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Weird and unusual artifacts on display at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle

David Goran

Located on the Central Waterfront of Seattle, Washington, United States, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop has been here in one form or another since 1899, in continuous operation by the same family.

It has moved several times, mainly within the waterfront area, and is now located on Pier 54. Best known today as a souvenir shop, it also has aspects of a dime museum and was for many years an important supplier of Northwest Coast art to museums.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop was founded in 1899 by Joseph E. “Daddy” Standley, an Ohio-born curio collector who came to Seattle in the late 1890s during the Yukon gold rush.

He had already traded somewhat in curios and Indian goods as a grocer in Denver, Colorado and when he moved to Seattle because his wife’s health required a lower altitude, he encountered a boom town supplying and benefiting from the gold rush.

1913 postcard depicting J. E. Standley posing with a polar bear rug. source

1913 postcard depicting J. E. Standley posing with a polar bear rug. source

 

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, Pier 54, Seattle, Washington. source

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, Pier 54, Seattle, Washington. source

 

Entrance to the current (Pier 54) shop, flanked by totem poles. source

Entrance to the current (Pier 54) shop, flanked by totem poles. source

As late as the period from 1976 through 1980, the shop auctioned off 2,000 pieces of Native American art. Many museum collections include items purchased from the shop, mostly objects from the Arctic regions.

A national museum in Sweden bought one of the longest known pairs of prehistoric mastodon tusks, more than 13 feet (4.0 m) in length.

 

Interior, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. source

Interior, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. source

 

Everywhere you look you will find something truly unique, often with a hand-printed sign next to it telling you its strange tale. source

Everywhere you look you will find something truly unique, often with a hand-printed sign next to it telling you its strange tale. source

 

Tooth collection. source

Tooth collection. source

 

 

Some of the wonders inside Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. source

Some of the wonders inside Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Source: Suzanne Phillips/Flickr

Over the years, the shop became a must-see destination for famous people who passed through the area.

The guestbook records visits by Theodore Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Jack Dempsey, Charlie Chaplin, J. Edgar Hoover, Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, and Queen Marie of Romania, among many others.

 

Northwest Native carvings. source

Northwest Native carvings. source

 

Miscellaneous objects in the rafters. Objects include a giant crab, some sculpture heads from China, and a Chinese dog statue, among other things. source

Miscellaneous objects in the rafters. Objects include a giant crab, some sculpture heads from China, and a Chinese dog statue, among other things. source

 

Kamikaze flag. source

Kamikaze flag. source

 

Shrunken heads in the permanent collection of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. source

Shrunken heads in the permanent collection of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. source

Here are just some of the weird olde things you can found there: Sylvester the mummy, costumed fleas, oil paintings on pin heads, Ecuadorian shrunken heads and a hundred-year-old mermaid.

One of the store’s several coin-operated attractions is “Black Bart“, a rather literal take on the phrase “one-armed bandit”. It is a slot machine in the form of a one-armed 6-foot-5-inch (1.96 m) wood and cast-iron model of a Wild West bandit.

“Black Bart“, one-armed bandit slot machine. source

“Black Bart“, one-armed bandit slot machine. source

 

Cail-o-scope, a device by the Caille Brothers similar to Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope. source

Cail-o-scope, a device by the Caille Brothers similar to Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope. source

 

Whale's oosik on display. Source: Travis/Flickr

Whale’s oosik on display. Source: Travis/Flickr

 

Sylvester the mummy, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. source

Sylvester the mummy, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Source: Ken Summers/Flickr

 

Sylvester the mummy, close-up. source

Sylvester the mummy, close-up. source

 

Sylvia the mummy (acquired in 1955). source

Sylvia the mummy (acquired in 1955). Source: Michael Scheltgen/Flickr

Items for sale in recent times range from dime-store trinkets to a $10,000 totem pole. Nowadays, the most culturally significant items still in the store’s collection are not for sale, though they are out to be viewed.

Items on display but not for sale include an early 19th-century Russian samovar, dozens of totem poles, East Asian weapons, woven cedar mats and fir needle baskets, netsuke, jade carvings, narwhal tusks, and a walrus oosik.

Also on display are two mummified human bodies, “Sylvester” and “Sylvia”.”Sylvester” functions as an informal symbol of the shop.

In recent times, the shop has about 1 million visitors a year.