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What is a Curio Box?

Jane Harmon
Jane Harmon

In Victorian and Edwardian times, gentlemen of leisure would collect 'curiosities', which they would display in their 'cabinet of curiosities'. This might be a simple cabinet or a whole room. Shrunken heads, native weapons, pickled two-headed frogs, all might be of interest to the gentleman scholar. Other types of displayables, such as wax flowers, mourning jewelry made of the hair of a deceased loved one, or stuffed small animals such as owls, might be displayed under a glass bell jar.

Today's collector needs a curio box. A curio is a knick-knack, a gew-gaw or a bric-a-brac. Collectibles such as fancy thimbles, watch fobs and tiny souvenir teaspoons all qualify as a curio. The word curio itself is from curiosity and implies something curious and interesting.

Woman shopping
Woman shopping

A curio box is typically a small display for hanging on a wall or standing on a table, with many little compartments for organizing and displaying one's small knick-knacks. It is similar to a shadow-box, a glass-fronted box-like frame for displaying small items, but a curio box will usually not be found with a glass front. Curio boxes can be found to hold four items or to handle the most extensive collection. A free standing curio box shaped like an old carriage clock would find a suitable home on a mantlepiece above your fireplace. A curio box with a heavy gilt frame and a picture-hanger back can take the place of a painting above your sofa or on the landing of your staircase.

If you can't find a curio box to suit either a very extensive collection or a collection of unusually shaped items, such as miniature violins, visit your local home supply store and find the materials and know-how to make your own. You can make the curio box as deep or shallow as the items require, and it can be painted to match any d├ęcor or even set within a frame.

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