Macabre collectibles are collectibles that could be described as gruesome, morbid or chilling with an appearance or atmosphere that relates to death and mortality.
The area of macabre collectibles covers memorabilia and items based around this theme, which have been popular with collectors throughout history.
It can include:
- Skulls and skeletons
- Death masks of notable historic figures
- Items connected to notorious true crimes and serial killers (known as "murderabilia")
- Antique medical photographs
- Shrunken heads
- Preserved medical specimens
- Examples of taxidermy.
Macabre collectors have occasionally stepped over the line in their search for collectible items. The practice of ‘cranioklepty’, the theft of buried skulls closely connected to grave robbing, was regularly carried out during the 19th century. Notable skulls to have been stolen include Franz Joseph Haydn, Emanuel Swedenborg and Sir Thomas Browne.
Composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s skull was exhumed in 1863 in order to study it using the now-debunked theory of phrenology, and was offered for sale in 2010 by the relative of the original doctor.
The Pierrepoint Collection is a collection of memorabilia relating to Britain’s longest serving and final executioner. The collection includes plaster casts of his face and hands, personal items and letters, and his execution book in which he personally recorded details about each of the executions he carried out. The collection was last sold by Christies in 1992 when it realised over £30,000.
In November 2010 the coffin in which presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was originally buried was sold at auction by the original funeral home owner Allen Baumgardner. Oswald was exhumed in 1981 in order to disprove the conspiracy theory that he had been replaced with a CIA operative and that his body was not in his grave. He was reburied in a new coffin, and his original one was sold to a collector 29 years later for a sum of $87,000.
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