The history of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop dates back to the Civil War. Joseph
Standley, who lived in Steubenville, Ohio, was in the third grade when
he received a prize for having the neatest desk in the class. His reward
was a book entitled Wonders of Nature and it inspired him to begin collecting
nature's curios and Indian artifacts. He explored Ohio's river banks
and the nearby hills and caves of West Virginia for Indian arrowheads
and such. He became an avid collector and a serious student of ethnology,
always on the look out for unusual artifacts from other cultures.
At the age of 22 Joe and his family lived in Denver where he owned
and operated a grocery store. He continued collecting and he would bring
these collections to the store for his customers' enjoyment. Soon it
became hard to find the groceries among all the curio displays!
When it became necessary to leave Denver because of his wife's health,
Joe chose Seattle. He opened a small curio shop on the waterfront in
late 1899 and turned a hobby into his business. He called it Standley's
Free Museum and a year or so later changed the name to Ye Olde Curiosity
Shop. His slogan was and remains "Beats the Dickens". (A reference to
Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop.) The first few years were tough.
It is said that he took in only twenty-five cents during his first three
days! However, that would buy a good sized salmon in those days and
so he could feed his family. Joe was a fair man who was well liked and
soon made many friends of the local Indians and residents as well as
explorers and sea captains going to and from Alaska. From these contacts
he was able to obtain many beautiful and rare Alaskan Indian and Eskimo
carvings, ivories, baskets, tools and weapons. These became the nucleus
of his ethnological collection that won the gold medal at the 1909 Alaska
Yukon Pacific Exposition (Seattle's first World's Fair). This collection
he sold to George Heye, founder of the Museum of the American Indian
in New York, for $5,000.00 (quite a sum in 1909!). Joe Standley was
now on his way. The shop attracted collectors and curio seekers from
all over the world and supplied artifacts to most of the significant
museums in the United States and abroad.
Daddy Standley, as he affectionately became known throughout Seattle
and the country was a great supporter of his adopted city. He was always
promoting Seattle as a great place to visit and to live. He became known
as a one man chamber of commerce! He had a great sense of humor and
always had a story. He tended to entertain his customers rather than
sell to them. He loved the things he collected (practically all of which
were for sale in the early years) and everything had a story. When he
would start to tell the story he would often fall in love with the article
all over and then not want to sell it! Many of these artifacts and unusual
things are part of our permanent museum collection and are not for sale.
Joe Standley was active in the business from its founding in 1899
to within 4 days of his death on October 25, 1940. His son in-law Russell
James was active from 1912 to 1952 (with time out for World War I) and
Russell's son Joe James, namesake of Daddy Standley and the third generation,
became active in the 1940's. He successfully operated and expanded the
business for over 50 years. The Fourth generation, Joe's son Andy, along
with his wife Tammy and his sister Debbie currently run the shop along
with another store Waterfront Landmark. Waterfront Landmark is also
located on the central waterfront at Pier 55.
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop has moved a number times but has always been
on the central waterfront. Since 1988 it has been located on Pier 54
next to Ivar's Acres of Clams restaurant. Most of the museum collection
has stayed with the shop through its various moves. Some of the more
unusual things are: Sylvester, A perfectly preserved mummy, Siamese
twin calves, one of the largest collections of shrunken human heads
outside of Equador, the Lord's prayer engraved on a grain of rice, Ripley's
name on a single human hair, the largest coin ever minted (6 1/2 lbs.!),
fleas in dresses, a 67 lb. snail, oil paintings on pin heads, a six
foot crab, a Chinese two-man gun, a three tusk walrus skull, a chain
carved from a match stick, a nine foot blow gun, a woven cedar bark
hat worn by Chief Sealth (namesake of Seattle), old time player pianos,
a Chinese beheading sword, a "mermaid", a real (working) merry-go-round
organ, whale and walrus oosiks, and many, many more things.
While exploring the shop you will find an amazing variety of things
from the Northwest and around the world for sale. Here are some examples:
Northwest Indian totem poles, masks, plaques, jewelry and other artwork.
(We still trade directly with the artists.) You'll also find Alaskan
Eskimo carvings and baskets, knives and arrowheads, pipes, Russian lacquer
boxes, matreshka dolls and porcelain figurines, copper and wooden postcards,
music boxes, dolls, fine pewter collectibles, candles and incense, smoked
salmon, local and world music, Viking helmets, Mexican jumping beans
(in season), icons, Seattle and Washington souvenirs, salt water taffy,
aromatic cedar boxes, polished stones, and the list goes on and covers
every continent. We strive to make your visit fun, educational and entertaining.
In the tradition of "Daddy" Standley, there is something of interest
for people of any age or background especially if you have a curious
nature. Please come and enjoy! Admission to the shop is free and we
are open 7 days a week.
1001 Alaskan Way (Pier 54), Seattle, WA 98104 (206) 682-5844
Indian Traders, Importers, and Curio Collectors, Museums supplied,
phone and email orders filled