Searching for "purveyors of curiosities"

Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.


One of the areas of the Atlas Obscura that I hope will get filled out as people continue to contribute content to the site is our "Purveyors of Curiosities" category. Right now it's got a measly six places in it. We're looking to find all those cool stores around the world that share the "wunderkammer sensibility"--places like Deyrolle in Paris (shown above), Evolution and Obscura Antiques in New York City, and Paxton Gate in San Francisco, just to name a few of the more famous and fabulous ones.

Whenever I travel, I always seek these sorts of shops out, but they can be awfully hard to find (there's no page in the phone book for "odd stores"). If we could put together a good list of the world's "purveyors of curiosities," I think it would go a long way to making the Atlas Obscura into a really useful resource for curious travelers. So, please tell us: what are the most "wondrous, curious, and esoteric" stores in the world? (And if you have a few minutes to spare, would you consider writing up a brief description and adding them to the Atlas?)


  1. Real purveyors of curiousities don’t belong in no directory. They exist down dark, incense-filled alleys in exotic cities and sell too-good-to-be-true magical trinkets with ironic results, only to have disappeared without a trace upon the angry return of the unhappy customers. Come on!

  2. Maybe a bit specifically toy and toy-theatre oriented for you, but Pollock’s in London – a shop originally from the 19thC, museum attached 1956 – might be worth a look. Just a few yards from Goodge Street tube station on the uber-electrical Tottenham Court Road (home of flashy camera and computer shops) it looks like something marooned from the Victorian era.

    ‘If you love art, folly, or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock’s!’ – Robert Louis Stephenson, from their history page.

    There’s a decent small and slightly scruffy pub called The Hope next door. And a good chip shop opposite the pub.

  3. I forget the name of the store, but in downtown Seattle along the waterfront on Alaska Way, there’s a store of curiosities: shrunken heads, stuffed things, etc.

    Or at least it was there 3 years ago. It was fairly close to Elliott’s Oyster house.

  4. The only one I knew of is recently gone (it was called “The Continental Country Store”). But I’ll be on the lookout.

  5. Deyrolle caught fire in 2008, you should update your post. I don’t know how far along they are to recovery, but they are in a bad way.

  6. Don’t forget THE MONKEY’S PAW bookstore in Toronto.

    “Toronto’s most idiosyncratic secondhand bookshop,
    specializing in uncommon scholarly and out-of-print books; ephemera & images; manual typewriters; biological specimens.”

    Wed through Sat: 11 to 6
    Sun: 12 to 5
    Mon & Tues: by appointment

    1229 Dundas St. West
    (between Ossington & Dovercourt, directly across from LCBO Store #3)

  7. Uncommon Objects in Austin, Texas. My favorite place for wunderkammer! They always have the best circus & old school classroom ephemera.

  8. Wasn’t Deyrolle destroyed in a fire last February? I’m sure that’s an old photo, and I would find it hard to believe that it was restored in under a year – does anyone know for sure?

  9. I know that not everyone feels like this, but for me, a large part of the fun of shopping for curiosities is finding something where you wouldn’t expect it… a friend was recently sold a six-legged lamb by a local bookdealer; another bought a human skeleton from a junk shop in Edinburgh.

    Having said that, Le marche aux puces de Saint-Ouen
    in Paris is a great place to browse esoteric objects; shame they’re all sold at vastly inflated prices.

    I’m intrigued by ‘Get Stuffed‘, the taxidermist where Damien Hirst bought his skull; ‘by appointment only’, naturally.

  10. You’ll be wanting Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle, WA. They have mummies, and everything.

  11. In Los Angeles there’s Necromance on Melrose Ave and in Pasadena CA there’s a place called Gold Bug. Gold Bug has beautiful things, but it’s not a very friendly place, I’m sad to say.

  12. Hey, Josh. I’m a pal (and fellow Observatory founder) of Dylan’s. Congrats on the launch, the site looks amazing. You guys might be interested in an article I wrote on this very topic: It lists a bunch of wunderkammern-esque shops and museums. I also list a bunch more on my site here:

    I’ll try and fill some of these in on the AO site when I get time, but hopefully this helps.


  13. Partners & Spade in New York–it’s not so much the traditional “oddities” store but they have everything from “confidence” trophies that you can back date (imagine “Bowling League Champion, 1976”) to centuries-old botany books containing plant and sea life samples!

  14. Though it’s probably too established and academic for Atlas Obscura, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford deserves a mention ( It’s an amazing anthropological collection, shrunken heads included.

    It’s part of the natural history museum in Oxford, which is also amazing.

  15. This might be more successful as a listing of websites rather than places – I know several people dealing in fantastic oddities & rarities but none of them have physical stores at this point.

    For various reasons (practical & nefarious) brick & mortar doesn’t work all that well for these markets.

  16. Theres a trendy clothes shop just off Carnaby St in London (beside the London College of Fashion space), that sells jeans and the like but also has a stack of cased taxidermy and odd bits of random Victorian clothing. The taxidermy is reasonable prices compared to the Paris shop listed in the piece anyway

  17. J. Taylor’s in Madison, WI matches up to the cabinet of curiosities archetype even more than (wonderful) stores like Paxton Gate, The Bone Room, and Evolution (full disclosure – I once worked at Paxton Gate, and it was kickass). John (the “J” in J. Taylor’s) runs his store more like a personal collection of treasures, some of which he *may* decide to part with… so long as manage to satisfy his penchant for two-hour show & tell sessions and even longer (but stimulating) conversation.

    Taxidermy, oddities, and antique maps and books.

    J. Taylor’s
    18 1/2 N Carroll St
    Madison, WI 53703
    (608) 255-6277‎

  18. I created a page on the site, but the owner might want to know – after the page was created, I was told it had been, but also told I was not authorised to access this page :) Not sure if this is intentional or a bug.

  19. Trundle Manor is right up the alley of this post. It is not a “shop” per say, but it is there for the enjoyment of others and the host is quite interesting himself. The Secret Society of Odd Acquisition is quite tight lipped about where they get things but it is still worth the look and Mr Arm produces some killer things in jars for your amusement. Commissioned work is produced but nothing off the shelf. The newest addition is a belly dancer’s uterus tumor in a singing jar. Here’s the website

  20. Not sure if you’re considering online places (there is no physical store), but Madame Talbot can be an interesting place to visit.. The site is horrible to navigate, but check out the framed curios, vintage artifacts and such:

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