At a loss for a Christmas idea? A museum gift shop in your area just might have the perfect present.
Buyers can find everything from an elegant $700 Carl Bloch print to a novelty pencil sharpener shaped like a nose. How about a scorpion sucker or some larvae candy? Or a bone-and-rock knife?
Museum gift shops stock the unusual, knowing their patrons are looking for something to take away as a souvenir or gift that speaks to where they've been.
Bethany Kramer, the buyer for BYU's Museum of Fine Art gift shop, says that when she sees something in a catalog that makes her pause and say "What?," it's an item that will sell.
Everything on what salespeople call "the cool shelf" is funny, odd or different from the run-of-the-mill.
"Our two best items are the nose pencil sharpener and the peanut eraser," Kramer said. "But we also have taco purses and ice cube trays that make ice cubes that look like dentures."
Located next to those items are the monkey pens and gourmet-scented pencils adjacent to the paper wallets.
There are also "food face" plates that encourage youngsters to play with their food (and therefore eat a little more). Mashed potatoes can become a beard, spaghetti can be hair and peas can be arranged as an attractive topknot.
Of course, the museum shop also features classy gifts, including confetti-paper collectables, bowls, vases and boxes woven of recycled paper by Vietnamese artisans. There are angel ornaments made of recycled metals and bottle caps, along with Japanese stoneware sets.
At Thanksgiving Point's Findings, Gifts of Extinction dinosaur museum gift shop in Lehi, manager Lexie Walker says they sell tons of the candy with bugs included. The flavored suckers have tiny scorpions inside. Chocolate-dipped grasshoppers and bacon-and-cheese crickets cost $1.75 a pack.
"Adults buy them for gag gifts, but kids buy them to eat," Walker said.
If Mexican Spice larvae isn't your thing, there are a number of other gifts under $20 guaranteed to stand out like an Allosaurus claw or an Orthoceras slab.
The Ogden Eccles Dinosaur Park goes one better than the bug sucker and offers a bug bracelet with spiders, mosquitoes and the like suspended in amber for a charming piece of jewelry.
Manager Kevin Ireland says his gift shop also includes 5-foot stuffed snakes in all colors, magnetic rocks and "chompers" (dinosaur heads on a stick that open their jaws to chomp whatever).
Salesperson Rachel Hargis suggests giving a dinosaur bone puzzle or fossilized dinosaur dung to that hard-to-buy-for person. Another good idea is a geode or candy that resembles rocks, she says.
At the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum on the BYU campus, one can pick up a porcupine fish for just $2.50, sea biscuits for 50 cents each or a barnacle cluster for $2.
There are clever multiple-piece puzzles that turn into a lion, a tiger, a panda or a ladybug. The ultimate gift for the butterfly collector — a framed iridescent blue Monarch or similar — comes encased in glass with an accompanying scripture for $44.95.
At the John Hutchings Museum of Natural History in Lehi, the gift for the outdoor guy can be had. Knives made of antler bone and carved stone sell for between $6-$50. The blades are chipped of stone like obsidian. Some are translucent. Some change colors. All are impressive examples of the combination of Mother Nature's creations and man's skill.
Ben Woodruff, director of the museum, says it's the perfect gift for a man.
"It's the one thing every guy would like but would never ask for," he said.
Each year, the Park City Museum commissions a unique Christmas ornament that celebrates something out of the area's history. This year, it's a brass ornament designed by local artist Jan Massimino that captures the Park City Ski Resort's gondola. Since the gondolas came in three colors, there are three ornaments — in red, yellow and blue.
"(The annual ornaments) have been offered since before my time," said the museum's manager, Sandra Morrison. "We have a local artist who designs it and a company in Rhode Island make it, the same company that does ornaments for the White House."
They order 1,000 of the collectible treasures. Proceeds from the ornament sales go toward keeping the museum operating, she said.
This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City offers a unique line of Cheerful Giver candles in flavors that make the mouth water, like warm cinnamon, honey butter and apple cider. One looks like a snowman.Comment on this story
The gift shop also stocks books that can't be found in big-box outlets, buyer Tresha Kramer says.
"Things here are so fantastic," she said, "We have lots of things you can't find anywhere else, but specifically we have wonderful children's books."
In addition, the shop offers homemade fudge and white chocolate pretzels.