© 2019 Yakima Valley Museum & Historical Society Inc.

2105 Tieton Drive | Yakima | WA 98902

Phone: (509) 248-0747

Fax: (509) 453-4890

Email: info@yvmuseum.org

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Cabinet of Curiosities:

a collection of weird stuff!

Humans have always collected things.

 

Before there were museums, collections were kept in churches, and in the private homes of the wealthy. What was collected, and why, varied greatly. Roman emperors collected oddities from across the Empire. Early Christian churches collected religious relics—bones of saints, pieces of the true cross, and the like—and these things were displayed in churches to attract pilgrims.

 

During the Age of Enlightenment of the 1600s and 1700s, the western world was growing, with many new discoveries and rapid changes in science and knowledge. Collecting became popular. People with access to the many wonders of the world, created collections to amuse and astonish their friends.

 

The collections were displayed in cabinets—usually glass-enclosed cupboards or even small rooms filled with all sorts of things. Some were exotic, unusual and even shocking—anything that would astonish visitors who knew little outside their own experience. These private collections, known as cabinets of curiosities or wunderkammer (wonder-rooms), were private and not often used to educate. Curiosities were displayed in no particular way—just odd items placed together.

However universities and other places of learning did put together research collections, and these have been an important part of study ever since. Unlike private collections, research collections were carefully organized. Large numbers of things were collected—enough to show the range and variety of each object. Research collections require a lot of room, so today, most are in major museums and universities.

To create our Cabinet of Curiosities, we took from our collections many odd objects that were collected by people from Yakima. Some would be welcome additions to a scientific research collection. Others are bizarre objects that would fit well in an odd private collection from the past. Everything is displayed randomly just as it would have been in a Cabinet of Curiosities.