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Decorative carved skulls with a sketch book and pen.

Cornelius Rödder’s dark cabinet of curiosities...


A most mysterious collection of 19th-century objects was discovered and turned into a museum in Denmark.

In a forgotten room in a museum not long ago, the cabinet of curiosities of one Cornelius S. C. Röder was re-discovered. This character, of whom little else is known, was a wealthy explorer, a merchant, and a collector who lived in the 19th-century. During his lifetime, he gathered together all sorts of objects which fascinated him. His enigmatic collection is now on display at the Museum Obscurum in the Danish city of Nykøbing Falster. The collection survives as a witness to a very special mind, one with a taste for the strange, the fantastic, and the dark, and it’s a reminder that collecting is, above all, a way of seeing the world, always reflected in the accumulation and celebration of objects simultaneously rare, unique, and surprising.

A skull and two crossed leg bones on a purple velvet cushion.A box with many compartments, a small pistol, and a jar with brown liquid.

One other thing known of the eccentric Rödder is that at some point in his life he’d visited the city of London. Upon his return, his tastes had leaned decidedly toward the mysterious, the occult, and then, toward cryptozoology – a pseudoscience which sought out animals the existence of which has never been proven. Within his home, the Dane kept his collection within a secret room. This was revealed in 2017 when the Museum Obscurum discovered a series of boxes inside a space whose very existence had been until then unknown, but there within the museum. Experts from the institution reconstructed Rödder’s house (based on his diary and other records) and put his collection on display within the study of that very house. The former owner of the house, now the museum, had after all inherited this extraordinary treasure.

A small skeleton in a boxA bearded doll in a box with illustrations of ships.

Collecting saw one of its brightest moments in the cabinets of curiosities which proliferated in the Europe of the 15th, 16th, and 17th-centuries. The collections of the rich and noble amounted to private museums populated with objects – shells and snails, skeletons, stuffed animals, antiquities, works of art, and objects from distant lands – created by humankind or by nature, and with apparently nothing in common except an ability to incite astonishment. Each of these cabinets was thus a bit like an encyclopedia of oddities.

Various boxes, collectables, and mirrors on a table.


A display box with a fake mummified fairy.

The skeleton of a vampire, a collection of mummified fairies, a dissected platypus, the skull of a feral child, a small dragon, the remains of a puffer fish, and a werewolf: these are just some of the objects Rödder had collected more than a century ago. A beautiful museum, it reminds us, even today, that collecting is an artform, a way of making sense of the world and one which empowers objects (especially those somewhere between the uncomfortable and the fascinating) well beyond their mere material presence.

Images: Museum Obscurum

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