[Activity] Display Your Own Curio Collection

This month we wrote about the history of curio collections and we thought we’d also give you some ideas on making your own at home!

Your personal “curios” don’t have to be nature-only; they can be whatever trinkets you collect. When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother kept a huge, wide metal bowl on top of her bedroom wardrobe. When I visited, she’d pull it down and let me pick through the old tin toys inside that she’d kept since her childhood. Some of them were just colorful, others moved when you cranked the knobs or pumped the spinners. Although she’s passed now, her memory lives on for me in that bowl of toys and her smiling face when she’d take them down for me to play with.

That was the first curio collection I ever knew, and although mine aren’t comprised of toys, I hope that they speak to my nieces and nephews when they visit me.

display your curios

So, let’s talk about yours. What do you collect? How do you collect? Where do you keep them?

There’s really no need to have a cabinet. I use bowls, jars, table space, walls, house plants.. uh, but then, I may have a problem. At any rate, creating a collection doesn’t mean you need to keep it all forever. On the contrary, making nature-based seasonal displays is a beautiful, free way to celebrate the holidays and flex your creative muscle, or you could collect and then re-donate curios from your local thrift stores.

curios blue jar

1. Use containers you love. I love vintage Ball jars, and they make great vertical storage for my curios. Every now and then I love to dump them out and sort through the treasures inside. Handmade ceramic bowls are another guilty pleasure, and they inevitably end up getting filled with stones, cones, and bones.



The Empress of Dirt likes to display her treasures in old Beanie Baby containers: they’re clear for viewing pleasure, look great lined up together, and keep the bugs out!

2. Make a table display. Arrange your favorites on a side table or in the corner of a bookshelf. Plants make excellent partners for trinkets. Change it up every couple of months to refresh the space instantly and rotate your favorite curios, particularly if, like me, you just don’t have the space to display them all at once.

curio table

fern dino

There’s something great about dinosaurs and ferns together.

3. Visit thrift stores, antique shops, and the shops of wood-crafters for unique and beautiful display shelves and cabinets. Etsy seller Stone and Violet makes some of the loveliest little displays I’ve seen:


Handmade wood display shelf by Stone and Violet, via Etsy.


Small wooden display boxes by Stone and Violet, via Etsy.

Antique shops are great places to find old printer’s trays, too, but they’re also available online.

LeBonheurDuJour via Etsy

LeBonheurDuJour via Etsy

I have a great cabinet that I use for a different kind of collection – miniature animal figurines. I’ve been working on this since I was a kid and the prospect of dusting all these is – well, let’s just say that would never happen. So it pays to have a door on this baby.

My cabinet of animal figurines. And.. one gigantic wizard. Don't judge.

My cabinet of animal figurines. And.. one gigantic wizard. Don’t judge.

Some of my favorites include a malachite rhinoceros, an iron dog, and a ceramic squirrel from Japan.

Some of my favorites include a malachite rhinoceros, an iron dog, a pewter bull, and a ceramic squirrel from Japan.

4. Make miniature or “fairy” gardens. Fairy gardens have exploded in popularity recently, but many of us prefer to just make miniature gardens – sans fairies. My animal collection comes in handy here, but it’s also a great way for me to utilize interesting stones, fossils, seedpods, and even a coprolite that I have. 

closeup dino 1

This palm plant is really old and was one of those “nobody wants it” plants in my home. I can’t just get rid of plants so I decided to dress up his pot to make him more fun to look at and therefore get a little more love sent his way. I collected that great, huge stone on my way across the country and have had the dinosaur toys sitting around forever, unused. A little bit of moss and imagination, and boom: an unloved houseplant has become my favorite tiny habitat for ancient jungle dinosaurs.


This little garden keeps me company at my desk and if full of stones, gems, and critters from my animal collection. Needs a few more plants though.


5. Make a curio shadowbox. The folks over at Mudpuddles to Meteors designed a sweet tutorial on creating a shadowbox out of your more lightweight nature treasures. Check it out!

Make a shadowbox via Mudpuddles to Meteors

Those are my top four ways of displaying curios. How do you display your collection? What do you collect? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

If you’re interested in learning more about natural and cultural history curios, sign up for the blog so you’ll get notifications when our new Curio Collection series starts on March 25th. We’ll feature one curio biweekly with a smattering of interesting facts about it! Get on Twitter and watch for #curioTuesday – we’d love to see you tweet your own curios!

Posted on April 20, 2014, in Activities, Curio Collection and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Beautiful collections! I LOVE the shell/star shadow box. All your ideas are really creative!

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