World’s Oldest Souvenirs Included All Kinds Of Contraband

berlin wall fragment
Garry Wilmore, Flickr

Who here doesn’t have a collection of mini monuments, fridge magnets, key rings and mugs collected on vacation? For as long as humans have been traveling, we’ve had an inexplicable urge to bring back some sort of object that reminds us of our trip, and that’s the focus of a new exhibit by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. But don’t be fooled, you won’t find any mugs or magnets here.

The collection displays some of the world’s oldest souvenirs and harks back to a time when travelers clearly didn’t have to contend with airport customs officials. You see, back in the early days, there were no souvenir shops attached to museums where you could pick up your trinkets, so tourists eager for a knick-knack just took whatever they wanted. On display is one traveler’s souvenir of a napkin that belonged to Napoleon, and another tourist’s odd collection of hair, including tresses that belonged to George Washington.Other souvenirs that would clearly be illegal to buy or take today include pieces of the Berlin Wall, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and a piece of marble chipped off the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that we started catching on that taking home actual relics and historical objects was a bad idea, and it was this realization that sparked a boom in souvenirs — as shops started manufacturing the kitsch Eiffel Tower statues and collectible teaspoons that we know today.

Still, the abundance of souvenir shops doesn’t stop some travelers from collecting their own unique mementos. Last year, Rome chastised tourists for stealing bits of the city’s cobblestone roads and mosaics, while in Dublin, religious relics were stolen from a historic church. In South Australia, someone managed to walk away with the bones and jaw of a whale that was on display in a tourist park, though at two meters long, we’re not sure exactly how they stuffed that into their luggage.

Do you know of any other strange souvenirs that travelers have collected?