Last year The Icelandic Phallological Museum saw a huge increase in visitors. The museum’s curator says that the new year is already off to a good start.
“I‘m happy that we‘re getting such a generous proportion of the growth in tourism. Actually I‘m thrilled about it,” says Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson curator and owner of The Icelandic Phallological Museum (Hið Íslenzka reðasafn)- often referred to as simply the Penis Museum – which saw a hug increase of visitors last year, when the number of museum guests sky rocketed from 24,640 in 2014 to 33,328. Hjörtur, who had previously been working alone in the museum since it moved from Húsavík to Reykjavík in 2011, has had to hire extra staff because of the increase.
Ninety nine percent of the guests are tourists, mostly from Asia, America and Europe. “Icelanders give surprisingly little attention to the museum,” says Hjörtur. “Sometimes they bring foreign friends over here but other than that they never come unless it‘s a staff surprise trip or a bachelor‘s party. It‘s understandable, this is a small society.”
Asked which object or objects the guests find most interesting Hjörtur says that the ethnographic part of the museum gets the most attention. “We have a troll penis, a merman penis, specimens from all kinds of ghosts, the scrotum of Þorgeir‘s folkloric bull and many more,” he answers with a twinkle in his eye. “Iceland’s folklore is different from most other countries, so the guests are intrigued by these objects.”
“Some visitors have told me that it would be impossible to have a museum like this where they come from; people would protest and boycott it … Phallology seems to be quite a sensitive subject.”
The Icelandic Phallological Museum houses the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts. Over all it contains more than 280 penises and penile parts belonging to almost all land and sea mammals that can be found in and around Iceland; including from a whale, polar bear, seal, walrus and 20 different kinds of land mammals. In 2011 it obtained it’s first human penis.
Hjörtur‘s father, Sigurður Hjartarson, started collecting penises in the early 1970s. As a child Sigurður spent his summers on a cattle farm where he sometimes helped putting bulls to death. Once he was given a bull‘s penis or a pizzle that was used as a whip. When friends heard he had the pizzle they started giving him all kinds of penises, especially from the whale station close to Akranes, the town Sigurður was living in at this time.
“Dad collected penises until 1997. When he had 63 penises and penile parts he decided to open the museum. We have never bought any specimens and definitely not killed or hunted any animals for the penis. Every specimen has been presented to the museum. And we are getting new items every now and then, both penises, penile parts and art pieces.”
Both Icelanders and tourists have the museum in mind when they come across objects that might belong in the museum. The latest specimen is a penis from the South-African Springbok. It was presented by an Icelandic hunter who brought it back from Africa. Hjörtur says those kind of gifts are great surprises. “An Australian once brought a small leather pouch made from the scrotum skin of a Red kangaroo,” he recalls. “The Australian‘s grandfather shot the kangaroo in 1965. The Australian, who was on his way to Iceland, had read about The Phallological Museum. So he felt that the museum was a good place for the pouch.”
Asked whether the museum has any penises from endangered animals Hjörtur shakes his head. But then he remembers that there actually is a polar bear penis in the museum.
“It’s from a polar bear that was caught by Icelandic fishermen in the West fjords decades ago,” he says and adds that the bear’s penis really doesn’t look so good, since it had to be split open to take out the bone.
Going back to the museum’s popularity Hjörtur says that one of the reasons that it has become such an attraction, might have to do with the fact that it has no equivalent in the world. “Some visitors have told me that it would be impossible to have a museum like this where they come from; people would protest and boycott it, even though it has nothing to do with pornography. Phallology seems to be quite a sensitive subject. And because of this uniqueness and the great comments we’re getting from guests, the word is that if you go to Iceland you have to visit The Icelandic Phallological Museum.”