Steampunk terrarium

Professor Alexander's Botanical Vasculum - Steamed 300 watt Moss Terrarium from Etsy seller SteamedGlass is a beautiful blown-glass steampunk Rube Goldberg terrarium: "This is the largest of our "steamed" light bulb terrariums with a bulb measuring 3 3/4" x 7 3/4". It stands 10 1/4" tall as mounted on the SteamPunked stand made of a simulated cherrywood base, copper tubing, chemistry glass, an adjustable 4x magnifying glass and other ornate trimmings. The bulb houses a small solar powered LED bulb that lights itself when all other lights go out and throws a dreamlike shadow pattern on your walls making the perfect night light. It can also be turned on and off with the old fashioned knife switch mounted to the base."


Professor Alexander's Botanical Vasculum - Steamed 300 watt Moss Terrarium (Thanks, Armand!)


  1. Gorgeous! I worry about what the steady accumulation of copper compounds (read: algaecide) will do to the mosses.

  2. Is there some new steampunk fetish on the Internet or something? Enough of this. You can’t just slap some gratuitous metal tubing on something and call it art. You probably can’t even call it steampunk — isn’t steampunk supposed to be an ‘alternate history’ of sorts where modern technology is reached via victorian aesthetics? How does this have anything to do with that?


    1. Welcome to Boingboing, where you can glue a bunch of books together, hollow them out, throw a strap on them and call it “librarian steampunk.”

      I like the brass tubing aesthetic but if the term “steampunk” annoys you, this might not be the place for you. Which is a shame, because most of it is so good.

  3. I’m agreeing with bklad. Secondly this looks like a mess, look how the magnifying lens it attached to the tube. It’s hard to see the contents of the terrarium with all these useless pieces glued on.

  4. Cue the steampunk haters in 3 … 2 … oops; guess they’re already here. :-)

    Not seeing a problem with the magnifying glass, which I think is a great idea (assuming it’s mounted at the proper distance). Though I concede that a flexible joint with a thumb screw would have looked more interesting.

    I’d wipe some copper sulfate solution on the thing (especially the solder points) to give it a patina of age and get rid of the silver color, but that’s just me.

    As for whether it fits the steampunk aesthetic, I wouldn’t blink if I saw the thing in Agatha Heterodyne’s workshop. :-)

  5. The nameplate is a nice touch. I’ve been searching for a company that will do that type of nameplate in small quantities, anyone have one?

  6. I’m pretty sure they actually had terrariums in the Victorian era. No steampunkification of a ‘modern’ item necessary.

    1. If you think the purpose of Steampunk is to accurately reproduce objects and aesthetics of the Victorian era, in and of itself, then you’ve missed the point of Steampunk. What you’re referring to is history. What’s happening here is a speculative fiction sub-genre and modern aesthetic that happens to sometimes adopt and adapt modern conceptions of what Victorian aesthetics were in the creation of something new. That’s the creation of something which may be considered by some to be art.

      1. @ anon – more like you missed the point.

        You don’t need to ask the question, ‘What would terrariums be like if they had been invented all the way back in the Victorian Era?’ They actually HAD terrariums.

        1. Yes, we know what Victorian terrariums look like. But what would they look like, given an alternate history of vast airship fleets, Martian tripod attacks, raygun v. zombie fights on lost continents, and a visual aesthetic unlike those found in the known history?

          This artist has decided they look like the one pictured, though an artist’s personal alternate history will differ from what I described, or any others one could mention.

          One does not have to like it, but one should understand the goal. Steampunk is not trying to recreate, it is trying to re-imagine.

          Also, copper piping was introduced in the early 1900’s at the end of the Victorian era. Thus the artist has used a period appropriate material, though in a manner previously unseen in the age.

          I am not a fan of the static magnifying glass, unless it really is at an optimal distance/location.

        2. Yes they may have had terrariums in the Victorian era.
          The artist was never trying to recreate a Victorian Era terrarium.

          This is the artists impression of what terrariums might have looked like if Victorian era aesthetics had continued to prosper whilst technology advanced for another hundred odd years.

          Steampunk has never been about recreating Victorian times exactly. That would just be fiction set in the past. Most steampunk is set now or in the future of an alternate history.

          I think this thing looks great! It’s certainly steampunk enough for me.

  7. It’s pretty ham-fisted, if you ask me, like steampunk created by someone who doesn’t really understand steampunk.

  8. bkad @2, feltmountain @3, how stupid are you willing to look before you’ll stop typing and spend a few minutes googling? Boing Boing didn’t invent steampunk. The steampunk aesthetic has been popping up all over the world for a decade or more.

    Lobster @8, welcome to the real world, where there’s an explicitly steampunk bar a few miles from me. In the evenings, it’s full of people who think they can make any art or artifacts they want and call them “steampunk,” whether or not it annoys you that they do so.

    My advice? Get over it. Seriously. If the Boingers were all killed tomorrow, you’d still be living in a world where people put gears, dials, and brass or copper tubing onto their projects and call it steampunk — and are likely to go on doing so for some time to come.

    Brett Myers @12, where have you been? I would have sworn that steampunk was such a broad-based and inchoate aesthetic movement that no one could rightly say who does and doesn’t understand it. You’ve been holding out on us.

  9. Just as an aside, I’ve been doing moss in terrariums for a few years now, and I can verify that that moss in the front will do extremely well in there. The others, not so much, but since the front one will take over eventually, it’ll all work out in the end.

  10. Change that copper tubing to a mixture of cast iron and brass = SOLD!

    The light-bulb as the container looks soooo cool! Imagine if the diameter of the bulb head was a meter, and you had a room chock-full of them, each simulating a slightly different conditions… so cool!

  11. A little touchy about the steampunk criticisms, eh Teresa? Are we only allowed to praise things in the comments?

      1. Wanna address my second question? Two people expressed a negative opinion of the terrarium and were called “stupid” by Teresa. Feltmountain even offered specific criticism about the execution. Is that discouraged? Teresa offered a suggestion to critics to “Get over it. Seriously.” Maybe she should take her own advice?

  12. Personally, it’s not my cup of tea. Not to be rude, but I don’t think it creates the best atmosphere when people say bkad and feltmountain look stupid for disliking the general aesthetic of the piece.

    If you put art out there, some people are going to like it, and some people are going to hate it. Sometimes the most frustrating response is “meh.” C’est la Via.

  13. I can see how people might not think of this as steampunk, as it uses copper tubing instead of brass. Perhaps a new genre is in order ? What do you think of “distillationpunk” or “moonshinepunk” ?

  14. I’m the anon poster from before.

    You’re still missing the point. Steampunk isn’t about what could or would have been. It is a modern (as in present day) aesthetic that cherry-picks what we as modern, non-Victorian people would like to pretend was something that fictional Victorian era people would make. Steampunk isn’t asking what would terrariums be like if they had been invented all the way back in the Victorian era. Historical accuracy is not important to Steampunk. The imagination is what is important. So if the maker of this object wants to think of it as something a fictional Victorian era person would make, that’s Steampunk, regardless of what Victorian era terrariums actually looked like. It doesn’t matter if terrariums existed back then or even today or if it were a futuristic technology we hadn’t developed yet. You could still make a Steampunk object out of the concept.

    @mikesum32 You’re putting Steampunk in a pretty small box by suggesting it has to have brass and not copper. Victorians didn’t use copper pipes ever? You seem to be saying that most Steampunk stuff you’ve seen has been done with brass or brass-looking, not that it’s not Steampunk.

    @DefMech The point is that if they don’t like the article, they don’t have to comment. They can go somewhere else. There are more tubes to surf elsewhere. It’s not necessary to shit all over someone’s article in the comment section when you have nothing to contribute but for some egocentric reason feel the need to say something. They could even write a blog post in their own blog pointing to this article and rant about how much they hate it. It’s not necessary to do it here and attempt to ruin the experience for other people who might enjoy it.

    Do you routinely go into stores that sell things that you don’t like and yell at the patrons, telling them they’re all stupid and then when they protest, you tell them to get over it?

    1. Part of me hates to continue this thread, but here I go anyway. From my understanding, message boards and comment sections are for discussion. This includes praise, debate, criticism and any other reasonable back-and-forth. It’s not the same at all as someone going into a store and telling the proprietor that their wares stink. BB editors make posts about things they find interesting and give us a forum to talk about it. Some people think the stuff is awesome and some people strongly disagree. They talk it over and it makes for good reading.

      As someone who finds the whole steampunk thing kinda dorky and overdone at this point and also being really into terrariums, I don’t really have a high opinion of this work. I agree with some of the other posters who say that much of the ornamentation detracts from the appeal of the terrarium itself, the focus of the creation.

    2. To me, Steampunk is like Gibson’s ‘The Difference Engine.’ It’s an alternate history. I suppose it has morphed into some of these other things, but I guess I like my Steampunk form to more closely follow function.

      …and this is coming from someone who has been writing Clockpunk since I thought I was independently inventing the genre back in 1995,

      …and who makes pop culture genre photographs like this

      so I’m not unsympathetic.

  15. Comment rephrased for Teresa:

    In my opinion, the piece looks poorly executed. I am not an expert on the steampunk aesthetic, to the extent that a steampunk aesthetic can be defined, but in my unqualified opinion, this piece is a poor example of steampunk.

  16. Something is missing from this piece…I mean the idea is great but it just doesn’t feel like it’s really from an alternative reality, you know? It needs more patina.

  17. I bought the first of these items, recommended this link to BB, enjoy my purchase and hereinafter shall refrain from reading comments thereto. Haters, get a “life.” Hisssssss!

  18. I think this piece is beautiful. I’m a sheet metal worker and enjoy the aesthetics of all metal craft, especially copper. To solder the small copper bands cleanly without damaging the glass show patience and more then just a little skill in the artist. Well done, regardless of whether or not you think it’s steampunk.

  19. I have been really into making terrariums for the last year or so- I have not been into the steampunk aesthetic so much as the pop surrealist thing though. I used to design sets and costumes for theatre and film so my terrariums are very character driven and are better described as organic dioramas than terrariums. I am getting a great response to them at craft shows but can’t really market to the world as they are unshippable- anyway check me out if you like weird crap-

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