A mermaid gaff, also called a fiji or feejee mermaid, is the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn onto the back half of a fish. They were common in sideshows and were advertised as mummified, real specimens of mermaids. The first one in the Western world dates back to 1822 when an American sailor bought the “original” fiji mermaid from Japanese soldiers. Fiji mermaids, however, were popular in Japan long before this. It was then given to P.T. Barnum, who used it in his sideshow.
Fiji mermaids are probably the most well-known taxidermy gaff after the jackalope, which is why we would like to add it to our collection.
This was the first human bone in our collection. One day in Obscura we saw a jar of human rib bones for relatively cheap. They told us that they get their human bones from cadavers that are no longer of use to medical schools.
There are laws that one must follow if you would like to have human pieces in your collection. The main rule is that the item cannot be immediately viable. For example, you cannot buy a heart from a recently deceased person that could still be used for a heart transplant to save someone else’s life. However, once the item does not hold any potential value to a living person, it is acceptable to buy and sell human remains.
An old rib from a medical school cadaver
Size: 4 1/2″ long x 3/4″ wide
Bloodletting was the most common medical practice for centuries. It involved cutting the skin to let blood flow from the body, and it was used for a wide variety of ailments, from acne to epilepsy to smallpox. It was based on the idea that there were four humours of the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Diseases were thought to be the by-product of having an imbalance of humours, most commonly blood, because it was thought to be the most dominant of the four. Bloodletting was therefore used to try to balance the humours and heal patients.
There were multiple ways to drain blood, such as using simple blades, leeches, or a scarificator. A scarificator was a spring-loaded mechanism that would be held against the skin and would snap the blades out and back in. The picture above of a metal box is a scarificator. The metal tube with spikes is an artifical leech, which would puncture the skin.
A Daruma doll (sometimes called a Dharma doll) is a round and hollow paper-mache doll modeled after the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism, Bodhidharma. It is considered a kind of good luck charm to the Japanese; they also symbol perseverance. Their typical color is red with white, blank eyes. When you receive a Daruma, you are supposed to fill in one eye when you set a goal for yourself, then the other eye when you have fulfilled it. Looking at the one-eyed Daruma is supposed to remind you of your goal and convince you to keep working towards it.
Daruma dolls are traditionally used for a year, then are brought back right after New Year’s Day to the temple they were purchased from for a ritual burning, called the Daruma Kuyo. Then a new one is purchased for the next year.
Japanese Paper Daruma
A traditional paper-mache doll used to set and reach goals.
Size: 5″ wide x 5″ deep x 6″ tall
From: Mitsuwa Marketplace
This can of “Emergency Drinking Water” was made in 1953 for people to put in their bomb shelters. I bought it from Obscura, one of our favorite oddity stores. It’s in Alphabet City in New York and has many vintage pieces, taxidermy, prints, and other odds and ends. They also had a show on the Science Channel called Oddities. You can check it out on Netflix! One of the guys working there told us that a year ago he had a customer buy a can, open it and drink it! But luckily the guy was fine.
Emergency Drinking Water
A can from 1953 filled with water for bomb shelters
Size: 2 3/4in diameter x 5in tall