This is an unusual idea for me, but after looking at Make Magazine's Steampunk Gift Guide (which is pretty great, courtesy of Jake von Slatt of the Steampunk Workshop) I thought I'd come up with a list of my own. If I were to look for some really unusual things for a gift list, these would be but a few:
- Owl's Head: On the Nature of Lost Things or Swift As a Shadow: Extinct and Endangered Species, or particularly Bookworm, all by Rosamund Purcell, the goddess of museum photography. The first of these is a meditation (with, of course, photos) on her relationship with an amazing junk collector and how he influenced her life; the second, photographs of taxidermied animals; and the third, works made by Purcell herself using books that have been destroyed in interesting ways - very reflective of the Picturesque aesthetic, making them look like ancient remains - to reveal astonishing loveliness and interesting truths.
- If you're in London or thereabouts, go visit Get Stuffed, one of my favorite stores. A taxidermical paradise.
- On this same note, Van Dyke is the Wunderkammer of all taxidermy supplies. You can get any kind of eyes, including some that don't exist in the real world (see picture above, custom ordered), as well as animal forms and every kind of chemical, etc. They even have a gift certificate option for that special taxidermist in your life.
- Also in London there is Pollock's Toy Museum, where you can check out the amazing toy exhibits (mostly toy theatres from many different periods). Then, if you're feeling like a good person, you can help help the Museum's Trust by going to Pollock's and buying some of their lovely vintage greeting card reproductions. If I could make a massive neon hand pointing to this entry in the List, I would. Pollock's shop (not to mention the Museum) is one of my favorite places in the world. You can buy some of their most extraordinary collection of reproduction toy theatres (paper cutouts, of the most wonderful variety and complexity) at Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop, another amazing place,
whose relationship with the museum is...well, it seems to be complicated(wiki). I do wish that the Museum Trust sold theatres, because they need help, and greeting cards may not be enough.
- On the matter of mechanical gewgaws, the Horology Source's page on How to Make Your Own Clocks and Watches, including kits and plans.
- John Gleave, Orrery maker (hope this website still leads to a real person and is not an artifact).
- The Brass Compass, purveyors of fine brass nautical instruments: compasses, astrolabes, sextants, and so on. Make sure to look through the mind-numbing list of links at the bottom of the page, which will take you places like this theodolite, which you can buy with hardwood case and teak tripod.
- For all things stereoscopic, including stereoscopic cameras and all sorts of vintage (read: 60's 70's and on) stereo/photographic items, check out 3D by Dr. T, a warehouse of everything of this sort, for true enthusiasts - no antiques offered, only modern supplies and devices. But if you ever wanted to make your own stereoscopic pictures, this would be the place to go. They even have how-to books.
- From Jeffrey D. Picka, a professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, here is a list of genuinely strange books which is not only interesting to peruse but, if you can find copies of them, might make for really unusual gifts.
The Secrets of Building Electrostatic Lightning Bolt Generators, an eccentric book by an eccentric man who has experimented with many different types of crazy electricity machines, who after writing about his trials and errors (complete with instructions and experiments), encourages you to improve upon them.
- Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl is a fascinating hypertext retelling of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Here's a description:
"What if Mary Shelley's Frankenstein were true?
What if Mary Shelley herself made the monster -- not the fictional Dr. Frankenstein?
And what if the monster was a woman, and fell in love with Mary Shelley, and travelled to America?
This is their story."
The work has gotten great reviews and sounds unusual and fascinating. I like Ms. Jackson's My Body: A Wunderkammer, a lively, down-to-earth hypertext work wherein clicking on parts of the beautifully-drawn body will get you bits and pieces of stories about her body and its life.
Outposts: A Catalog of Rare And Disturbing Alternative Information. I've heard this is an amazing book from before the Internet really took off, with "sections on drugs, sex, or other bizarre but interesting fringe culture interests." People seem to find it difficult to put down (Disclaimer: I have not read this book and cannot guarantee it would not offend some people).
- This is kind of weird: staples and eyelets to supply those who use, or would like to use, their antique paper-fastening devices.
- You can also go to eBay and type in "reliquary." There are all kinds of fascinating things that come up...
- Lastly, here is a site, entirely in Dutch (I think), showing off Jos de Vink's amazing collection of self-made Stirling hot-air engines, beautiful creations of brass and glass run entirely off small candles. I have no idea if the man is interested in selling these, but if you have enough cash, you could ask. It's worth looking at in any case. You can also see the "Kathedraal" machine, above, on Youtube.