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. When a museum hosts a temporary traveling exhibit, quite often a whole slew of souvenir items representing the event will fill the gift shop. You may find coffee table books, note cards, silk scarves, prints, jewelry, and more that represent the special exhibit.
For the best souvenir or a way to financially support your favorite cultural institution, pick up a unique item after exploring art for the day at the gift shop or a museum's online store.
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 carrying a book on medieval embroidery or a Victorian bear head bottle opener as a keepsake.
American Museum of Natural History
The gift shop at the American Museum of Natural History stocks everything from polished gems and gem polishers to stuffed dinosaurs, science kits, and models.
At this gift shop, you can even stock your bar with ceramic rocket decanters.
And for the kids, the ever-popular Astronaut Ice Cream Sandwich is sold at the gift shop and online.
The MoMA Design Store is like a museum where 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. A best seller for nearly 20 years is the sky umbrella, which will make you think of fine art and blue skies in the middle of a rainstorm.
The mission of this museum from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is "to exemplify the unique and curious nature of the museum by providing its guests with an array of items both reflective and exclusive to their visit."
Who doesn't want a plush of the Black Death microbe? A Cephalothoracopagus glow-in-the-dark t-shirt? Books on Military Surgery and Victorian post-mortem mourning photography? Marble skull coasters? Day of the dead corkscrews?
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.
Heading to northwest Spain is a little far for a quick visit, but you can still shop the Guggenheim Bilbao's gift shop online, especially if you want to dress like a modernist. Buy a toy replica of a Le Mans racer fire-engine red, a Retro Automatic Mondaine watch and a hand-painted Marta Larrañaga silk scarf (no two are alike).
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.
Art historian Berfu Durantas says "Unlike a typical art museum, they sell more than just postcards, prints and stationery 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."
There are only so many museum tchotchkes that one person needs, which is 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 is a great way to support the museum from afar.
The Museum of Arts & Design shop is as much of a destination as the museum itself. Set on the first floor, museum admission is not required to access the store. On sale are high quality, handmade works of artin wood, fiber and metal with a particularly strong emphasis on jewelry. 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.
The Getty makes it easy to find just the right item by breaking out multiple gift shops devoted to specific interests. For photography fans, the West Pavilion hosts frames, photo books, and specialty cameras. The Exhibition Pavillion Shop focuses on merchandise related to the rotating exhibitions currently on display. For the kids, there is a Children's Shop with activity kits, games, toys, and educational gear like a Vincent van Goghdrawing book, to help them learn while having fun.