What's in your collection?
What’s in your collection? Susan Purdue/Used with Permission

Recently we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us about their unusual collections, and much to our delight, they showed us some truly incredible (and incredibly surprising) personal exhibits.

You told us about your beloved collections of everyday objects like dice and cocktail stirrers; ultra-specific collections such as a set of factory employee badges or Alka-Seltzer ads from the early 20th century; and even slightly eerie collections of bodily bits like eyelashes and kitty whiskers. More than anything, it’s your enthusiasm for your unusual personal collections that makes each one intriguing.

Take a look at some of our favorite submissions below, and head over to our new forums to share pictures of your own incredible collection!

A lovely personal collection of employee badges from Detroit.
A lovely personal collection of employee badges from Detroit. Bob McBroom/Used with Permission

Historical Employee Badges From Detroit

Collection Size: “700+ badges”

“About 20 years ago, I saw an employee badge that had particularly interesting Art Deco lettering. I bought it and then did a little research into its origins, and discovered that it was from a defunct company that had existed in my area of the city. I looked for others and found that there were many Detroit-related employee badges available. They embody the vitality, ambition, creativity, and muscularity that represented the city both as the Motor City and the Arsenal of Democracy.” — Robert McBroom, Detroit, Michigan

Barbara Levine/Used with Permission

Vintage Found Photographs of People Kissing

Collection Size: “I’ve collected anonymous found photos for over 30 years, so I’ve got a lot!”

“I am obsessed with vintage photos and they are all around us. I unearth photos from flea markets, garage sales, eBay, and dusty attics to understand their artifact nature and to hopefully reveal something not seen at first glance. With kissing photos we immediately start creating a story: Who are they? What do they see in each other? Is it mutual? Are they kissing the way I kiss, or want to be kissed? Who was the invisible photographer who had access to the intimate moment? I began and will continue to collect because the best found photographs transcend time and place to speak to contemporary questions and sensibilities.” — Barbara Levine, Houston, Texas, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Kevin McCarthy/Used with Permission


Collection Size: “636”

“I saw a set of dice that was really cool and then another and then another. The nice thing is that dice are relatively cheap and easy to acquire, unlike some collectibles.” — Kevin McCarthy, Central Texas

David Cain/Used with Permission

Juggling Props, Photos, and Posters

Collection Size: “It fills five rooms in one of my homes.”

“I’m the world’s leading juggling historian and wanted to save historically important juggling props and images.” — David Cain, Middletown, Ohio

Dominic Pennok/Used with Permission

Cocktail Sticks and Stirrers

Collection Size: “Over 1,000 glass cocktail sticks, hundreds of cocktail items.”

“I like old cocktails and forgotten drinking items. I found some old glass cocktail umbrellas and became obsessed with finding out where they came from, and travelled to Germany to find more, so my collection of cocktail shakers grew to include glass cocktail umbrellas, and cocktail sticks in mechanical glass carousel holders, and other wacky forms from the ’30s and ’40s.” — Dominic Pennock, Yorkshire

Elizabeth Gerron/Used with Permission

Vintage Medicine Bottles and Glass Eye Wash Cups

Collection Size: “150+”

“[Originally] I was looking for some pretty old bottles to decorate a bathroom with.” — Liz, Boston, Massachusetts

Brett Iredell/Used with Permission

National Park Service Visitor Pamphlets

Collection Size: “43 pamphlets and counting.”

“Visitor pamphlets are an affordable, informational, and easily stored way of commemorating visits to our U.S. public lands.” — Brett Iredell, Flagstaff, Arizona

Travis Shalla/Used with Permission

Headstone Rubbings of Deceased Prime Ministers of Canada (and One Governor General)

Collection Size: “35 to 40 rubbings of various sizes.”

“Some of the rubbings are normal headstone size. Some, like Laurier and Thompson, are much bigger. I require two more headstones to complete the collection, keeping in mind that Canada currently has eight living Prime Ministers. When l started, pre-Google, the grave sites were poorly marked and rather hard to find. I wanted a tangible memory of my visits and stumbled across the idea of doing headstone rubbings. I’ve drove/flown thousands of kilometers and have visited 14 grave sites in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and England.” — Travis Shalla, Eastern Ontario

Susan Purdue/Used with Permission

Antique Sample and Medicinal Tins

Collection Size: “Over 400, after weeding out about 100 that were duplicates.”

“I began my collection when I was 8 years old, when a neighbor gave me a small tin egg filled with tiny little hard candies. Since then, I have spent nearly 50 years adding to my collection, but due to space constraints, I now limit myself to collecting only small sample and medicinal tins. Many of my tins still contain the original contents, such as pills, typewriter ribbons, and cosmetics. My most valuable tin is an old ‘Three Merry Widows’ tin which still contains an old (unused!) condom from the late 1800s, back when they were made of sheep intestines. I also have quite a few interesting tobacco tins, including several of the pre-World War II Lucky Strike tins that are green, instead of the red and white, which Lucky Strike is now famous for. The green paint was needed to paint military vehicles so ‘Lucky Strike’ went to war and have been red and white ever since.” — Susan Purdue, Fairview, North Carolina

Ruth McAllister/Used with Permission

Vintage Potato Mashers

Collection Size: “15”

“There are so many different kinds of metal mashers and the handles are lovely!” — Ruth, Victoria, British Columbia

Rikke Sanni Nikolaisen/Used with Permission

Paper Clips Found On the Ground

Collection Size: “300 to 400”

“It started while living in Spain and I was pregnant. On my first visit to the doctor I found a paper clip on the doorstep. It’s said that the paper clip is a Norwegian innovation, so I picked it up an put a lot of luck into it. Ever since, I always pick up paper clips found on the streets or ground and the paper clips give me luck or I can wish for something. Been doing this since I was pregnant and my daughter is now 14 years old.” — Rikke Sanni, Norway

Michael Fahey/Used with Permission

Gospel Records With Cringe-Worthy Covers

Collection Size: “Only about a dozen records at the moment”

“I’ve always been a record collector and in the search for more listenable material, I started to notice the incredible graphics, the over-the-top images and the not-so-subtle attempts to prey on people’s fears, which are used on the covers of these records. Plus, how can you pass on a gospel record with a small piece of paper attached to the back, stating: ‘This cover fails to give the much due credit to my talented wife, Joy. She has helped compose all our music and is a great source of inspiration. God bless.’” — Michael Fahey, Savannah, Georgia

Francesca Caccavale/Used with Permission

Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Collection Size: “Over 1,000… maybe more”

“Who doesn’t love a cheeky little saying or wise words to pick you up? I wasn’t always an avid collector, until one fortune really hit home. I was feeling down about my situation in life and prayed to God that I would find love. A couple days later while eating at a Chinese restaurant I opened a cookie and the only word on that little paper was ‘Love.’ I laughed out loud… all by myself. It was the reminder I needed that I am loved. That fortune is currently the only one that I’ve laminated and will probably keep forever. My collection will continue to grow (with the help of friends and family who know my obsession) until who knows when! The upside is they’re so small, my large collection hardly takes up any space.” — Francesca, New Jersey

Mary Bailey/Used with Permission

My Eyebrows

Collection Size: “I started collecting them in 1983 and they are stored in 10 glass contact lens vials.”

“They kept falling out on my sketchbook (I’m a sculptor), so I decided to start collecting them.” — Mary Bailey, Connecticut

Benrd Ulmann/Used with Permission

Analog Computers

Collection Size: “About 150 square meters”

“Analog computers shaped our modern world and yet are nearly forgotten.” — Bernd Ulmann, Germany

Andrew Midkiff/Used with Permission

Steel Dip Pens

Collection Size: “Over 800 different types. Over 25,000 individual nibs.”

“I began with wanting to learn old styles of penmanship. Then I became interested in the history of this lost industry. The more pens (nibs) I have, the better I understand what people used to know about pens.” — Andrew Midkiff, Durham, North Carolina

Devon W. Thompson/Used with Permission

Vintage Postcards of Early 20th-Century Asylums

Collection Size: “Upwards of 80.”

“I like the brevity of the medium, the surprising ways in which text and image can converge, and the unexpected subject matter. So many of the images would never be replicated on modern cards.” — Devon W. Thompson, Ohio

Margaret Berry/Used with Permission

Corn-Themed Objects

Collection Size: “50+ items, including my current license plate, my email address since 1999, and artwork.”

“My dad was a corn farmer and a top seed corn salesman the year I was born. I inherited the land, so I am now a corn farm manager.” — Margaret Berry, Lincoln, Nebraska

Seth Berg/Used with Permission

Vintage Paperbacks With ‘Shame’ in the Title

Collection Size: “40 books”

“A thrift shop book, Baptism in Shame, with a great cover and terrible story [inspired my collection].” — Seth Berg, Telluride, Colorado

Lily Witham/Used with Permission

Vintage Souvenir Buildings

Collection Size: “200+ pieces”

”I have always loved old architecture.” — Lily Witham, Portland, Oregon

Steven Wehr/Used with Permission

Tobacco Tins

Collection Size: “60 items”

“They’re colorful, historic, and most of all, don’t take up too much space.” — Steve Wehr, Saugerties, New York

Steve Williams/Used with Permission

1930s Alka-Seltzer Advertising Fans

Collection Size: “Roughly 50+ fans.”

“As a graphic designer, I was drawn to the wonderful color cartoon illustrations of George W. French. Each fan features one of his cartoons and humorous copy that French himself wrote. French died in Chicago in 1955 at the age of 71.” — Steve Williams

Rick Davis/Used with Permission

Children’s Watercolor Sets

Collection Size: “Somewhere around 150 pieces, probably a bit more.”

“I have collected tins of all sorts for about 40 years. In 1973 I found my first children’s watercolor set at a yard sale. About two weeks later I found another similar one in an antique store. It was then that I realized I might be on to something. Most are from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, however some earlier schoolhouse sets are much older, ’20s and ’30s. They can be cartoon-related, nursery rhymes, or fairy tales. Many different themes, from manufacturers such as Binny & Smith and Milton Bradley. I like them because they’re colorful windows to the past. A reminder of a gentler time gone by.” — Rick Davis, Starksboro, Vermont

Linda Simensky/Used with Permission

Recordings of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’

Collection Size: “342 different versions”

“It was my first favorite song. When I heard it on the radio in the early 1970s, I needed to know more about it. I had never felt that way about a song before.” — Linda Simensky, Alexandria, Virginia

Laurie McCabe/Used with Permission

Typewriter Ribbon Tins

Collection Size: “I have just about 20 tins.”

“My mom typed address labels to earn extra money when I was little. She had an old typewriter ribbon tin that she used for paper clips, Carter’s Midnight, and I was entranced by the graphics on the lid. I set out to find my own Carter’s Midnight tin and discovered a world of colorful tins with a wide range of themes. Who knew‽” — Laurie McCabe, Orange County, California

Theresa Brink/Used with Permission

Cat Whiskers

Collection Size: “I have hundreds!”

“As a kid, when I found my first one, I wanted to glue it back on! I keep them just in case my kitties need spares!” — Terri Brink, Mayview, Missouri

Kathy Smith/Used with Permission

Egg Scales

Collection Size: “About 30.”

“I grew up on a small, family egg ranch in the 1950s and 60s. When I was real small, I remember using a primitive egg scale, such as one of these. At that time, most eggs came from small family farms like ours. Starting in the ’60s, with rising feed costs and decreasing egg prices, egg producers either went out of business, or grew into large industrial operations. The scales graded the eggs by weight into jumbo, x-large, large, medium, small, & pee wee. Grading eggs by weight came into being during World War I, when the government paid more for eggs that were graded. “ — Kathy Smith, Goodyear, Arizona