Did you know that in the United States, the gift shop is usually the biggest revenue driver for a museum? It's no longer a museum secret that the gift shop is among the best ways to financially support your favorite cultural institution. In the past, museum gift shops usually just sold guidebooks, tee shirts or mugs. Today, museums commission artists to make unique jewelry, toys and even furniture inspired by the museum's collection. Some of the more popular museum shops like the Victoria & Albert Museum or MoMA Design Store have robust websites where you can shop the full selection of items from your computer.
Since the holiday shopping season is almost here, consider shopping at your local museum to find truly unique gifts. Here's a list of the best museum gift shops with a curated selection of some of the most unique and interesting things you can buy at each one.
01 of 10
The queen of all museum gift shops is at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. With a wide range of objects inspired by the museum's vast collection, it's possible to find walk out of the V&A dressed head to toe in a new clothes. Medieval embroidery kit? They've got it. Victorian bear head bottle opener? Of course! The V&A's shop is a trove of the unexpected. Best of all, they have an online shop, but don't look unless you feel like getting lost for an hour.
02 of 10
The gift shop at the American Museum of Natural History may be the first store where I actually bought something with my allowance money. There are polished gems and gem polishers, stuffed dinosaurs, science kits, models, but best of all, the astronaut ice cream sandwich. Every New York area elementary school student gets to go on a school field trip and nothing is more intriguing than the combination of space travel and freeze dried sugar.
03 of 10
The MoMA Design Store is like a museum in which you can shop. The store is stocked with pieces that relate to the collection in some way or have a form or function that embody the very best design principles. There's an entire section for office furniture, another for dining and even sofa and chairs for your living room.
Among my favorite things are the the extremely useful grating bucket, the buttercup knife (just because it makes my morning toast ritual so much more beautiful) and of course, the sky umbrella, a bestseller for nearly 20 years, which makes you think of fine art and blue skies in the middle of a rain storm.
04 of 10
Francis Cratil, owner of Philadelphia restaurants Brigantessa and Le Virtù says there's no better gift shop than the one at the Mutter Museum.
"Books, T-shirts, etc all celebrating unusual medical conditions, etc. Who doesn't want a plush of the Black Death microbe? A Cephalothorapagus glow-in-the-dark t-shirt? Books on Military Surgery and Victorian post-mortem mourning photography? Marble skull coasters? Day of the dead cork screws?"
Lucky for us this museum for the morbidly curious also has its weird wares available online including their plush collection which includes a snuggly e-coli and bird flu doll.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Sure, a rainy corny of northwest Spain is a little far off the beaten path, but you can still shop the Guggenheim Bilbao's gift shop online, especially if you want to dress like a modernist. Buy a felt cap that looks straight out of 1920s Barcelona, a Retro Automatic Mondaine watch and a hand painted Marta Larrañaga silk scarf. (No two are alike.)
06 of 10
If you love Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the painting that some call New York's Mona Lisa, be prepared to swoon. The Design Shop has an entire section devoted to Adele inspired gifts including an Egyptian eye brooch, a tube of lipstick that matches the shade shown on Adele's lips in the painting and a leather passport case stamped with Wiener Werkstätte design motifs.
07 of 10
Art historian Berfu Durantas says "Unlike a typical art museum, they sell more than just postcards, prints and stationary with images from famous works of art. The merchandise is eclectic and ranges from architectural models to reproduction period plates to Morgan tea! There's also a focus on many book-themed items reflecting Morgan's extensive book collection in addition to the art. It's the perfect merging of art and books."
08 of 10
Let's face it. There are only so many museum tchochkes that one person needs. That's why art historian Joseph Kopta says, "Predictable and boring, but the gift shop is Dumbarton Oaks is great because the bookstore has BOOKS." Indeed they have an impressive collection of books that span all the fields of study reflected in their collection. Their entire book catalog is online and offer a great way to support the museum from afar.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Right in the middle of Manhattan, the shop at the Museum of Arts & Design is as much of a destination as the museum itself. Set right on the first floor, museum admission is not required to access the shop. On sale are high quality, handmade works of art in wood, fiber and metal with a particularly strong emphasis on jewelry. Of course there are the requisite museum gift shop items like tote bags and key chains, but the real reason to visit the shop at MAD is to find truly unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that are themselves works of art.
10 of 10
California based interior designer Nicole Cavanaugh says, "The gift shop at the Getty Center in LA has an amazing interactive gifts for kids to build their curiosity for art and art history as well as a special exhibition based shop that sells items related to the exhibits which change so frequently. I once read that The Getty only displays about 25% of its collection at one time so this must be a massive undertaking to coordinate gifts and specialty items associated with what is out, much less what is on loan from other museums and collections."