Friday, 10 December 2010

The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising




When it comes to collecting, I have nothing on Robert Opie. Opie is an avid collector of consumer products and packaging which are on display at The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill. The museum features products from the Victorian era through to today. Displayed in jam-packed glass cases almost as if they are shrines to materialism, Opie’s collection features a wide variety of products including early postcards, cigarettes, cosmetic pieces, household cleaning items, confectioneries, wartime posters, boardgames, early household appliances and more.

For me, the case devoted to the Great Exhibition of 1851 was one of the highlights. The Great Exhibition showcased the ‘art and industry of all nations’. Over six million people came to see the thousands of exhibits. In a Victorian magazine, it was claimed that “In no other country of the world could such an exhibition of the industrial arts have taken place.” Interestingly, I heard something similar from Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, who was responsible for putting together the new BBC radio programme, “A History of the World“, which discussed human development through 100 objects from the museum itself. MacGregor claimed that only the British Museum could put on a programme of this scale. Undoubtedly true, but this is also a reminder that Britain is still dining out on the legacy of its empire.

The Brand museum was also full of other curiosities. For example, the early typewriter shown below from the Nineteenth Century. You may not be able to see it, but the keys are not in the QWERTY format, common today. 


I was also struck by the old candies and chocolates. Some of them still in their original wrappers. For example, the collection has some liquorice all sorts and chocolate bars from the 1930s, which are still intact. The effect was somewhat eerie, as the products were never consumed as intended but are still being consumed in another way.

There was also a lot devoted to the two world wars including propaganda posters, patriotic advertising by corporations and a wide variety of other consumer products related to the conflicts. Two of our favourites were a satirical reworking of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland called Adolf in Blunderland (by James Dyrenforth and Max Kester in 1940). The other was a stuffed Winston Churchill who looks more like Chairman Mao or a gangster rapper (he is giving the V for Victory sign sideways as if he is coming from the hood) than a Prime Minister.

Adolf in Blunderland
Winston Churchill and his famous "V"

I found the materials from the Nineteenth and the early Twentieth Centuries much more interesting than that from after the Second World War. This is perhaps because the older items are much more alien, while still being strangely familiar. When we arrived at the more modern sections, we felt a sort of collapse in interest, probably because we were then surrounded by things which were easily recognizable. It is as if the mystery was gone and we were back to the supermarket.

I also wished that the museum had been a little more curated. There wasn’t much information and the importance of objects was sometimes lost when included with dozens of others in the same case. However, much of the charm of the museum comes from ‘the old curiosity shop‘ feel that it provides. We were constantly reminded of the owner’s passion for collecting, and one could still see his areas of interest clearly. When we were leaving the museum, we saw the man himself, walking into his kingdom.
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