Tapeworms, chamber pots, barbed wire - if anyone ever wishes to open a museum dedicated to odd museums, these would be the prime contenders
Saturday 19 June 1999
In 1978 a benevolent local, Mrs Jessie Brierly, donated her entire collection of 120 completed jigsaws to create this unique gallery. Inaugurated in 1979 and still the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, the collection has grown through donations from generous visitors. The museum now boasts what the curators claim is the world's smallest wooden jigsaw - the 7x6cm 99-piece "Swedish Ferry".
Dubbed "The Quackery Hall of Fame", this museum houses crackpot cures charting over 100 years of medical inanity. Many of the inventions still work (allegedly), so why not try the foot-operated breast-enlarger pump, "Crazy Crystals" (horse salts which eliminate the need for crutches), soap which washes off excess pounds and a pair of weight-reduction glasses. The "Timely Warning", patented by Dr Foote in 1905, is an aluminium device used to prevent "amorous dreams" (which "destroy the memory and weaken the mind") by waking the wearer in the nick of time.
Flying the flag for British engineering history, curator Brian Radam has put on display over 200 lawnmowers of "rare historic value", including Rolls-Royces, Hawker Siddleys, Royal Enfields and Suffolk Iron Foundries (which also built the Bouncing Bomb). Tracing the history of the machine as far back as 1799, the exhibition features racing lawnmowers, toy lawnmowers and a section entitled "Lawnmowers of the Rich and Famous" boasting items once owned by celebrities such as Margaret Thatcher, Hilda Ogden and Charles and Diana.
Founded in 1991 in La Crosse ("The Barbed Wire Capital of the World", apparently), the Barbed Wire Museum houses over 700 different varieties of barbed wire - from the original handmade variety to wire from the Berlin Wall before its demolition - as well as one of the world's largest collections of fencing tools. Enthusiasts can also attend the city's annual barbed wire "Swap and Sell" where collectors' pieces change hands for sums in advance of $300, or they can test their fence-mending skills by entering the World Champion Splicer competition.
Formerly located within the Hanky Panky tattoo shop, the Tattoo Museum was forced to relocate to larger premises as "the collection was rapidly growing out of its jacket". Re-opened in 1996 in the centre of Amsterdam's red-light district, the new museum displays examples of body art from ancient times to the present day. Notable exhibits include a 2,000-year-old mummified arm (thought to be female) from pre-Inca Peru and the skin of a late-19th-century whaler's forearm bought at auction in England, now preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. There's an even earlier maritime specimen that was apparently removed from a corpse in Indonesia.
Last year, Jan Bucquoy, film-maker, anarchist and friend of the revolutionary pie-thrower Noel Godin, turned his large, suburban house into what he described as an anti-establishment statement designed to provoke a coup d'etat. Exhibiting underpants formerly worn by Belgian television presenters and other native celebrities may not be the most tried and tested way of inciting revolution but, according to Bucquoy, just 10 visitors would be enough. The museum is only open on Sunday mornings, which may help to explain why the Belgian royal family still occupy their throne.
This male "members-only" institution came into being when Sigurdur Hjartarson turned his private collection into a museum with the help of a grant from Reykjavik council. Human exhibits include the "Latin American Chocolate Man", examples of Egyptian circumcision and "The Camden Clothes Hanger" as well as specimens from some of Iceland's native mammals such as walruses and whales. The museum also houses the Icelandic Institute of Phallilogy and a particularly interesting gift shop.
Believing the chamber pot to be an important and unfairly neglected part of history, curator Manfred Klauda has amassed a collection of nearly 9,500 in his small house museum, earning himself a place in The Guinness Book of Records. As well as commodes once owned by luminaries like "Iron" Chancellor Bismarck, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and Queen Marie Antoinette, the exhibition includes more prosaic examples such as a British musical pot from the Second World War with Hitler's face painted inside.
Apparently the Viennese in particular, and Austrians in general. have a special place in their hearts for the subject of death and feel it entirely appropriate to have a museum dedicated to the history of funerals and the art of the undertaker. The exhibition is not particularly large and should you wish to view its collection of tombstones, hearses, mourning outfits and coffins (in a variety of materials and made to measure for "any size of wallet"), you will have to make an appointment. As they say in Vienna: "It was a nice funeral".
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