Bric-a-brac and Indolence Part 2: The Distractioning

What on earth possessed me to think reviewing museum gift shops was the act of a sane and reasonable adult? Boredom, I suspect, but now I am set into a course and so away I go again. This particular section is divided up between two days.

Day 1: The Museum of London, and then I went on a two and a half mile walk for some mad reason

I started at a museum at least...

The Museum of London

the carriage is alas not for sale

Number of gift shops: 1 (mixture of permanent and exhibition items, the exhibition items being close to the entrance and spilling out into the foyer of the museum itself.

The Museum of London‘s gift shop comes close to housing a baffling miscellany. Perhaps befitting the rule of the museum – to chronicle the extent of the history of London including the present – it gets away with the kind of awful tat one might find in any high street gift shop in the city (waving ER II statues and vile royal wedding mugs) nestled alongside the exhibition-specific wares of much higher standard (when I visited this was in relation to that iconic London writer, Charles Dickens, who has his own dedicated museum in Clerkenwell). The range, certainly, is as broad as London itself’s range; items run from fake Roman coins suitable for the very shallow pocket to Halcyon Days manufactured ornaments and jewellery inspired by the Cheapside Hoard.

A tidy swathe (although by no means all) of historical periods represented in the museum are also covered in the gift shop, along with more London-esque genera and tea-related items as the Museum and indeed the entire city strive to play up to our national stereotype. Household wares, trinkets, bags, branded rubbers and pens, miniature buses and comestibles (jam, for heaven’s sake!) all abound and – out of keeping with the other museums I have visited so far – the shop boasts a large children’s section with a good selection of books, educational and related toys as well as more general cheap toy-shop fare.

I applaud the Museum of London gift shop for their efforts in striking a balance between old and young, “posh” and “common”, as the city itself so often fails to!

Onto the bookshop: I have to offer the highest possible praise in that it is useful. I have returned to the bookshop at the Museum of London on several occasions in search of ideas of where to start looking for book titles to borrow from the library or order online, and the level of London-based specialisation is, as one would hope, commendable. I am especially impressed with the historical maps, map books, and map CD guides, even if they are rather pricey. 

I was planning on visiting the Tate Modern gift shop on the same day, as they’re quite close together, but as you can see from the map above, that didn’t happen…

Day 2: The Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre

This map is slightly inaccurate as Google Maps does not acknowledge the existence of St Paul's tube station

 Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

and many a fine afternoon have I spent here

Number of gift shops: 1

This shop aims squarely at the mid-range in terms of price and quality – even the ‘artisan’ jewellery mandatory in these places does not top £40, not even the tiny scale model of the theatre itself, and indeed the only expensive items are the theatrical masks and the model skulls, and even they are under £100. There are little in the way of children’s toys (and those which there are were also on sale in the Museum of London) but as expected a range of children’s Shakespeare books are available; also book-wise there are tomes on theatre history, Elizabethan London, and some rather exquisite folio editions of various plays.

The majority of the shop is given over to memorabilia emblazoned with lines from various plays, which is disappointing: my hat is off to whomever designed the gloriously gruesome Macbeth section, though, and not least because I thoroughly enjoyed the production of The Scottish Play I saw at the venue in 2010.

The items of note at the Globe’s gift shop are, aside from fake blood and Globe beer of three different hues, almost certainly those which are very much unique to the place: DVDs of Globe performances, and rare books of period manufacture on display in a case on the way to the toilets, which are apparently “fore sale” to them as what can afford it. One assumes you’d have to be bloody minted, though.

The Tate Modern Gallery

It was for once sunnier than this

Number of gift shops: 3 (one small, one large, one exhibition-specific which I didn’t visit).

Small: Comparatively large section of children’s books, art-related toys, and some rather pleasantly cheap ‘mini-prints’ of various art works for impoverished art lovers (£6 each when I visited, and roughly A4 size). Obviously everything was if not well-designed then at least strikingly so, with an emphasis on clean line and clear colour.

The shop mostly comprises art and design books, although there are some teapots, some Tatty Devine jewellery (towards whom I feel irrationally fond for their connection to the rollerderby league I support even if their jewellery isn’t usually to my taste), and a central stand of Tate-branded art supplies, including artist’s mannequins and a display of wooden hands which all fell over the minute I went near them, giving me quite a shock! Unfortunately with art supplies I can never tell if they’re overpriced or not.

Stand-out item in the upstairs/small shop was an umbrella which changes colour when it is rained on (possibly just because I love clever umbrellas).

Large: More of the same, really, but with broader variety and more lines. It also includes mugs, some scarves and very nice bags by a particular designer who is slightly more expensive than I can countenance, a lot of t-shirts and geometric jewellery, “clever” toys for grown-ups, and an overwhelming and staggering variety of art books. The books cover history of modern art, biographies of artists, the neurology of art, coffee table art books, colouring books, how-to guides, and a very broad range of subjects.

There are a range of gifts for the impecunious including some branded pencils for 60p a pop, mini-crayon sets, and rather neat bouncy balls with glitter in them (which if I recall you can also buy from the Science Museum shop for exactly the same price and with which I annoyed an entire queue full of people outside the Drill Hall once), but overall the shop is geared to more money and – pleasantly – towards encouraging the creativity of its patrons with various activity packs and art games for both adults and children.

There are, naturally, also a lot of post cards, art prints/posters, and art film DVDs.

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