There have always been folks who collected weird things. Of course, the idea of what is a "weird" thing to collect is completely subjective. To me, it's odd that lots of people collect modern super hero comic books, since they take up a ton of room and are printed in such enormous quantities that few ever seem to appreciate in value. But collectors of anything are a strange and dedicated breed, and trying to understand the appeal of many collectibles might be futile for a person looking in from the outside.
But there are some things that people collect which might seem unsavory to a majority of folks, not taken with the same collector bug. Things like:
5. Funeral antiques
Anyone who has watched gothsploitation shows like "Oddities" knows that people collect antique funerary objects. I guess how weird this seems depends on what types of people you associate with. If you hang out with spooky gothic people or metal heads, then seeing a real casket in someone's living room might be pretty typical. In any case, there are lots of people out there that track down old equipment that would've been used in mortuaries or funeral homes.
There are hearse clubs, for owner-enthusiasts of funeral cars. I myself own an old hearse, and have had neighbors call the cops on me for daring to park it in my own driveway. Fortunately, there's no law on the books preventing a person from parking a hearse in their driveway, so the cop that got sent out just admired the old car and talked about auto restoration with me before taking off. It was then that I realized my place was probably the local "spooky house" that people were warned to avoid. Oh well, it kept solicitors away too.
Other collectors seek out things like Victorian mourning objects - lockets containing the hair of the deceased, or postmortem photos, for instance. Way back in the 19th century when photography was a new technology, it was also expensive. Most families had few, if any, photos, and when someone died they might have them dressed up and photographed as a memorial piece. That's about as morbid as can be, but it makes sense that people 150 years ago might choose to have a deceased loved one immortalized in such a way. And yeah, there are quite a few modern people that collect those types of photos. They might also drink blood. I don't know, I'll have to ask the next time I run into my friend Sarah.
4. Medical Antiques and Oddities
Not surprisingly, the history of medicine left lots of strange relics behind, and there are actually people that collect them. Various quack medical devices, such as Violet Ray Generators and portable electro-shock devices, are easily sourced on Ebay and always a fun conversation piece. On the other hand, I collect a lot of weird stuff, but have personally never understood the appeal of having someone's tumor preserved in a jar on my book shelf.
There are a lot of different aspects to collecting medical oddities. Collecting this stuff might cover ground from antique teaching aids that look like something out of a horror movie, to the aforementioned "disease in a jar." To each their own I guess, I certainly can't explain the appeal of some of the weird stuff I collect.
3. Freak Show Items
Modern day America is a lot more sensitive in many ways than it might have been even a few decades ago, when a person with a horrible deformity might just appear in a traveling circus sideshow as "The Alligator Boy" or "The Two Faced Man." Nowadays, stumbling across such a spectacle is almost unheard of. It's no longer OK to exploit humans with unfortunate medical conditions for cheap thrills, and that's a good thing. I still remember having a double date to the County Fair turn decidedly chilly years ago when we visited the "Lobster Boy" attraction, lured in by colorful sideshow banners illustrating the exploits of a boy with lobster claws. We all thought it would end up being fake, because that was common too, but once we paid our admission and stepped beyond the trailer's door, we came face to face with an older man with severely deformed hands and feet sitting inside what looked like a typical cluttered single wide.
It kind of cast a pall on the rest of the night, and we felt like creeps. I didn't realize until much later that we'd met Grady Stiles, a famous sideshow performer that was murdered by a hit man his family hired a few short years later.
Anyway, there are lots of people that spend a ton of money collecting old sideshow and freak show items. The luridly painted canvas banners are particularly expensive, and generally sell for thousands of dollars. Some collectors even go so far as to track down creepy things like "Fiji Mermaids" (a monkey and fish taxidermy combo that was once common) or other items associated with the darker side of the carnival midway.
2. True Crime and Murderabilia
Lots of people are fascinated with true crime cases, but a few take that interest to a much deeper extent and collect personal items or artwork created by notorious killers. This type of collecting has been criticized by a lot of folks, and it's not something that can be easily defended. However, I think that the effect of time passing makes these things more acceptable to the general public. Lots of people are fascinated with killers like Bonnie and Clyde, or Jack the Ripper. Owning something Billy the Kid owned seems to be OK, while owning a painting by John Wayne Gacy is considered to be completely deranged and horrible.
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I'll just say that crime and murderers have always fascinated people, and that people interested in old-timey murderers benefit from the passage of time eroding away a certain amount of public outrage. In any case, collecting this kind of stuff will never be considered to be in good taste, regardless of how a collector rationalizes it. However, the prices commanded for art by Charles Manson or Gacy is pretty insane, and illustrates just how in demand those items are with some folks.
1. Celebrity Underwear Yep, there are people that seek out and collect the undergarments of celebrities. Now, I don't get the appeal of owning the worn panties or bra of some famous person, but this is a "thing," and a lot of people do collect them.
I collect movie props, and occasionally will buy a piece of wardrobe used in a film. I personally tend to steer clear of undergarments, because I think props are just cooler, but there's some overlap. Years ago, I bought a huge mixed lot of wardrobe items from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," a favorite show of mine at the time. Most of them came with the undergarments the various female stars wore with the costumes, something I was not expecting. Since the appeal of owning Sarah Michelle Gellar's panties was lost on me, I sold all of that stuff on eBay, and the resultant feeding frenzy of bids educated me on just how much money collectors would pay for celebrity underwear. It creeped me out, but who am I to judge? Around the same time I stumbled across a similar bidding war was over some weird large underwear supposedly belonging to Martha Stewart. I was gobsmacked, but they sold for over $2,000.
I wasn't sure if I'd discovered a really competitive new category of collection, or a creepy sexual fetish. I'm still not sure. I just avoid buying wardrobe items anymore. Shudder.