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Curio Cabinets Buying Guide

The Curio Cabinet: Its History and Modern Application

Cabinets especially designed to display curiosities have been around for several centuries. Emerging out of the 1500s during the height of the Renaissance, ‘Wunderkammern’ or cabinets of wonder originally referred to rooms that were designed to showcase the curiosities discovered by scientists, artists, explorers and other enlightened minds of Europe . The treasures they held and the way the curiosities were arranged drew attention to the world in ways never before considered and demanded that the viewer question and rethink the world as they currently perceived it.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the scientific community became more analytic rather than eclectic, the Wunderkammern were scaled down in size , and adapted to store the special collections of the royal and aristocratic families of Europe that were no longer strictly of intellectual or academic interest. They emerged as pieces of furniture, bulky and oversized. Curio cabinets, as they became known as, were now being used for aesthetic purposes, housing items of interest only to the collector.

Today the same still holds true for the modern curio cabinet. Emerging from traditional methods of cabinetry into mass production, the contemporary curio cabinet is designed to display those items of interest or of value to an individual collector. Curio cabinets, also known as simply curios, are generally made of wood and glass and are available in a variety of furniture styles, from traditional to contemporary.

Designed to address specific decorating needs, there are many different types of curios, from corner curio cabinets to console curios to the taller, more traditional ones.  Curio cabinets have a variety of features that enhance its initial purpose of protecting the collectibles displayed inside. Many have mirrors and glass sides in addition to glass fronts so that items on view may be easily seen from all angles. Then can also include an interior lighting system, adjustable glass shelves and locking doors.

Like its predecessor, the modern curio cabinet is all about displaying curiosities of interest to the collector. But unlike earlier Renaissance versions, today’s curios have expanded upon the original purpose of a functional cabinet, adding compartments and features to optimize their storage capabilities.

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