Monday, 21 January 2013

Cabinet of Curiosities

Corner of a cabinet painted by Frans ll Francken in 1636 
A cabinet of curiosities was a term used in Renaissance Europe for objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined. They were known by various names such as Cabinet of Wonder, and in German Kunstkammer (art room) or Wunderkammer (wonder room). Today we would categorise the objects included in such a cabinet as belonging to natural history, geology, ethnology, archaeology, religious or historical relics.
Johann Georg Hinz - a Wunderkammer (1666)
The frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosities.
I suspect that many of you will have little objects around your home, on shelves, in drawers or you may even have a cabinet which holds things that you find curious and interesting. They do not necessarily need to be of value but are little treasures to their owners that may be reminders of travels, gifts given, or simply objects that have been found or bought and which we, their owners, are fascinated by - just like our ancestors before us.
My cabinet of curiosities holds many objects, most of which are small and are made or gifted by family and friends. Others are objects that we have picked up on our travels.
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Once we had a Chinese family stay with us for a few days. They had a delightful little 4 year old daughter called Ida. She had never been in the countryside before, and was puzzled and even a bit nervous when she saw the very large cow 'pats' on our common. H came to the rescue by making her a poo-stick. She became very animated, skipping and  jumping through the grasses looking for them and pointing her stick with glee when she found one. On her return home she drew this little picture for us and her mother machine embroidered fabric onto it.
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This small painting was done for us by a friend who is a botanical artist.
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A small paper Christmas tree made by one of our granddaughters in Norway.
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H was given this little seahorse by fishermen at Ismailia on the Suez Canal, they had found it in their nets. 
Did you know that the male seahorse is equipped with a brood pouch. When mating, the female seahorse deposits up to 1,500 eggs in his pouch. He then carries the eggs until the seahorses emerge fully developed, but very small. Once the tiny seahorses are released into the water, the male's role is done.
Did you notice that there is also a seahorse in the first painting by Frans ll Francken?
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As a child I recall seeing glass tubes filled with this coloured sand from the Isle of Wight and being intrigued by it. When we visited the island ourselves one of the things that I wanted was a little bottle of this famous Alum Bay coloured sand.
My grandmother inherited money from the Darwin-Huish family - I wrote about the Darwin tobacco jar here. Because of the inheritance she and my grandfather were able to travel by ship around the world. This is a snapshot from their journey which I believe was in the early 1930s. I think that they must have been in their mid 50s but look much older than people would today. In fact my grandmother still looked like this when she died in 1959. I have a shell that she brought back with her. She used to tell me to put the shell to my ear so that I could hear the roar of the sea.
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I recall my grandmother saying that she found it on a beach in Australia, but maybe my memory is playing tricks on me. I cannot imagine finding such a glorious shell on a beach.
"Listen to the oceans Granddaughter dear"
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A small American very heavy silver dish with champlevé enamel work around the edge. This dish intrigues us as we know nothing about it. H has visited Panama, and believes that this dish shows the canal.  Was it a souvenir from the Panama-California Exposition? The 1915 Exposition was held in San Diego to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. If you click on the photo it is possible to see one ship entering a channel with two others waiting in the background to pass through. A mystery object to us.
If anyone has any ideas about the enamel motif, please do comment.
A treasured birthday card made by our grandson.
The fascination with this object comes from the wood that it is made from...
York Minster via wikipedia
This little squirrel was made from English oak removed from the beam of the central tower of York Minster following restoration work. It is interesting to reflect that the original wooden beam was made from an oak tree which was probably already a well established tree and growing in 1066 when William the Conquerer arrived. When we first purchased the squirrel it was imbued with the smell of incense following hundreds of years of being in the Minster.
These images are slightly bigger than life size
Two Chinese junks carved from fruit stones - the bottom one has lattice shutters that open and close revealling people inside.
Time now for me to close the shutters too - I may reveal some more little curiosities another time.
first three images courtesy wikipedia

59 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary:
    What a delight this has been and how pleased we are that you should open the 'shutters' and share with us some of the treasures from your own Cabinet of Curiosities. What is particularly appealing is the miscellaneous nature of what you have chosen to show. Each item is very personal, from a handmade card to a shell collected by your grandmother, but each has an intrinsic value and comes with its own story.

    You are most likely right when you remark that most of us collect in some form or another. But it is these kinds of collections of ephemera which are so utterly fascinating and which tell so much about a person.

    Your squirrel puts us in mind of a chair we once owned which was made from the wood of Nelson's flagship, HMS Foudroyant.

    Do, please, treat us to more outings from the Cabinet in future posts.

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance - thank you for the interest you have shown in this little collection of ephemeral bits and pieces, none of which has much value but holds memories for us and carries with it little stories, or reminders of travels past.
      I was interested to learn about your chair made from the wood of Nelson's flagship, HMS Foudroyant. It must have been interesting to reflect on all the places it had been and the battles fought - may be an interesting post for you there sometime?

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    2. Alas, now sold. But we do still retain a picture!

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    3. Ah, because you still have the picture, there must be a story waiting to be posted!!!

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  2. You have a wonderful cabinet of curiousities Rosemary, thank you for sharing. I think the fruit stone carvings are so beautiful and really amazing. Thank you for sharing these gems.

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    1. Dear Patricia - glad you enjoyed seeing these small articles of ephemera - the fruit stone carvings are really interesting, the Chinese are just so clever at doing things like this. Who would have thought you could get so much detail into a fruit stone!!!

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  3. Lovely post. Very interesting.
    Yes, here is Australia we do have big seashells on some beaches. I have a collection of shells from the West Coast of Australia, collected about 5 or less years ago but only small shells.
    I love Ida's story.

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    1. Perhaps so many years ago it was still possible to find the large sea shells on the beaches. I was sure that she told me that.
      I am pleased you liked Ida's story -a delightful little girl. Her father was one of H's PhD students. When she came to stay with her parents we met her off the London train. I will always remember her running down the platform, her jet black hair was done up in little bunches on top of her head, and they were bouncing up and down as she ran down the platform with her arms wide open to greet us.

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    2. Rosemary, your reply is a lovely story, what wonderful memories :)

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  4. How this post reminds me of "The old Curiosity shop"..
    You have shown us the beginning of our "curio" shelves. Extremely interesting indeed Rosemary.
    I love this post. What a fascinating array of collectables in the paintings you have shown us..
    Its uplifting to see other people's collectables and learn about their tales.
    The shell is beautiful.. like mother of pearl.
    how sweet of little Ida to send you a drawing.
    The chinese are very artful with their tiny carvings... as are the people of East Africa .. such beauty
    Thank you for sharing your lovely collection.. look forward to the next.
    val

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    1. Really pleased that you enjoyed the post and seeing these objects Val, mostly they of intrinsic value to us but filled with memories and reminders.
      Little Ida was a delight. She also made a little book of pictures for us recording each day she spent here. She slept in a room of her own for the first time. We took her kite flying and also to a wonderful wildlife park where she rode on a little steam train, and we had a picnic watching birds of prey flying around.

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  5. Beautiful memories Rosemary. My cabinet of treasures is mostly filled with things I found in nature like seedpods, a butterfly's wing, a dried leaf, too pretty to throw away, shells of course and even stones, but also little artworks from the kids, nothing of great value really but still so valuable to me.
    You and your family are/were so lucky to travel/have travelled and see/seen the world and to have memories to cherish from those different travels. I haven't travelled so much, but the memories you bring home from travels are priceless, aren't they?
    Bye,
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - collecting things, I believe, is part of our human instinct whether they be of any great value or not is really irrelevant, they are precious to us regardless. They remind us of times and places from the past, some bring back memories of people no longer with us, others of friends and relatives whose gifts we treasure. I have pieces picked up from the countryside too, especially fossils, shells, and interesting stones found.
      Yes, the little pieces picked up on travels do give us priceless memories. They remind us of the moment we got them, who we were with, and where.

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  6. That was most interesting.
    Should you or your readers be visiting France the chateau at Oiron in the Deux Sevres has a contemporary art museum housed in a sixteenth century building and had its own take on a cabinet of curiosities....http://www.oiron.fr/

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    1. Thank you for your visit and comment - I shall pop over now to take a look, and hopefully other readers will do the same.

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  7. Dear Rosemary, Isn't it interesting what powerful memories our little collectibles conjusre up. Ida's little story reminds me of when we had a semi-famous Hollywood Movie Star visiting. I took her for a walk into the countryside and she wanted to know what the big clumps were. Cowpies I explained.
    Your collection of curiosities is the most unusual and beautiful. Looking forward to the next installment. ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - I suppose the things that we collect are in fact little prompters of things we have done, people we know, and places where we have been.
      Glad you enjoyed seeing them - I love seeing other peoples bits and pieces too.

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  8. Rosemary, thank you for sharing these objects of yours with us. I wouldn't name these so much curiosities as treasures. Each one has begun as something simple but has been transformed through the craftsmanship of the artist and the history of the object itself into a magical story :)

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    1. Dear Rosemary - you are right, when I re looked at them, most are things that have been transformed through craftsmanship and skill. Even my grandchildren playing with blank pieces of paper have transformed it into something else.

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  9. Hello Rosemary, I love your personal cabinet of curiosities, and all the stories connected with them. I admired the cherry painting, and it goes with out saying, the Chinese carvings.

    I am also a fan of souvenirs made from recycled historic materials, like your squirrel carving (I like the babies peeking out). Somewhere I have a token made out of metal reclaimed from the Chicago fire, and, to tie in with your post, a pen holder made from concrete taken from the Panama Canal/Dams.

    Best of all is the story of your grandmother and her travels. We can easily picture her on the beach, finding a perfect shell for her granddaughter.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Dear Jim - I am delighted that you enjoyed this post and the little stories associated with the pieces. Almost everyone must have little treasures - they are also good memory prompters.
      I think that it was probably quite unusual to travel around the world as my grandparents. It is lovely that I still have the shell that she found - mind you, I was not even a twinkle in my father's eye at the time.

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  10. Hello Rosemary,
    excellent post!
    Congratulations and a big hug

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    1. Hello Antonio - it is so nice of you to visit and comment, and I am happy that you enjoyed the post.

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  11. This was so interesting, Rosemary and I feel privileged to have seen some of your lovely curiosities and heard something of their significance to you. The thought of having a carving made from wood of such age and associations is incredibly appealing to me.

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    1. Dear Perpetua - we actually bought the carving in the York Minster shop. The craftsman who made it was actually one of the people who worked on the restoration. You do get a sense of a very long history when you hold it.

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  12. Dear Rosemary,
    What a wonderful collection of curiosities, each with an interesting history and prompting such wonderful memories... Fantastic! Thank you for sharing them and the connections they have for your family. That little squirrel made from the wood in York Minster is so interesting: what a history! As an cheerfully incurable collector, I love the idea of a cabinet of curiosities (sometimes I think of my entire home as one), an invitation to ponder the miracles of nature, history and human craftsmanship, and to reconnect with wonderful memories of time well spent.
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Dear Erika - I think perhaps everybody is a collector in some form or another. I have reached a stage in life when really I think it is time to stop, but that never seems to happen. One of my sons gave me a beautiful little bronze acorn for Christmas, and do you know what, that has set me off on another collection - oh dear!!!

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  13. Good Day Rosemary, I have always picked up curiosities as you know from photos you have seen of my home. I have a squirrels skull laying about on a desk that intrigues visitors. I enjoyed seeing yours. Especially fruit stones and family image. Olive

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    1. Dear Olive - I know that you are an avid collector - you have a good eye when it comes to finding things at house sales. I should imagine that the squirrels skull is an interesting little object as should be quite small and with interesting details.
      The fruit stone carvings I so detailed and intricate and amazing how the little windows open.

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  14. Ifind your posts very interesting and creative, Rosemary!

    The painitings are very strange, but extremely interesting (you could spend ages looking at them!9

    I love your sea horse. They are very beautiful creatures. I remember being given one by a fisherman, in Italy, when I was on holiday with my parents, as a little girl. The man gave me a seatrough plastic bag, full of sea water. When I looked carefully, I saw a little sea horse, still alive, swimming in it. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen.

    i don't know what I did with the poor thing. Quite likely, I ran to the beach and put it back in the sea.

    Thank you for showing us a few of your special things. The shell is magnificent!

    Can you tell I was born in a city by the sea?

    HUGS

    ANNA
    xx

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    1. Dear Anna - unless you have actually seen a seahorse I do not think that you would necessarily realise how tiny they are. I remember seeing them in an aquarium and was interested in the way they use their tails to hang on to the seaweed.
      The one H was given was already dead. He carefully wrapped it up in tissue paper, and by the time he got home it had completely dried out, and fossilised.
      You definitely have an attraction for all things connected with the sea Anna.
      Ciao

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  15. Hello Rosemary

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful and priceless collection. Your grandparents are beautiful and how thrilling that they should take sure a world trip then. That your items are collected over time and have a story together with being beautiful is what makes this collection so special. Helenxx

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    1. Dear Helen - I love to see other peoples little curios and treasures that they have collected and learn about the stories connected to them.
      I think that my grandparents were quite fortunate to have the experience of going around the world, and particularly at that time, which must have been between the two world wars. As I mentioned it was only possible because of the inheritance she received from her aunt who had married into the distinguished Darwin family.

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    2. Dear Mark - I have had this post sitting in my drafts for a couple of months, so you can imagine my surprise when you mentioned on my Lichens post that it was "too bad that they could not be saved for a cabinet of curiosities" I thought that you must have been peeping behind the scenes at my blog!!!
      Yes, I did know that London Bridge was dismantled and sent to America - is your piece of stone polished or just left in the rough?

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  16. Dear Rosemary,

    I certainly have enjoyed this posting and all the comments. I think you and your readers could do an interesting chain of items recycled from historic material.

    My contribution is a piece of stone from the London Bridge. I use it as a paperweight. Perhaps you know that the 19th century London Bridge was bought by an American and rebuilt as an attraction in Arizona, of all places! When the dismantled bridge was put back together over here, it had to be built to modern standards of steel reinforcement, so there was much stone left over. Hence my own little curiosity.

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    1. We were certainly on the same wavelength, which I think has happened before!

      My piece of the London Bridge is a smooth but unpolished slab of granite, 1.5" x 4" x.75". It has a little plaque of authentification signed by Harold K. King, who was the City Engineer of the Corporation of London at the time. It's a favorite paperweight.

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    2. I am pleased that a little bit of London is forever ensconced in Florida.

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  17. What a wonderful treasure trove.

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    1. Much of it is of no value except to us. Things made by the grandchildren, visitors and friends, but all hold precious memories for us.

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  18. What a wonderful trove of interesting little things, each with it's own story. A really interesting post from you, as always.
    M

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    1. Hello Marina - glad you found my little curios of interest, and thanks for your kind comment.

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  19. Hello Rosemary,

    I love all these curiosities, and I even started my own curiosities cabinet at my home. I wanted also to thank you for the last comment on my blog I always find it very interesting and it's also imported for me.

    Greetings from a snowy Belgium
    xx
    Jérôme

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    1. Hello Jérôme - thank you for your visit. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing these little curiosities, it would be lovely to see yours sometime too.
      I hope that you will show us your home office when it is finished.
      Greetings from a snowy England too, although it is beginning to melt here.

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  20. What a fun tour through your curiosities. I love the picture of your grandparents and your grandmothers beautiful shell.

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    1. Dear Lisa - I am so pleased that I have that picture of my grandparents on their travels, it is the only one I have. There must have been many more photos taken, but at least I have one little memory of them from that exciting time in their lives.

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  21. Dear Rosemary, a really interesting post from you, as always!!So many memories from all those beautiful things! Beautiful shell!!Is it from Australia?Thank you for sharing!Wishing you a lovely week!
    Dimi..

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    1. Dear Dimi - yes, the shell is from Australia. My grandmother found it on the beach in the 1930s. Glad you enjoyed the memories and the little curios.

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  22. Rosemary,
    I love the story of the first picture and then hearing the stories of all your treasures too, a wonderful post.
    Sarah x

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    1. Dear Sarah - that is very kind of you, and I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post.

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  23. Dear Rosemary,
    I am a bit behind in my blog post reading but I wanted to say how much I love this post.
    Some years ago I watched an episode of the show 'Sarah Beeny's Renovation nightmare' or some such name. On that episode they showcased a cabinet of curiosities and I must admit I was entranced by the idea. I am in the midst of working out how I can create one for our school here, as I think the children would love to be involved. I also said to AGA that I wanted to create one for us as well - but time passes and I forgot. Now you have inspired me to get things moving!
    One thing I can share is that we have (I am not sure how it came into my grandparents' hands) a large cowrie shell carved to celebrate the birth of Sir Frederick Edridge in 1843. He was many times a Mayor of Croydon which is where my grandparents lived.
    I really enjoyed this post and seeing your curiosities - I hope to see more!
    Kirk

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    1. Dear Kirk - to make a cabinet of curiosities for the school is such a delightful idea. It could be something that is ongoing for the children and become part of the schools history. Little objects, things found by the children or made by them would be charming. A butterfly, fossil, pretty stone, seedpods, lovely.
      I shall look forward to hearing further developments, and I am pleased that this post has inspired you to make not one but two cabinets of little treasurers.

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  24. I was pleased to see the carving from the wood taken from York Minster as you have mentioned it before when commenting on one of my blog posts. I have inherited many little treasures from my mother who, in turn, had collected them over the years or inherited them from family members on both sides of the family. She was also the archivist in the family. Everyone would go to her for information. She wrote everything down and collected everything. I like to collect small items that remind me of a place we visit and albums of children's drawings. Your container of coloured sands from the Isle of Wight caught my attention as well as the little Chinese carvings. I'm fascinated by the art of the Far East such as the Japanese netsuke and how these beautiful items formed part of a cultural ritual of 'showing' one's treasured collection. Thank you for sharing some of your varied treasures, each with a special story.

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    1. Dear Linda - thank you for your lovely comment. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing some of my little curios. I expect along with your own collection and your mothers you have lots of interesting little things yourself. The oriental carvers are so gifted they seem to be able to turn their hand to carving almost anything.
      Your mother was very methodical writing everything down, so often we get things from past generations and their history is totally unknown to us.

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  25. Thank you for sharing your wonderfully intriguing curiosities with us, Rosemary. I enjoyed reading about them and am thinking to do a post of curiosities myself.

    These are the sorts of things that tell about a person's life and interests in a way that not much else can. Are you on Pinterest, Rosemary?

    I am and I have a board titled, My Cabinet of Curiosities. When I stumble across the photo of something odd or intriguing or mysterious or just plain weird (but in a good way) I pin it to my board. It's a lot of fun.

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    1. Dear Yvette - thank you for your visit and glad you enjoyed seeing a few of my curios. I do hope that you do one too, I shall look forward to seeing it.
      I am not on Pinterest - I think perhaps I spend too long on the computer as it is - looking around me the home really needs its spring clean which pre-blogging I would normally have done by now.
      How can I see your Cabinet of Curiosities on Pinterest?

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  26. A lovely & interesting post. I think our whole house is a Wunderkammer (not in a mad, bad way.)Because I love & miss the sea I collect Victorian glass bells filled with Alum Bay coloured sand, a bit like your little treasure.

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    1. Dear Nilly - Have you been to Alum Bay? I was a bit disappointed, I expected to be able to see all of the different coloured stripes in the cliffs, but it is just splodges of colour, the stripes are human made!!! A childhood dream shattered.

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  27. oh rosemary....i love all your objects. i wanted them to keep coming. each one cherished and unique.

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    1. Dear Annette - so pleased that you enjoyed seeing them, they are just little reminders of times past, and some have happy memories too.

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