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#90 The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

November 23, 2011
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World War I ephemera - yes, that's a Kaiser piggybank. Not pictured but also in attendance: horrifyingly hilarious Edwardian misogyny in postcard form; Star Wars figures.

London’s best museum isn’t in Kensington. It’s hidden in a mews, east of Portobello Road. The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising started life as the personal collection of one Robert Opie, who vowed at an early age never to throw any packaging away ever again, and kept his word.

I’ll be frank: when we visited, we were expecting a mouldering town house with a dubious collection of tat and a suspicious smell of mackerel. What we got was very different. The Museum of Brands is a shiny, shiny place which houses its collection behind a single lengthy glass corridor, filled to bursting with endless diverting consumer goods from the last hundred years. Any one of these artfully curated displays would be enough to stop you in your tracks – and there are just so many of them, ranging from the rosy-cheeked proto-ads of the late Victorian era all the way to the glossy gewgaws of today’s information age.

It’s an endless shop window of packaging, advertising, and of course the products themselves, in all their utilitarian sternness and saucy vulgarity. Postcards, board games, gadgets, washing powder, commemorative mugs and all kinds of playthings and disposable rubbish clog these displays, most of it in eerily impeccable condition. At its heart, this is a consumer history of the 20th Century. You can see everything from world wars and Empire to obsessions with Radio, TV, feminism, robotics, futurism and superstardom through these bits and bobs. Various displays charting the visual evolution of certain brands come as a bonus at the end, if you’ve ever wondered how Tony the Tiger has changed his stripes through the years.

The really remarkable thing about the Museum of Brands is that every exhibit speaks a language we all know and understand. There’s something unexpectedly fascinating about the things you share your home with – and maybe something just a little unsettling about being surrounded by the half-forgotten detritus of our everyday lives. It’s the real mythology of our times, our wants and needs laid bare for us to examine. Get yourself there.

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