A "Wunderkammer" is a "cabinet of curiosities," all the rage at some point during the European Renaissance, or so my minutes of Wikipedia research tells me. I'd never heard the term before recently, despite having taken German for three years in high school and two semesters in college, and besting my German-born professors at German Scrabble one glorious day that I can't seem to stop bragging about. (Alas, there were no umlauts on the tiles; we were using an American version of the game.)
Then I got invited to a quirky lecture on the subject, organized by some Washington, DC folks associated with Atlas Obscura, and learned more (although mostly those of us there saw a bunch of magic tricks; I think the arcane subject matter was more of a lure to assemble a captive audience for an amiably hammy magician). I remember the Italian expert on Wunderkammern (which I know is pluralized with an "n" instead of an "s" because it's in German; yay, those three years/two semesters finally come in handy for something) talking about certain objects that were de rigueur for Wunderkammern back in the day. A dead crocodile. A clock. Maybe an astrolabe. Random, right?
So I came away from the lecture-cum-magic-show with the impression that the only real requirement for the contents of a Wunderkammer was that it be "neat stuff." Stuff that fills you, and is intended to fill the onlooker, with a sense of wonder. I got geniuses backin' me up on this. Here's part of a quote from David Pescovitz, co-editor of BoingBoing.net; he and a bunch of other "thinkers" were asked one question by Edge.org (they do this every year with a different question and publish the results): What are you optimistic about? Pescovitz talked about his Wunderkammer, and said:
"This small cabinet in the corner of my office serves as a constant reminder for me that the world is filled with wonder, and curiosity is something to be cultivated at every opportunity. Indeed, we're at our best when we're curious."
There must be something in the air around here, because a day or two after the lecture I spotted a poster for a new Cirque du Soleil show. The theme? Freakin' cabinets of curiosities, man! (I watched the "preview" video on the site; it looks steampunk as all get-out, which might explain why this entire subject is having a hip "moment" right now, at least here in my little world.)
Partly inspired by the Zeitgeist (who says German's not relevant when you reside in an English-speaking society?!), I got the notion to create my own little teeny-tiny version of a Wunderkammer, as a special gift... inside an Altoids-style mints tin! I went to Michael's Crafts, and ravaged a wide swath of their make-your-own-jewelry section (li'l charms and such). I also bought some fancy stickers to cut out individually from the sheets upon which they came, because yay, stickers.
I also made my gift terribly literary by writing out on a slip of index card the URL to a Steven Millhauser short story, "In the Reign of Harad IV" (which ran in the New Yorker), that I have always found rather enchanting, about a maker of miniatures whose king demands that the maker create tinier and tinier things, until the objects are subatomic and finally invisible/nonexistent. (See, the tiny/miniature deal here is a theme.)
I'm sharing the details of this project's creation here, in my very first Instructable, because I do believe others could replicate this gift, those looking to send something eminently mail-able (it should fit in an envelope, maybe one of those slightly bigger padded ones they have at the post office and FedEx joints), you can fill your tin with all manner of personally meaningful and symbolic trinkets, and... tiny things are kind of delightful. What can I say; they fill me with wonder.
Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.
Step 1: Step 1: Procure a Tiny Box (e.g., Mints Tin)
First, procure some sort of teeny-weenie container. I suggest a li'l Altoids-style mint tin.
I found this tin with the Ouija-board design quite serendipitously. Famished after a long day of work and no lunch, after I got off at my Metro stop to meet my husband so we could carpool home, I popped into this tiny shop that mostly just sells candy bars and lottery tickets. They also had gum and mints, because those places usually do. But among the packets of "Exxxtreme Arctic Blast!" gum and run-of-the-mill Altoids — they had just this one Ouija-board tin. Just the one! On impulse, I grabbed it and paid for it along with my Snickers, assuming I'd find some cool use for it. Lo and behold.
Again, I think this sort of gift works best when the items and perhaps even the container have some sort of special meaning for the recipient. In my case, the recipient had written to me about using "talking boards" (e.g., Ouija boards) in college as part of an exploration of metaphysical (i.e., stuff you can't explain with ordinary science) subject matter, so I knew the tin was perfect for his Wunderkammer. As a bonus, the Wunderkammer smells minty-fresh!
Step 2: Step 2: Fill the Tiny Tin With Tiny Things.
Next you'll want to fill your wee tin with wee things. (I mean, duh. This is probably the most self-evident Instructable ever, but hey, I'm tryin'.)
I went to Michael's and wreaked some havoc on their make-your-own-jewelry section. I don't ever make jewelry myself, unless you count this one time I bought some charms and simply stuck 'em on a necklace chain I already had, and I don't count that. But the magpie or whatever in me loves going into Michael's and just sort of looking at all the little dollhouse-like charms and pretties one could buy if one were so inclined. America: the land of plenty! I also like to look at all the fancy stickers.
So everything you see here was purchased at Michael's. Some of the charms have personal meaning, or allude to private jokes. The tiny box of donuts is there just 'cause. But you can fill your Wunderkammer with non-store-bought things, and yours would be way cooler than mine. A few ideas:
- A fortune-cookie message. Or one of those popsicle sticks with a joke on it.
- A cool coin. Maybe a foreign one. Or maybe a lucky penny with a story behind it.
- A key. Maybe to someplace cool — like, one time I forgot to turn in the key to a room at this hotel in Patagonian Chile where my husband and I stayed one time. I swear I didn't do that on purpose, but now part of me is glad to always have a key to someplace in Patagonian Chile, in case I ever need to escape or something. However, ain't no way I'm stickin' that key in someone else's Wunderkammer. That key is mine, man. ... Anyway.
- A cool-looking marble, or small pretty rock. Maybe a seashell.
- A neat matchbook, maybe from some exotic place.
- Gumball-machine jewelry.
- Anything tiny and cool. You get the picture.
Step 3: Step 3: Add More Tiny Stuff.
Next you'll want to... add more stuff. I suggest layers and layers of stuff. You want the Wunderkammer to be a delight for the recipeint to open. You want them to go: "Hey, look at all this tiny stuff! Why, what's this... more tiny stuff?! Get right outta town!"
So I added a bunch of vaguely sea-themed fancy stickers, which I hand-cut from the sheets they came on (since, you know — treasure, sea, pirates) and also some Halloween-y, occultish ones (a crystal ball, a book of spells, a bottle of absinthe) to suit the recipient's appreciation of such an aesthetic.
As you can see in this photo, I hand-wrote the URL of a Steven Millhauser short story, "In the Reign of Harad IV," about a maker of miniatures who creates tiny things for a king, in hopes that the recipient would go, "Huh?" and then actually go to that URL, read the story, and deduce the present's theme (i.e., miniatures/tiny things). You could do something similar and jot down the web address of something that's in the theme of your Wunderkammer, or the URL or something else you'd like the recipient to see (a video, a song).
Step 4: Step 4 (Last Step!): Fill the Tin With Beads/marbles/confetti/"filler."
Once you've got your Wunderkammer jam-packed with tiny objects of wonder, fill 'er up with little beads, marbles, confetti... probably not glitter, unless your Wunderkammer is some sort of prank gift for someone you hate, in which case, go all out, friend... anything that fills up the spaces among the tiny trinkets.
I used these round jewelry-makin' beads from Michael's (I actually hand-picked each one for the perfect color palette in there) because they're perty, and the finished effect — the first sight to greet the recipient's eyes upon opening the tiny box — is of a box of pirate-style treasure, the kind you envisioned when you were a little kid, all glittering gold and gemstones. (Or, you know, all cheap, colorful crafts items from Michael's; same thing.)
Simply snap the box closed, brush your hands together in a smug and self-satisfied manner, mail the sucker off (or hand-deliver it, as I did, for fear of the precious contents getting all jostled), then pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade for having accomplished something for the day.