups and (plated) silver plates; note the authentic 4th c. roman terracotta on the left. Bottom: my oldest books (16th-17th c.), some fossils, amethyst and native copper samples, a few coins, more metal cups and some Japanese-style tea cups (on top of a portable Go board).

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My oldest books

Detail of the fossils and old books (Svmma Omnivm Conciliorvm et Pontificvm [1633], Lucien [of Samosata] [1664], Valerius Maximus Factotum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX [1659], Qvinti Horatii Flacci Poemata [1643], Aesopi Phrygis: Fabulae [1593], and [Iustiniani Augusti] Digestorum sev pandectarum (Pars quarto [liber XX-XXVII]), De Pignoribvs et hypothecis [1581]).

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Right side

More old books (18th-19th c.), metallic gobelets, non-metallic cups (the smallest is in walrus ivory), a pair of small wooden masks of unknown origins (Balinese? Malaysian?), an (half-hidden) incised Malian knife with leather scabbard, some Inuit art, a false skull (an ashtray in pottery) and various mementos.

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On top of the shelves: a metronome, my grandpa’s French horn, an 18th c. tradesman’s balance scale, Chinese art reproductions, fake katanas, an original Rubik’s Cube and an authentic (undated) Chinese ding (ritual bronzes).

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On top of the shelves: a 70s helicopter’s pilot helmet, an (African? Undated) bronze mortar & pestle, a transportable Lumex microscope, an old 1-A Kodak Jr folding camera [1912] and a terrestrial globe (60s or 70s).

I have many more interesting items that I could display. Following my nephew’s example, I will do my best in the future to find clever ways to share them with visitors (and seek to acquire — or make — new ones; although I am far less creative than Sébastien). And you, do you have a cabinet of curiosities?

To be continued?

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