If you’re into Masonic memorabilia, taxidermy that would look perfect at the Bates Motel, or rare Victorian medical accoutrements, Obscura is a dream come true. Proprietors Evan Michelson and Mike Zohn select and display their treasures—gold-bullion-encrusted fezzes, jet mourning jewelry and postmortem daguerreotypes, gauzy Edwardian lace blouses, captivating wax anatomy models, vintage nightsticks and canes, and a seemingly endless array of esoteric items—with more care than most museum curators can muster. Personable and deeply knowledgeable, they’re happy to chat with serious collectors and curious browsers alike. So if you want to know the history of that funny leather mask or what the decorative possibilities of a stuffed, two-headed calf might be, just ask.
How did you get into the business? Mike Zohn: Well, for me, mainly from collecting old photographs and cameras, then needing a place to get rid of the extras. Evan Michelson: I didn’t collect anything before I got involved in the shop. Now it’s out of hand. I collect wax people and Victorian hair sculpture, and odds and ends of other creepy things.
Where do you find your stock? Evan: At antique shows and flea markets all over the place. Mike: Estate sales and auctions. You name it. Evan: It’s a lot of time in your car!
Tell us about your customers. Evan: We get everyone you’d expect and people you’d never expect, from rock ‘n’ roll satanists and goths to sophisticated designers and architects. Mike: And medical people. And folks like Amy Sedaris and Justin Theroux who just like odd, interesting stuff. And movie prop people. We had a lot of stuff in Kinsey—medical posters, bugs, old lab glassware. Evan: Things under domes, weird chemicals in jars.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve sold recently? Mike: An Egyptian mummy hand that once belonged to [Warhol protégé] Fred Hughes. It had this beautiful faience ring.
Do you ever buy things for resale, then just can’t part with them? Evan: All the time. I just got something called Shooter—it’s a four-legged chicken that shoots marbles—and I fell madly in love with him. So now he’s at home. Mike: I recently bought a lovely French memorial that’s made of braided hair that I’ve kept. It’s dated 1918, the time of the Spanish flu pandemic.
OBSCURA ANTIQUES & ODDITIES 263 East 10th Street, 212-505-9251
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 29, 2005