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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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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."
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:
Beyond El Dorado: Power and gold in ancient Colombia at the British Museum
Facing the Modern - The Portrait in Vienna at the National Gallery