Life is a Circus

Museums That Celebrate the Discarded and Overlooked

In these wild collections nothing is wasted.

Nelson Molina’s collection of discarded treasure in New York stands out, but it is certainly not unique. In museums all over the world, the ephemera of human society is uplifted and preserved. In an era of rapid change and the built-in obsolescence of consumer culture, it’s interesting to pause and consider the fringes, and how overlooked objects can take on deep meaning.   

The Guinness Book of World Records takes note of the many large and eccentric individual collections that exist worldwide. David Adriani from Italy, for instance, has been collecting Coca-Cola cans since he was 15, amassing 10,588 cans from 87 countries around the world. Becky Martz has amassed 21,000 banana-peel labels over more than 30 years of collecting. A collection that will amuse frustrated drivers around the world is David Morgan’s, in England. He has collected over 500 different traffic cones. Niek Vermeulen has a collection of more than 6,290 air-sickness bags from over 1,191 airlines in 200 countries.  

Do Not Disturb signs, nails, joker cards, mobile phones, bras, Monopoly games, bowling balls, plastic ducks, and more… All have been deemed worthy of collection by someone, somewhere. 

But museums take this elevation of minutia and the discarded to another level – and there are plenty of them.   

Consider the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, with displays on the evolution of toilets and how they vary around the world. Or the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, its exhibits tracing the history of love gone wrong. How about the Icelandic Phallological Museum, dedicated to the male sex organ, with a collection of 276 penises from various species in various sizes? Or, on a related subject, the Condom Museum in Thailand?  

One doesn’t have to look far to see a generous embrace of the beauty and charm of even the most ordinary traces of human existence. In this world, that includes the Museum of Enduring Beauty in Malaysia, the Museum of Bad Art in Boston, and the Museum of Pez Memorabilia in San Francisco. It’s all worthy, and it’s all good.  

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