Cabinet of Curiosities


curious objects I've found

Sometimes as I garden, little treasures pop up out of the soil, or occasionally they are washed down in the beck and stand out because of pattern, colour or shine.  These are recent aquisitions, and will join my other rows of comforting curiosities.   I have quite a collection now and I love to display them on the window-sill or on one of my bookcase shelves.  There is great excitement in washing them clean and deciphering what they are exactly and imagining their use and wondering how they have become discarded or lost.

Broken piece of pottery

A beautiful and very particular patination comes to things buried in soil, and a different aging stain from time in water.   This little piece of pottery, which seems to have a leafy foreground design , with windswept trees above, has its cream and purple glaze marked rusty and crazed.  I find the crackled underside incredibly beautiful.

shard of broken pottery

It is bruised and chipped ceramic, but gloriously coloured from its wet tumbling.

Beetle carcase

In truth I didn’t find the beetle carcase exactly – the birds seem to have dropped it onto my workbench – so there it was, a gift for me to find amongst my chisels.  It is a large beetle, iridescent underneath, with the rich brown lacy wings folded neatly across its back, and intact.  In any event it came home for identification and to join my collection.

I still have in mind the William Tillyer talk at Mima, and his white stone pebbles in a cabinet, laid out, and representing clouds -he spoke of how displaying them in a cabinet somehow gave them special status, like rare collections in museums.  I feel much the same protective tendency towards my collection, they are my little treasure and have status way beyond their initial appearance.

It seems that this desire to collect curious objects is within us all, and the inclination to look upon eccentric items, or beautiful trinkets is in our nature.  Historically we’ve had trends for cabinets, cases, jars and taxidermy, to satisfy our eagerness for strange and rare things.  If Philip Hoare (don’t read if you are squeamish!) is to be believed, it is very much coming back into fashion.



  1. Comment by Ellen Abbott:

    I have many of my own like collections. Shells, stones, insects, feathers, broken bits and odd things. They occupy shelves and drawers. I have recently acquired a Chinese herb cabinet and am filling its drawers with all manner of natural and curious objects.

  2. Comment by Jennifer Tetlow:

    Ellen, the herb cabinet sounds like a curiosity in itself, and just a perfect container for your collection. What a lovely time you’ll have placing your objects, opening and closing drawers – will it be big enough!

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