Curiosity burns hot. Once sparked, look out! The spark that set our founder Joseph Edward Standley afire was a prize he won as a third-grader in Steubenville, Ohio during the Civil War. For displaying the neatest desk, his teacher rewarded him with a book about the wonders of nature. “Since I read that book, I've thought about nothing else,” he said. He combed the banks of the Ohio River and nearby caves in West Virginia for arrowheads and other Native American artifacts.
As a young shopkeeper in Denver in the 1870s, his collection of nature’s oddities and manmade exotica from around the world threatened to overwhelm his grocery stock. When he got to Seattle at the turn of the century, he decided to drop the grocery biz and to indulge his hobby full time. From a tin-roofed shack on Seattle’s waterfront he began trading in sea shells, minerals, baskets woven by local Native artisans, and more... and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop was born.
“Daddy” Standley, as he was affectionately called, could talk to anybody about anything. Self-taught, with a vigorous mind and lively temperament, he befriended sailors, Arctic explorers, and fishermen as well as museum directors, celebrities, and serious collectors of Native American handiwork. His family never knew just who would show up for dinner at Totem Place, the home he built, since Daddy had the habit of inviting shop visitors on the spur of the moment... from armless billiard champion George Sutton to museum director George Heye.
The house was packed to the rafters with multitudes of baskets, miniatures, shells and the like. In the garden, grandchildren played in a miniature log cabin set amongst thirteen totem poles, flowers tumbling from planters made of armadillo shells and whale vertebrae, and birds splashing in giant clam shells. An authentic Japanese tea-house was assembled in a corner of the yard. It was dubbed “The Rubydeaux” after Standley’s teenage daughter Ruby and was made of imported bamboo.
Daddy was once asked how he had managed to live so long and in such good health. He owed it, he said, to the view from his home: “Anyone with a love of the beautiful and nature at her very best in their hearts, should certainly live to be a hundred on Puget Sound.” He didn’t make it to a hundred, but he came darned close. He passed away in 1940 at the ripe old age of eighty-six, working amongst his curios till the very last.
So happy birthday, Daddy Standley, born February 24, 1854! Many happy returns of the day.
Come and explore Totem Place!
How would you like to have the run of Totem Place for a day? A treat is in store for the curious on June 28, 2015, when visitors will be offered the rare opportunity to explore the former home of the Standley family.
Under the auspices of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, the doors of this private home will be thrown open to the public for the SWSHS “Homes with History” tour. Space is limited, so call (206) 938-5293 or email email@example.com to sign up today!
- A Curious Alphabet, a booklet about the shop, the curios, and the Standley family
- 1001 Curious Things: Ye Olde Curiosity Shop and Native American Art by Kate Duncan, University of Washington Press
- Seattle Now & Then column by Paul Dorpat (scroll way down to find the article about J.E. Standley)
- West Seattle Herald article about some members of the Standley family