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  • Cabinet of Curiosities from Eighteenth-Century London February 14, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    One of the sheer joys of bizzarism is collecting disparate lists and just enjoying the sound of them or the look of them on the page. In this spirit Beachcombing offers today a collection of curiosities brought together in an eighteenth-century London coffee house. He has included perhaps one in fifteen of the marvels gathered there. Apologies but typing hurts.

    Beachcombing should also say that he resisted  the temptation to put exclamation marks after some of these, though he has put some question marks along the way, reflecting his own confusion.

    How Beachcombing would have loved to have sipped some chocolate and taken ices while looking around these cabinets. And how much would all of this have got its owner on a Regency ebay?

    1) A cup and saucer made of cherry stones

    2) A piece of Queen Catherine’s skin

    3) An asbestos handkerchief

    4) The Lord’s Prayer written on a silver penny

    4) A pair of dice used by the knights’ templar

    5) An elf’s arrow

    6) A purse made of spider’s web

    7) Consecrated wafers

    8 ) A pair of garters from South Carolina

    9) A crucifix made by a French prisoner at Winchester, from the bones in his food

    10) A very curious young mermaid fish

    11) The head of an Egyptian

    12 Instruments for scratching the Chinese ladies’ backs

    13) Mary Queen of Scots Pin-cushion

    14) A necklace of Job’s tears

    15) Bones from a spring called Boney Well near Ludlow.

    16) The pizzle of a raccoon

    17) A statue of Priapus god of Gardens [sic]

    18) A piece of Roman earthen ware dug up with several other Roman relics at Walcott near Bath

    19) A pair of nun’s stockings

    20) Lace made of human hair

    21) Centipedes in spirits

    22) Brain stones [what?]

    23) A very small starved frog

    24) An acorn from Turkey

    25) Roman titles [??tiles??]

    26) A talisman formerly worn by the Jews and some superstitious heathens and supposed to protect the wearer from harm

    27) Petrified child

    28) A whip from Archangel [or of an archangel???]

    29) Staffordshire almanack in use when the Danes were in England [w-wh-what???]

    30) Starved champansee [sic] in an Esquimaux canoe found in the same and believed to have been turned adrift at sea in order to try whether he could paddle himself to shore

    31) Moving picture of a bashful widow

    32) The jaws of a wild boar that was starved to death by his two jaws growing in and depriving him of devouring his prey

    33) The lance of Tow-How Sham, king of the Darien Indians with which he killed six Spaniards and took a tooth out of each head and put in his spear as a trophy of victory

    34) Two ancient arrows of Robin Hood

    35) The model of a mill with an overshot wheel which works with sand (as the larger ones do by water), most curiously contrived and made in a bottle; the stopper of the bottle is most wonderfully contrived in being fastened in the inside of the bottle with cross bars and spring bolts, with various things hanging to each end of every bolt and yet so tight as not to admit of one grain of sand to escape. [and yet they failed to invent penicilin]

    36) The flaming sword of William the Conqueror

    37) An Indian canoe

    And Beachcombing saves the best for last. The exhibit marked 38) ‘unknown’.

    Beachcombing has little knowledge of this field but can see extraordinary possibilities. Does anyone have any suggestions for other sources or books? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    14 Feb 2011: Invisible writes in with some important titles – Beachcombing is off to Amazon while confessing his ignorance: ‘Richard Altick’s The Shows of London has some wonderful descriptions of various London sites of curiosities, museums, menageries, automata exhibitions, etc. etc. It never fails to delight no matter how many times I dip into it. And there is a book called Cabinets of Curiosities by Patrick Mauries which is a history of the subject with many illustrations of surviving curiosities. And also Rudolf II and Prague: The Court and the City, an exhibition catalog which showed a great many of the Emperor’s curiosities. Don’t get me started on freak shows, medical anomalies, monstrous births, or shell grottoes…..’ Thanks Invisible!

    14 Feb 2011, ten minutes later: ouch! Beach has just seen the prices…

    23 Feb Mad Monk writes in with the following wise words: 3) An asbestos handkerchief: There is a medieval reference to Charlemagne having an asbestos tablecloth and throwing it into the fire after meals to clean it of crumbs.  This impressed his heathen visitors.  I can dig out the original reference if you like. 5) An elf’s arrow: This was probably a stone arrowhead.  ‘Elfshot’, mounted in silver was often believed to protect against arthitis and rheumatic pains. (Source is Kunz’s ‘Magical Jewels and Charms’) There is an example from John Soames’s collection in the British Museum. 22) Brain stones. It was believed that many animals had stones in their heads, and that these were powerful amulets.  These included Toadstones and Dragon stones. 25) Roman titles [??tiles??] Probably Tessera from a mosaic. These make sense though Beach would like to learn more about Charlemagne’s asbestos handkerchief! Thanks Mad Monk!