Who says you can't celebrate the mundane? These 11 museums are dedicated to items you use but probably never think about.
1. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets
The porcelain throne has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and thanks to a socially-conscious sanitation consultant in New Delhi, India, you can learn about the evolution of the toilet and its impact on public health around the globe. Though it is unquestionably strange, the Sulabh Toilet Museum isn't so much a useless oddity as it is a hygiene technology warehouse; the founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, says one of the museum's objectives is to "help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector."
2. The Pencil Museum
Photo: Kaptain Kobold on Flickr
Keswick, Cumberland is home to the Cumberland Pencil Company, producer of Derwent colored art pencils and a number of other pencil-art-related products. The Pencil Museum houses the world's longest colored pencil (a yellow one) and is the home of the "world's first pencil." The claim is based on a local legend of a vein of graphite discovered under a fallen tree; the "strange black material" was used to mark sheep and eventually inspired the development of lead pencils and the formation of the UK's first pencil factory in 1832. In addition to showcasing the history of everyone's most-misplaced item (aside from car keys, probably), the museum offers art workshops and family events year-round.
3. Sidon Soap Museum
The Soap Museum in Saida, Lebanon, was once a factory and is now a chronological history of soap-making dating back to the 14th century, including the tools and processes from raw ingredients to final product. Displays range from simple urns and bowls to modern manufacturing equipment to molded and packaged soaps, and the tour wraps up with a look at the factory's role in improving local hygiene and a guide to the Hammam.
4. Lock Museum of America
Located in Terryville, Connecticut, the Lock Museum of America is built near the site of the Eagle Lock Company, which was founded in 1854. Items on display include thousands of door locks, a room devoted to bank and vault locks, doorknobs and, of course, keys to open everything. The pièce de résistance is a 4000-year-old Egyptian tumbler pin lock.
5. Zhang Xiao Quan Scissors Museum
The museum, located inside the Hangzhou Zhang Xiao Quan Scissors Factory, is home to more than 1500 scissors from all over the world, as well as scissor-making tools, art made from scissors, and calligraphy. You can also tour the factory and watch as blades are placed one by one on machines that affix them to their handles.
6. Lumina Domestica Lamp Museum
Interior lighting is nice to have, though we mostly don't think about it. Lumina Domestica wants to change that, and with its collection of 6500-plus interior lamps dating from prehistory to IKEA, it clearly surpasses any other museum in this goal. Included: torches, oil lamps, incandescents and LEDs.
7. Frank and Jane Clement Brick Museum
Believe it or not, bricks have a fascinating history and the market for rare "brand" bricks is better than you might expect. The Clements' in-home brick museum in Orchard Park, NY, is home to thousands of such bricks, including a front drive and back patio built exclusively of collectible pieces. Viewing is by appointment only, so make sure to call ahead.
8. The Lee Maxwell Washing Machine Museum
Lee Maxwell is a washing machine enthusiast. His collection of antique-to-retro washtubs includes thousands of models, which you can look at in Eaton, CO, if you make an appointment first. If washing machine history is kind of your thing, Maxwell has a book, as well. Popular pieces are early Maytags and 1920s steam laundries.
9. The Bottle and Can Opener Museum
There is very little information about the Bottle and Can Opener Museum, but it does claim to be the only museum dedicated to this particular type of item, so it may well be worth a trip to Kibbutz Misgav Am, Israel, if you're a collector or bottle-opener enthusiast.
10. Haarundkamm Museum
The Haircomb Museum in Mümliswil, Switzerland, celebrates ornamental haircombs as well as eyelash, eyebrow, beard and mustache combs, and even lice combs. In addition to the many thousands of items in the museum's possession, visitors can learn all about the manufacture of combs and the invention's impact on grooming habits through history.
11. Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design
If you like to keep all of your everyday objects in one place, but are tired of looking at the ones you have at home, consider a trip to Waitsfield, Vermont, home of the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design. The items here are old and used, and you've probably seen almost all of them before. But the fact that we know and love these objects speaks to the museum's mission: celebrating good design in mass-produced products. From eggbeaters to shoes to cars to toasters, the Madsonian's mundane objets d'art are on display to make us think. As director David Sellers says, "By making the everyday beautiful and well designed, and by recognizing and valuing that effort, we can reduce our throw-away culture and become one that surrounds ourselves with beauty, thoughtfulness and art."
Have you been to any of these or do you know of a museum that should be on this list? Let us know!