A NOSTALGIC VISIT TO THE MUSEUM OF BRANDS, PACKAGING AND ADVERTISING.
By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall and Robert Opie.
The next time you are in London, be sure to visit the fascinating Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill. And if you’re thinking that a museum full of empty boxes and cartons couldn’t possibly be of interest, then you are in for a huge surprise.
This museum is one that impacts upon everyone – youngsters, parents, grandparents and great grandparents as it’s packed full of nostalgia for all ages. You’ll find more than 12,000 everyday items that we know so well and have probably forgotten about – until reminded. For example do you remember Spangles and Fry’s 5 Boys chocolate bars or Bar Six? And did you know that TyPhoo Tea, Bovril and Cadbury’s Bourn-vita have been around since Edwardian times?
As you meander slowly through this time tunnel of glass walled galleries, you’ll see that every display is a montage of boxes, tins, pots, jars, bottles, packets, posters, toys and technology – all cleverly designed to create the mood and atmosphere of the era, from the Victorians right through to present day. And regardless of your age, you are constantly stopped in your tracks at the sight of washing powders, toys, sweets, chocolates and countless other everyday items you remember from your childhood.
The museum is the life’s work of consumer historian, author and collector, Robert Opie who began planning for this museum when he was just a young boy. Like many children he began by collecting things such as stamps, coins and diecast toys. He then moved on to collecting more unusual items but then one Sunday while eating a packet of Munchies he decided to collect something that no one else was collecting – the wrappers that usually got thrown away.
“I felt that there has to be a reason and purpose for collecting,” said Robert when we visited his amazing museum last year. “A lot of people collect for themselves whereas I am totally the opposite. I’m always asking what can other people can get out of it? My reason for all this is so others can see and understand the social history of Great Britain.
“I deliberately started collecting sweet wrappers, cereal packets, coffee jars, polish tins and soap powder packets because I knew even then that I would be creating a museum of all these everyday items at some time in the future. In fact I was talking about the museum years before I built it. I knew that I wanted to tell the story of the consumer world.”
It’s fifty years since Robert began his quest to discover the story of our consumer history. Along the way he has written 20 lavishly illustrated books and most recently created a wonderfully nostalgic two-hour double-disc DVD entitled In Search of Our Throwaway History.
HOW IT BEGAN
The Museum of Brands evolved from Robert’s first exhibition of throwaway packaging back in 1975. This was called: The Pack Age: a century of wrapping it up. It was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum and was one of their most successful exhibitions at that time.
“Memories were sparked, items became talking points – even between strangers, as they shared their reminiscences,” Robert said. “This was the extraordinary phenomenon that hit me at that time. When people were reminded of their favourite childhood sweet or the washing powder their mother used to use, it acted like a trigger to unlock personal memories. We all form a powerful bond with brands during our lives, and yet the story of this consumer revolution has gone largely unrecorded and uncelebrated.”
Encouraged by the success of his exhibition Robert saw there was a need for a permanent museum. He finally achieved this dream in 1984 when he opened a museum in Gloucester – The Pack Age Revisited. Two years later he changed the name to The Museum of Advertising and Packaging and over the next 17 years, around 700,000 visitors walked through its doors. When the lease to the building ended, he moved the museum to London, and in 2005, The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising opened in Notting Hill.
Amazingly, the 12,500 items on display is only a small part of what he owns, but these are selected to tell a particular story. He added, “I’ve tried to put things into context and to show not just the niceties of life but the ordinary, everyday drudgery.”
The practicalities of these displays is an incredible achievement when you consider that the items are disposable, throwaway items, never meant to be kept once their contents had been used. Many are made from paper and cardboard and labels would have long ago peeled off cans, glass jars and bottles. Only through hard work, sheer determination and a passionate belief in the need to show the evolution of our consumer history through its throwaway packaging has Robert succeeded. However, he is aware that it’s an on-going story.
Talking about the practicalities of his work, Robert spoke of the difficulties in tracking down products; of following a brand’s development through the years and the time consuming acts of removing contents, cleaning the item, opening the pack so it doesn’t look as if its been opened, dating each item and arranging everything in context.
Robert concluded: “Millions of these products were manufactured, but they were made to be thrown away, so it’s difficult finding things that have managed to survive. There are a thousand things I am looking for and half of them I don’t know exist until I actually find them.”
A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY.
Sit back and enjoy the story of our consumer history with Robert Opie’s excellently produced and wonderfully nostalgic DVD, In Search of Our Throwaway History.
This two-hour double-disc DVD provides a colourful and fascinating insight into how and why branded products have changed the way we live. Written by Robert Opie and Jim Cogan, produced and directed by Simon J Frith, and presented by Robert Opie you’ll be reminded of some 3,500 colourful items, over a hundred shared memory moments from the great British public, and a stream of amazing facts which have taken Robert three years to put together as a filmed documentary – and 50 years to collect. The result is a compulsive nostalgic and emotional journey back to our childhood, and that of our parents and grandparents.
In Search of Our Throwaway History
A 2-hour 2-Disc Collector’s Edition.
RRP: £14.95 (inc VAT)
Available from www.amazon.co.uk
Or send a cheque with name and address to:
Throwaway Productions, PO Box 2206,
LEIGH-ON-SEA, SS9 0DQ
Robert Opie’s Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising,
2 Colville Mews, Lonsdale Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2AR.
Details: www.museumofbrands.com or call 020 7908 0880