Collecting has the ability to connect people. It brings people together by giving them a common goal as they strive to find dollar coins, rare postage stamps, out-of-print comic books or whatever else they fancy. Collectors rejoice with each new addition to their collections and take pride in showing off their finds.
For Palo Alto High School sophomore Alex Rose, the thrill comes from collecting objects that surprise people. Everything in his collection screams unusual, whether it be a prickly dead pufferfish, a puzzle box that seems to have no obvious opening, a miniature model of a Volkswagen car or even the seemingly ordinary ring around his finger.
At first glance, the ring, a woven tangle of sterling silver strands, looks like any other piece of jewelry. As Rose slides it off and performs a complicated algorithm, the ring detaches into eight separate hoops, revealing that this is actually a puzzle ring.
According to Rose, his love for collecting oddities fits nicely with his love of meeting and befriending other people because items like the ring are perfect conversation starters.
“I collect oddities … because I want people to remember me for owning them,” Rose said.
By most standards, Rose’s collection is indeed memorable. People who see his shelves are especially drawn to the display of animal taxidermies such as a frog, various animal brains and a unique shark fetus.
“His friends … think his shelf is super original and fun,” Rose’s girlfriend sophomore Hannah Subega said. “There’s always something there for his friends to look at.”
Rose’s interest for collecting animal preserves began when he received a shark fetus from Subega’s younger brother, the previous owner. According to Subega, Rose was the ideal recipient of the shark fetus because he, unlike others, did not cringe at the sight of the unborn shark.
“I wasn’t too surprised that Alex was glad to take it off my brother’s hands,” Subega said.
According to Subega, the shark fetus used to be a Christmas gag gift that was regifted yearly, but “luckily, we [Subega’s family] found someone who actually wants it,” Subega said.
Although Rose now collects objects that can make people scream with disgust, when he first began collecting as an Escondido Elementary School student, Rose collected more ordinary items.
In elementary school, the pockets of his cargo pants held all the crystals, rocks, seashells, watches and coins he brought to school to show his friends, according to Rose.
“I wore cargo pants … because I could fill the pockets with stuff,” Rose said.
If Rose could not carry all the knick-knacks in his pockets, he kept them at home in a box which he called his “special things box.” Originally, Rose said the box contained a small conglomeration of puzzles, such as uncommon Rubik’s cubes. However, once his father began bringing home souvenirs from his business trips, the items found a new home in a larger container.
In eighth grade, Rose moved into a new bedroom that featured a set of empty shelves on which he started displaying his favorite collections.
When people complimented him on his shelf, Rose found that he enjoyed watching their reactions. Particularly, Rose said that he has always appreciated the way his eccentricities have earned him nicknames.
“In fifth grade, people called me ‘the Costco guy,’” Rose said. “I would hand out parts of my entire lunch [like Costco food samples] to my friends because it gave me attention.”
Long gone are the days of being jokingly associated with the food sample dispensers at Costco. Today, Rose is better known as a collector of oddities.
On a vacation in Paris during the summer of 2012, Rose’s collection grew immensely. While the rest of his family wanted to shop for clothing, Rose preferred to scrounge through the antique shops. It was on this trip that he realized that accumulating oddities could actually become a rewarding hobby.
“I spent all my money on these outrageous antiques, such as pickle flavored toothpaste, an optical illusion that looks like a melting clock, puzzle boxes and a Frankenstein-like figurine with parts from a baby doll, a skull face, a crown and a rib cage, but it was so worth it,” Rose said.
According to Rose, his most prized piece from Paris is a crystal that shows the face of a clock from one side and looks like a compass from the other side.
Having depleted his spending money in Paris, Rose slowed down on his collecting spree once he returned to Palo Alto. Consequently, his family thought his collecting was just a temporary obsession, according to Rose.
“My family thought it was pretty amusing and didn’t think I was serious,” Rose said
However, everything changed on Christmas Day of his freshman year when he opened a present from Subega’s brother. Noticing Rose’s fascination with trinkets like his puzzle ring, the brother gave Rose a bottle containing a shark fetus that still had its eyes covered with skin. Rose said this gift rekindled his passion for collecting.
According to Rose, he had never been this excited about a gift before.
He soon discovered a television program called “Oddities,” which showcased animal taxidermy collectors’ items like pig fetuses and double-headed monkeys. This program sparked Rose’s passion for finding more animal parts that make people’s eyes boggle with both gruesome interest and fascination, according to Rose. His collection now includes a diverse range of animal parts and preserves.
“Here are my brains,” Rose said, as he pointed to snake, rabbit, frog and bird brains sitting on a shelf.
Nowadays, Rose basks in the attention he gets from being known as the “shark fetus guy.”
“I like it when people are able to say, ‘I remember Alex Rose. He’s the guy with the shark fetus,’” Rose said.
Over time, Rose realized that part of what inspires him to keep collecting is the satisfaction of learning the story behind each item.
According to Rose, he likes being able to say, “This isn’t only a ring, but a ring that is also a puzzle.”
Rose delights in seeing the others’ reactions when they find out that his ring is a more than what meets the eye. With eyes aglow, Rose explains the historical significance of puzzle rings. In medieval times, kings gave their wives the puzzle rings as wedding bands, according to Rose. If a wife cheated on her husband and wanted to remove the ring, the ring would fall apart and the king would know his wife had been disloyal.
“I enjoy surprising people with something they wouldn’t expect,” Rose said.
Despite his interest in oddities, it is very unlikely for his collecting to become his future career, Rose said.
“It is a very expensive hobby, no doubt,” Rose said. “I think it [my collection] will just be the kind of thing I keep in the office, not a professional career.”
According to Rose, he is more inclined to pursue a career in application development and dreams of one day starting his own technology business. Regardless of what career path he chooses, Rose says he believes he will find a way to engage his appreciation of creativity and his love of the bizarre.
Rose carries his love for trinkets wherever he goes. He always has his daily essentials: his phone, his wallet and two to three trinkets that might be handy conversation starters.
“I never leave the house without full pockets,” Rose said.