Dead or alive, the Museum of Brands is worth a visit!

1950s grocery packaging

Well I'm not suggesting you visit the Museum of Brands as a ghost, but I'm wondering if anyone ever has! Although I don't mean that it's creepy or ghostly but rather spirited. A living museum.

I sometimes find museums weighty and crushing. There's something about the atmosphere that knocks the air out of my lungs and I find myself looking for the nearest exit.

But the Museum of Brands has a lively air. Not least because Robert Opie the founder, curator and owner of its vast collection of branded curiosities can often be found there, spring cleaning the story in each lofty glass cupboard. 

The Museum of Brands Time Tunnel

The main exhibit is laid out in a zig zag of U turns - a Time Tunnel lined with glass from floor to ceiling and packed with an astonishing array of 12,000 entrancing posters, toys, food packets, and branded ephemera. As you move along, you travel through time. You might be tempted to whizz right through to the decade of your birth or childhood, or you can progress through chronologically.

Or you might go on a hunt, with 'find the fashion doll' as your mission. I spotted lots, including several Sindy dolls (one in someone else's clothes 😮), a Mary Quant Daisy, Action Man and Tony and Dee 1970s Disco Dolls. Near the end of the Time Tunnel, there is a large set of Boyzone dolls. 

Boyzone dolls in orange packaging

The first exhibit in the Time Tunnel actually includes 3 simple carved wooden doll figures from Egypt, dated 2050-1786 BC.

Egyptian dolls 2050 - 1786 BC

Perhaps they once had clothes but time dissolved them? Most of the dolls in the museum are adorned in lavish costumes from their period, except the wartime dolls which are clothed, poignantly, in strictly utilitarian outfits. 

World War II doll in khaki service uniform

There are even some sad bears who double as gas mask bags. Apparently this was to encourage little children to wear the masks.

Gas mask bag teddy bears

There is one little stuffed doll who is dressed in a baker boy hat and I imagine it to be modelled on a real baker boy, busy delivering bread with no time to play with dolls.

Baker boy doll

I was very taken with the stuffed dolls and animals. They are often handmade, and each has it's own idiosyncratic character, stitched in carefully by the creator. A pair of button eyes gleam out through the soft museum lighting and you believe Robert Opie's joke that they come alive at night. 

Stuff policeman doll

It's easy to see Opie's passion for his collection and I'm so glad that he liberated it from private storage to public view. Many of us collect a hoard of treasures, but the art of collecting is perhaps in the sharing more than the hoarding. For those collectors who don't have the means to display in a bricks and mortar space, online sharing is a real life blood these days. So many collectors enjoy photographing their dolls and posting on Instagram, Facebook and Flickr.

The museum looks energetically to the future as well as the past, with a feature display in the cafe, which explores sustainable packaging and an online exhibition with Google Arts & Culture called Inventions & Discoveries for the “Once Upon a Try”

I like the mini chronological displays, such as 'L'Oreal shampoo bottles through the ages' or 'Kellogg's cereal packs from birth to the present' which can be found in the large Hall space. It's very interesting to see the evolution of a particular logo. 

You can find the Museum of Brands near Ladbroke Grove tube station in London, UK. 

Coming up: a selection of Sindy packaging through the ages.

 

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