Weird and wacky museums

By Kim O’Hare

For many people, travel represents an opportunity to expand their horizons. We often travel in search of performing arts or visit galleries or museums. London has the Tate, Washington has the Smithsonian, Paris has the Louvre.

In fact, just about every city has a notable museum or gallery that springs to mind. But there are hundreds, if not thousands of interesting and unusual collections, most of them in obscure, out of the way cities and towns around the world. And some of them are, to be blunt, pretty weird. pictureTake for example the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. The term “devil’s rope” refers to barbed wire and sure enough there is a barbed wire museum based on the premise that barbed wire helped tame the Wild West.

The exhibits detail every aspect of barbed wire: there are thousands of wire samples; tools and devices used in fence construction; a barbed-wire making demonstration; and a “war-wire” exhibit of vicious military entanglement wire.

Thinking of starting your own barbed wire collection? They’ll provide all sorts of useful collectors’ tips, explain the finer points of barbed wire identification and provide tips on finding collectable barbed wire. If you are already a collector, and who isn’t, you can get your collection appraised.

True to the Wild West theme, the Devil’s Rope Museum also has extensive exhibits on ranching history, the evolution of the cowboy, and branding.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a collection of art crafted from antique barbed wire. It doesn’t get much better than that! And of course there’s a gift shop featuring books, barbed wire samples, a colourful barbed wire poster suitable for framing, postcards, and various sized bundles of collector barbed wire.

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If Texas is not on your itinerary there’s the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, boasting 2,100 samples of more than 700 varieties of barbed wire and one of the largest collections of fencing tools in the world. Look for the themed exhibit Barbed Wire Goes to War. pictureThe Icelandic Phallological Museum (pictured) is probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country.

Phallology is an ancient science which, surprisingly, until recent years has received very little attention in Iceland, except as a borderline field of study in other academic disciplines such as history, art, psychology, literature and other artistic fields like music and ballet. 

Now all that is about to change. Thanks to the Icelandic Phallological Museum, it is finally possible for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organised, scientific fashion.

The museum contains a collection of over one hundred and fifty penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland.

Visitors to the museum will encounter thirty eight specimens belonging to fifteen different kinds of whale, one specimen taken from a rogue polar bear (post mortem I presume), nineteen specimens belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus, and ninety three specimens originating from nineteen different kinds of land mammal: all in all, a total of one hundred fifty one specimens belonging to forty two different kinds of mammal.

It should be noted that the museum has also been fortunate enough to receive a legally-certified gift token for a future specimen belonging to Homo Sapiens.

In addition to the biological section of the museum, visitors can view the collection of about one hundred artistic oddments and other practical utensils related to the museum’s chosen theme. You’ll be pleased to know that group bookings can be made by prior arrangement.  Admission is about Dhs25. pictureFinally, forget the Tate - in London, you really must go to the Odontological Museum to discover how the world’s largest collection of teeth and skulls can illuminate subjects as diverse as the history of venereal disease, dental treatment in pandas and Winston Churchill’s speech impediment.

The Odontological Museum is housed in the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. There are tens of thousands of teeth, jaws and skulls: healthy teeth and diseased and deformed ones, from both humans and animals.

Its collection of animal dental pathologies is the very best in the world and includes deformities such as a hippo tusk so over-grown it curves back on itself to form a large perfect circle.

The Odontological Museum is hardly the new kid on the block. It has been around since the 1850’s when it was established as part of a campaign by Victorian dental surgeon John Tomes to transform dentistry from a profession, among whom numbered mere blacksmiths, to a medical science.

The museum contains Europe’s best collection of teeth deformed by congenital syphilis. This causes the teeth of infected children to take on abnormal features. Researchers hope to learn why there was a virulent epidemic of syphilis across Europe in the 1500s. Most recently the museum’s extensive series of primate skulls has been used for studies of human evolution.

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