We recently had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with European oddities collector @scioddities. His background as a PhD and a scientist has driven his collecting of medical specimens, particularly French preparations by companies such as Tramond, Auzoux, Deyrolle and Boubée.
When speaking to him, he cited a plastic model of a brain as the beginning of his collection, which now includes many kinds of medical models, preparations, and specimens. He finds the aspects of medical history to be the most compelling reason to collect, with an emphasis on antiques. As a scientist, he focuses on the facts, not the emotions or myths often associated with oddities and human osteology.
He often turns his analytical eye to identifying the origin of objects within his collection. He showed us a skull with writing on the inner jaw detailing facts about the original person whose skull it was, including date of death, family name and more. On another shelf, he displayed an original Tramond exploded skull, in its original, thin, 19th century blown-glass case. These pieces both demonstrate the beauty of antiques and the value of preserving medical history.
But where he really lit up was discussing the ways to identify the original preparator of a piece. Finding pieces with original labelling is a rare occurrence and having an authentic labeled piece can aid in identifying the origins of other unlabelled pieces. He showed us a temporal fragment stand from Tramond, with its original sticker and signature, from which he was able to compare a fetal skeleton and confirm that it was a Tramond preparation. “When trying to ID some unlabeled pieces, comparing the metal bevel work of the known stand and the unknown stand, the wood quality, the dimensions of the base, as well as estimating the general age of the pieces, could help you making some rather confident assumptions about the origin of unsigned pieces. Training your eyes by seeing as many authentic pieces as you can, especially in museums, is also extremely important”, @scioddities said.
Beyond looking at the hardware and the way a piece is prepared, @scioddities also mentioned that a way to identify a Tramond piece is typically by locating the signature and/or the sticker on their usual locations; that is either on the side of the temple or on other specific places. Speculation is unfortunately a big part of the oddities industry, with a signed and labeled piece in its original box being the only way to definitively identify a piece. Without that, it’s quite difficult to be 100% positive on the piece that you have in your hands.
European oddities collecting can be a grey area when it comes to regulations concerning human osteology. The community is small, and often the clarity of the law is dependent on the country, and can be vague in differentiating medical objects from archeological specimens. Even though restrictions in Europe usually tolerate medical osteology, it can lead to collectors being secretive, and keeping their collections out of the public eye and off the internet.
@scioddities believes that this is a shame. These pieces are meant to be learned from. Because collectors invest so much of their time and resources into acquiring and preserving these pieces, they are kept in pristine condition. Unfortunately, many museums that house these kinds of items do not have the same time and resources to devote to every piece in their collection, which can lead to deterioration. While @scioddities hopes to pass down his interest in science and medical history to his child, should they not pick up the mantle, he hopes to find an institution that will promise to display these pieces to the public and preserve them.
Due to the fragile nature of these antique preparations, very few of them find their way to the United States, and those that do are incredibly expensive. With collectors like @scioddities, these pieces are preserved and shared on the internet so that a much wider audience can view them than only those who can visit Europe’s medical museums. Given that we are based in New York City, speaking with him about his collection gave us a wonderful insight into European medical osteological history that we would be very hard pressed to discover on our own.