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Robert Opie and the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

By Edited Feb 1, 2016 2 4

The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, located in London's fashionable Notting Hill, is the brainchild of consumer historian Robert Opie. Mr Opie, author of several popular books about British consumersim, is a passionate collector of items relating to history and nostalgia from the Victoria era to the present day.

Robert Opie
Credit: MBPA

The Origins of the Museum

Robert Opie started collecting as a teenager. At first it was stamps and stones, as boys do, but then he began to concentrate on promotional and advertising materials, including bottles, tins and labels. The first item in his collection was a Munchies pack that he bought in 1963 at Inverness railway station. As the collection grew, so did his thirst for knowledge: he wanted to understanding the development of brands, packaging and retailing. By 1975 the collection was so comprehensive that London's Victoria & Albert Museum invited Robert to hold a one-show. Entitled The Pack Age: A Century of Wrapping It Up, the show was so successful that Robert established his permanent museum. 

The Museum features toys and games, comics, music, magazines and newspapers, as well as items relating to travel and transport, leisure and entertainment. Posters relating to the Suffragette movement is absolutely fascinating.

Credit: Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Frances Spiegel Interviewed Robert Opie for Infobarrel

Frances Spiegel, writing for Infobarrel, went to the Museum to meet with Robert Opie.  

FS: Does collecting run in the family?

RO: Yes, my father collected books about children's life. The collection's now at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It was the best collection of children's books in private hands so that was the kind of atmosphere I grew up in.

My parents also wrote children's literature. They wrote things like the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, and a number of books on nursery rhymes and street games and the language of school children and things like that.

A Life-long Passion

FS: When did you start collecting things?

RO. When I was small I picked up coins, stones and stamps and all the things that children do collect but I wanted to find something different. I started to collect contemporary packaging when I was still at school.

It’s much more exciting to make one’s own discovery, shall we say. I started to collect contemporary packaging when I was still at school. When I came to London I had a job in market research and then I suddenly became aware that it was possible to find earlier things and from that moment onwards I was trying to track the whole story from beginning to end of the consumer revolution and that’s what I have essentially spent the last 35 years doing.

FS: So your teenage hobby has become a way of life.

RO: My hobby has become a life-long passion. There are so many different parts that it's like having five hundred different collections, all connected and joined together.


Tins on Display
Credit: Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
Sweet Memories
Amazon Price: $102.69 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 1, 2016)
Plenty of all time favourites in this book.

A Million-piece Jigsaw

FS: So, how many individual collections would you say you have?

RO: I don’t see them as individual collections - they are one entity. So, it's like putting a jigsaw together. There are potentially a million items in this jigsaw and I've got half. It's selecting the items that fit together so the museum is laid out so that every part connects to the next part. It's only when you get enough pieces together that you can actually see the whole picture.


MacKintosh's Milky Bar Kid
Credit: Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Favourite Items

FS: Do you have any favourite items?

RO: When people ask me about my favourite items I tell them I have thousands of favourite items, like the MacKintosh's Milky Bar Kid, or the Perrier Adverts. The favourite item can often be the latest item that I've got that fits into that jigsaw and shows that part of the story. You know when you're doing a jigsaw, you get that block, and that block, and when you find the bit that connects those two blocks together. You have bit of a wow. That's come together nicely. It's very much like that, but on a massive scale.

Victorian Scrapbook
Amazon Price: $27.95 $16.12 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 1, 2016)
A fascinating journey through Victorian advertising and packaging.
Perrier Adverts
Credit: Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Rare Items - the Oxo Packet

FS: Do you have a wish list of rare items?

RO: I'm always on the search for rare items. There are thousands of rare items. How do you qualify rarity? Take Oxo tins, for example. People save tins, they are useful items. But to find an Oxo packet is much more difficult because nobody saves packets. I'd really like a can of wartime Spam. Maybe someone will find one at the back of a cupboard somewhere and send it to me.

Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Feb 1, 2016)
This is a light-hearted, but factual, investigation of the history of consumerism.

Plans for the Future

FS: I know you have a huge archive of items that you can't display. Do you have any plans to expand the museum and put more items on show?

RO: The museum currently displays items from the Victorian era onwards but our collection goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans. They had pots and containers, toys and so on. I have a collection from that era because it shows that consumer products as we know them today have been around for a very long time. One day they will go on display as well. At the moment I'm just telling the recent story. Some of these stories do go back further than one thinks. 

A Final Word from Robert Opie

"Some may consider so much apparent trivia to be so much rubbish but it is amongst the fragments of daily living that we are psychologically and socially rooted, and this is where the impulses of our society can be found."[1]

If you'd like to visit the museum full details of all exhibitions and special events can be found on their website.

Art Galleries and Museums on Infobarrel

Infobarrel has plenty of interesting articles about events and exhibitions at London's art galleries and museums including: 

Visit the Museum at 2 Colville Mews Lonsdale Road Notting Hill London W11 2AR

The Art of the Label
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Feb 1, 2016)
Robert Opie looks at the art of the label - items we tend to take for granted. So the next time you pick up a product from a supermarket shelf, take a minute or two to look at the label. You might be pleasantly surprised!


Dec 29, 2013 7:03am
This is fascinating and interesting. I keep alot of bottles after using the contents and I resell it.
Thanks for sharing your interview with Robert Opie. Wishing you a happy new year in advance.
Dec 30, 2013 12:54am
Moronkee - thanks for reading the article. Happy New Year to you too.
You say, "I keep a lot of bottles after using the contents and I resell it.". That sounds really interesting - have you written any articles about it?
Jan 9, 2014 5:20am
What a GREAT (and fun) read! And it's also one of the better features I've read in awhile. Big thumb, +1'd.
Jan 9, 2014 7:14am
Vic - thanks so much for reading and for such nice comments.
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  1. Robert Opie "Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising." Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. 26 /12/2013 <Web >

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