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A gift from the gods

Alumnus and founder of the Icelandic Phallological Museum, Sigurdur Hjartarson on combining family commitments with academic life and how a dried bull’s pizzle was just the beginning.

Sigurdur Hjartarson

Self-confessed lazy pensioner Sigurdur Hjartarson is enjoying his retirement in Reykjavik, Iceland. A former teacher, who accidentally created an Icelandic phenomenon, is equally proud of his less well-known achievements, many of which drew on his time at the University as a student of Latin American history.

Pastures new

After finishing his BA at the University of Iceland in 1965, Sigurdur was keen to pursue his passion for Latin American history and, after weighing up the options, decided to travel with his young family to Edinburgh.

A flat in Raeburn Place, Stockbridge was perfect for combining family commitments with academic life, but also meant getting to know other students was difficult. Consequently Sigurdur’s time at the University is remembered as intellectually inspiring but is defined by hard work, passing his exams with distinction, and a thesis that was completed in 1968.

Edinburgh was wonderful in those years, cheap and inspiring. I have always been fascinated by Britain and we have been there a number of times since.

Sigurdur Hjartarson

Small beginnings

Despite a successful career as a teacher of history and Spanish in Iceland, and the publication of a number of books (mostly on Latin American history), Sigurdur’s lasting legacy is likely to be a museum that began with a dried bull’s penis.

When I was young I was sent to relatives in the countryside during summer vacations. There I was given a dried bull's penis as a whip to take the cows to pastures.

Sigurdur Hjartarson

The bull was just the beginning. Over the years Sigurdur found himself the recipient of additional content for his collection, including whale’s penises from a fellow teacher who picked them up from a whaling station that was located close to the school at which they both worked.

The museum

A grant from the city council enabled him to move the collection from his home to premises for public display, and the first museum opened in August 1997.

Initially a collection of 62, the museum, now based in larger premises on Reykjavík’s main shopping street and managed by Sigurdur’s son who moved it from Húsavík to the capital, has specimens from every single mammal in Iceland as well as many foreign species.

In addition to the biological section of the museum (which now numbers almost 300 specimens), visitors can view a collection of about 350 artistic oddments and practical utensils related to phallology.

The museum is now a popular tourist attraction attracting thousands of visitors each year, a good return for the unusual hobby of an Edinburgh graduate.

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