Ever feel like you visit galleries and museums only to gaze slack-jawed at masterpieces beyond your means? A visit to the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising might have you thinking different.
Tucked away in a Notting Hill mews, just around the corner from the crowds of Portobello Road Market, this compact museum is based almost entirely on the collection of one man, consumer historian Robert Opie. Opie has been collecting everyday items for almost fifty years. His mission - to tell the story of Britain's consumer society, through the brands and products that it produced and consumed. The result is a dark corridor of delights that transports you from Victorian times all the way through to the present day. It's a treasure trove of tinned food, cigarettes, vintage posters, cleaning products, commemorative cereal boxes and original bottles of marmite (and mind your head on the genuine chopper bike on the way through).
Where other museums might lay artefacts on carefully-labelled shelves, this is one jam-packed case after another. And there is a real beauty in the old packaging - this is art fighting in the hardest market. The joy here, is in the details. Start with the gloriously literal advertising-speak of Victorian product designers: “Battle’s Vermin Killer: Mice eat it readily and die on the spot” Then see how advertising trends are simply reheated for a new generation - Edwardian jingoism fits perfectly in today’s provenance-obsessed consumer mind: “Eagle Safety Matches - Made by British Workers.”
Move on to the war years, where products and packaging offered a mix of opportunistic patriotism and thinly disguised rationing: “Bile Beans, for radiant health and a lovely figure” The fifties cases brings fabulous retro space-age gadgets and toys alongside sexist advice for women on ads for household appliances: “discuss it with your husband” Beyond the historical brands are smaller sections for packaging and branding, the latter boasting perhaps the most obscure museum exhibit we've seen: a case demonstrating the entire history of Dettol bottles. One for the real enthusiast, perhaps.
This London museum is charmingly low key, heavy on nostalgia - it's particularly strong on sweets and toys - collections we'll be exploring throughout June. The density of the collections would reward return visits - we only wish the entry price was a little more consumer-friendly!
By Tom Gray
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is at 2 Colville Mews, Notting Hill, within walking distance of Notting Hill Gate, Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park tube stations. Open Tuesday to Saturday: 10am to 6pm, Sunday 11am to 5pm. Admission £5.80, children £2, Concessions £3.50.