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In our last issue, we covered in detail a small box of curiosities the size of a cigar box that included some items of considerable value. Many of these objects have since fallen under the auction hammer and have now passed to the guardianship of other admirers. My enthusiasm, however has not waned for a fascinating collection of intriguing items, but this time, I decided to build a very small and significantly more affordable grouping of objects, both natural and man-made.

It doesn't take a large space nor thousands of dollars to assemble an intriguing box of curiosities. The items listed below are my favorites, but you might consider things such as an interesting prize from a Cracker Jack box, a Spinosaurus tooth, a tiny vial of sand from a tropical place, an interesting stone, a seashell, or a nostalgic locket. You are the master of your collection!

  The Box        

While looking for an attractive, small wooden box for my tentative collection, I had the good fortune of stumbling across the website of Hamilton Roberts Designs. They had several choices of fine woods used in their construction, and so I selected a pleasing example in the $140 range. Exterior dimensions were 4 1/2" x 4" x 2 1/2", with the finished interior dimensions about 1 1/4" smaller all around. I found some matching wood strips that I had cut to create dividers for eight openings, one a double opening for a dinosaur tooth.

The limited real estate inside worked out to be an average of 1" squares, which helped determine the size of the curiosities I intended to acquire.

  Sikhote-Alin Meteorite

As in the last wunderkammer, I acquired a small iron-nickel meteorite from the Sikhote-Alin fall in 1947. An estimated 70 tons of cosmic metal struck the unpopulated hills of southeastern Russia, with it's flight path witnessed by many local observers.

As the amount of fragments were considerable, price per gram for this meteorite is quite reasonable, currently at approximately $3.00. The pleasing example housed in the box weighs in at around 9 grams.

A fascinating addition to a box of curiosities that harkens from the four-billion-year-old asteroid belt between the planets Mars and Jupiter.

  Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex/Nanotyrannus Tooth    

Around 67 million years ago, Tyrannosaurus Rex stalked from the lush forests and meadows between Canada and New Mexico. Feeding on creatures they felled, these carnivores sometimes broke teeth off while tearing flesh. These are called shed teeth, and are widely prized among fossil collectors.

The small example included in this wunderkammer is intriguing, in that it may be from a juvenile T-rex or from a new species called Nanotyrannus. Consensus among dinosaur experts is swaying more towards a young Tyrannosaurus, though as of 2018, all is not yet settled. Nevertheless, due to it's questionable source, prices for these shed teeth are far more reasonable than the usual $1,000/inch for the more banana-shaped adult T-rex teeth in very good condition. The 1.5" specimen included in this display was priced at around $300.

  Egyptian Scarab        

The scarab from Ancient Egypt was a very popular talisman, holed lengthwise for a string or wire to wear on the finger or elsewhere. They were modeled on the dung beetle, which was given godlike status when the rolling of their egg-filled dung balls resembled to the priests the sun crossing the sky. On the underside of the beetle-shaped object, fanciful designs, the names of rulers or a prayer was carved in hieroglyphics. The use of scarabs encompassed five centuries, between approximately 2000BC and 1500BC, making them the most common ancient Egyptian artifact.

The example from this small wunderkammer is from the New Kingdom, some 3,500 years ago and bears the heiroglyphic formula that translates, according to the curator of Egyptian Archaeology at the Isreal Museum, Dr. Daphne Ben-Tor, "When Amun-Re is behind you do not fear." Examples such as this intriguing and tiny piece of the ancient world can be had for around $100.

  Roman Empire - Octavian Denarius        

Within the will of Julius Caesar, Octavian was the adopted son and heir to the throne, having been raised from the age of seven by the Emperor's sister, Julia. Upon Caesar's assassination in 44BC, Octavian's leadership conflicted with Marc Antony's desire for the heart of Rome. All was eventually settled in 30BC, when Antony and his lover Cleopatra's joint forces fought against Octavian's at the sea battle at Actium, near Greece. Octavian was victorious, and resulted in the suicides of both Antony and Cleopatra. This smoothed the way for Octavian to become Caesar Augustus, and rule Rome until his death in 14AD.

The silver denarius from this uneasy period of the Roman Empire sports the head of Octavian on one side, while the other displays the Arch of Augustus, built in the Roman Forum to commemorate Octavian's victory at the Battle of Actium. A small banker's mark appears on the obverse field of this F-VF coin to check silver purity. Prices for these run about $250 and up.

What better example from Ancient Rome could there be than a coin that brings the rich history of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Marc Antony and Cleopatra together?

  California Gold Nugget        

Although gold has been used as valuable adornments for thousands of years, it was the short period of the California Gold Rush when the simple word 'gold' inspired nearly 300,000 men from all over the world to leave behind the comfort and safety of their homes to fight the dangers of wilderness, weather and greed for the yellow metal. Hundreds of tons of gold were removed during those times, but even today, there is still gold that has been found in the mines and along river beds of Northern California.

This gold nugget is a recent example. It's rounded shape is the result of traveling down rocky rivers and streams, and being hammered by tumbling rocks. Tests show its purity is around 89% (11% likely being silver) with a weight of 10 grams. A magical curiosity, not just for its composition, but for the power over man it has.

  Vampire Bat Skull        

The word 'Vampire' conjurs up fear and dread in fertile minds. Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Robert Pattinson played that part that gave us nightmares...mostly. Nowadays, most bloodsuckers have to pass the bar exam.

The idea sprang from the vampire bat. These creatures feed on the blood of cattle, their razor sharp teeth virtually painless in breaking the skin near the hooves to feed on their blood.

There is a space reserved for the skull of this mysterious night creature. It's delicate bone structure and teeth, as well as no eye sockets are a testament to its frightening reputation. This item in the box was purchased through the internet from Skulls Unlimited for $150.

  Barbara Raheb Miniature Book        

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Barbara Raheb of Pennyweight Press began creating what became a grouping of around 530 micro-miniature books, mostly condensed reprints of familiar works. These were some of the tiniest, high-quality books created using standard printing and binding equipment, and most were limited in runs of no more than 300 examples. The workmanship alone deserves a place in a tiny box of curiosities. My fondness of Sherlock Holmes prompted me to include one of the stories from the Canon.

Barbara Raheb books are regularly available through sources such as Lorson's Books of Fullerton, California, or eBay for anywhere from $170 to over $1,000.

  200 Gigabyte Digital Library        

Finally, a small space was needed in this little box for a medium-sized public library, to include over 6,500 books, 750 magazines, thousands of audio lectures, and nine full-length movies. Over a 20-plus year period, I've collected these items in various digital formats, including pdf, djvu, epub, mobi, avi, mp4, mp3, doc and txt. I've increased the storage space from a 16GB thumb drive, to what is now a 200GB Mini SSD card. Regrettably, this chip can't contain all of mankind's knowledge, but it does contain a notable portion of what is important enough to protect for at least my own future generations.

We take much for granted in today's world, and don't realize how dependent we've become on our technology, in particular, the internet to guide and entertain us through life. Of all the items in this wunderkammer, this thin chip is the most fantastic curiosity one could rest on the fingertip of a child.


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