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During the 17th and 18th centuries, before the development of modern museums, Cabinets of Curiosities or Wunderkammer were all the rage. They combined sculpture and painting with natural objects like fossils, minerals, and shells, as well as antiquities and ethnographic objects. 


Kunst- und Raritätenkammer, by Frans Francken (1636).

The “cabinets” could be entire rooms, or what we think of today as a cabinet. I love them because they represent the interests of the educated gentlemen of the time. And I happen to be drawn to all the same things. I especially love fossils and minerals as well as beads and glass objects.


My brother dug up this trilobite in Australia, at a place where you can pay a fee to dig.


The last ammonites died out in the Cretaceous, so far as we know. I keep hoping they will dredge up a surviving one some day. The closest living relative is the Nautilus.


This polished ammonite has a little geode-like crystallization in each chamber.

One of my favorite poems is The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which describes how the mollusk moves from one chamber to the next over his lifetime, sealing off the previous one…

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

He ends with the famous line, Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!


This is a bowl full of lovely things. There are several baculites, which are like ammonites except straight rather than round. Like ammonites, some have very beautiful sutures between each segment. The patterns are reminiscent of fractals or lace. Also there are a couple of whole ammonites, including one that still has a pearlescent shell, and a big red Lake Superior agate.


Here is an ethnographic item, a string of antique African trade beads. Each one is a tiny sculpture in itself.

I am very fond of gem and mineral spheres as well as glass spheres. This one is by glass artist Josh Simpson. It is from his “planets” series.


The little orange and green swirl is a “satellite” orbiting the planet, close to the outer surface of the glass.

I also love agates, especially ones with “eyes.” 


This is the interior of a small agate bowl from India.

This is a very fine charoite sphere from Russia. Charoite is only found in a particular part of Siberia near the Chara river, and began to be exported in 1978. 


I bought this one at the Tucson gem show a few years ago.

What woman doesn’t love a monster of a gemstone? I haven’t had these set, but would like to. The rectangular ones are a little under an inch in width. They’d make great cocktail rings or pendants.


These are quartz gems. The ones at the right and bottom have needles of rutile inside the quartz crystal. The one at left has a dendritic crystalline growth that looks just like a plant.

Every Cabinet of Curiosities needs a painting or two. This one is a favorite by Dutch artist Hans Meertens


His work reminds me of Klimt. This painting is like a Cabinet of Curiosities in itself, with lots of interesting little details.