Without hobbies, one goes insane. To stave off the inevitable madness for another year, in early 2007 I took up the idea of building a cabinet of curiosities, a hobby with a long and glorious tradition stretching from Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. So this holiday season, I’m asking Santa to bring me oddities – unusual objects or specimens to add to my menagerie.

Of course, imaginary creatures get center stage in any collection of the bizarre, and excellent specimens can be found at CustomCreatureTaxidermy.com, where Sarina Brewer offers a wide assortment of taxidermy and “carcass art.” A custom-made winged kitten will set you back at least $750 (and you’ll have to get on the waiting list), but a simple squirrel head mounted in a glass display dome is a reasonable $55.

Shrunken heads are an old standby, and high-quality heads can be found on eBay (search for “tsantsa” to find the nice ones) for $20 to $30 each. Most of these are replicas made from goat hides in the traditional style practiced by tribal craftspeople in Ecuador, who have nothing better to do with the inedible skins. Also available on eBay are parts to construct your own sideshow gaffs at home, such as bones, fur, casting supplies and even complete taxidermies ready to be mashed up. The only limit is your imagination!

For any mathematician, physicist or IT manager on your shopping list, why not consider a closed, boundary-free and non-orientable topological oddity? The finest Klein bottles in the world are available from Acme Klein Bottles (www.kleinbottle.com). These unusual glass manifolds are one-sided and have no volume. A small specimen is a mere $33.

Those who want to give their money to local merchants are lucky enough to have a few places in town to look for the cryptic and strange. One fine example is Ancient Artifacts & Treasures (1999-B W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-678-9300). There you can find such wonders as a terracotta figure from the Tang dynasty in China ($100), the tooth of an ancient megalodon shark ($40) or Roman glass jars as old as the second century A.D. ($100 and up).

Remember, an effective oddity need not be expensive but should baffle the viewer, or inspire a sense of wonder. Practical gifts are for squares, and gift certificates only let the giftee know how little thought you put toward their present. Give your friends the stuff that reflects your appreciation of their appreciation of the macabre and bizarre. Better yet, get that weird stuff for me.


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