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Pencils, irons and used underwear: the world’s wackiest museums

8 April 2016

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Last week saw the grand opening of the ‘National Poo Museum’ at the Isle of Wight Zoo. The attraction brings together an unparalleled collection of human and animal faeces, as well as fossilised samples and a tawny owl pellet containing bones and teeth.

The only question is: why? ’Poo is all around us and inside us, but we ignore it,’ explained co-curator Daniel Roberts. Though Rakewell is tempted to add that there may well be a good reason for that, it’s certainly among the most notable single subject ‘museums’ to open of late. Here, the Rake presents a few august institutions that rival the NPM in the peculiarity stakes…

Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia

This California institution devoted to the maintenance and display of what purports to be the world’s largest collection of Pez candy dispensers has been going strong since 1995. Quite why is anyone’s guess, but long may it continue.

Musée du Lavage et du Repassage, Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais

While the Musée de la lessive in Spa, Belgium, is probably the most famous institution devoted the laborious process of cleaning clothes, it doesn’t quite beat this French institution, which is devoted entirely to the subject of ironing. No, not irony. Ironing.

The Mine Museum, Tallinn

Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, boasts one of the best preserved medieval town centres in Europe. If you’re more into destruction than conservation, though, you’ll find plenty to admire in this museum devoted to sea mines dredged up from the depths of the Baltic Sea.

Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick

…in which a visit culminates with the sight of the world’s largest colouring pencil. Also home to ‘the world’s first pencil’. Call it a postmodern commentary on a drawings collection, if you like.

Museum of the Sun, Novosibirsk

The Museum of the Sun was created purely because there was ‘no such museum in the world,’ according to a local tourism website. The Rake hears it’s one of the region’s, erm, star attractions.

Musée du slip, Brussels

In conversation with Jonathan Meades back in the 1990s, museum founder Jan Bucquoy explained his life’s work thus: ‘we collect in order to become immortal…you could collect the complete speeches of General de Gaulle, stamps, Magritte’s paintings, it can be anything. Even tins of pilchards. It’s a false idea of life, as if we were eternal.’ For his part, Bucquoy decided to create a museum devoted to his astonishing collection of used underwear. ‘I exhibit the underwear I get in the post,’ he said, explaining that he had written to both the King of Belgium and Queen Elizabeth asking for their undies. ‘Pourquoi pas alors?’

Icelandic Phallological Museum

‘The Icelandic Phallological museum contains a collection of more than two hundred and fifteen penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland,’ said institution declares on its website. If that doesn’t get your juices flowing, consider the specifics: ‘Visitors to the museum will encounter fifty six specimens belonging to seventeen different kinds of whale, one specimen taken from a rogue polar bear, thirty-six specimens belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus, and one hundred and fifteen specimens originating from twenty different kinds of land mammal, including specimens from Homo Sapiens.’

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.