Museum of brands

Robert Opie began collecting when he was a young boy. “The first thing I remember saving was at the age of three, when I found a round stone and when I showed my mother she said it was a fossilised sea urchin.” After Opie (pic above) had gone down the well-trodden route of stamp collecting he realised that it would more interesting to find a subject that others were not already studying, but one that also had a point and a purpose to it. One day, when he happened to be in Scotland, there in front of him was the answer – it was the packaging that we were all throwing away. That eureka moment came when Opie was 16, he had just bought a pack of Munchies and a packet of McVitie & Prices ginger nuts from a railway vending machine. Here was a story that was part of everyone’s lives and one that would constantly evolve, becoming a social history of Britain.

Fortunately for Opie, he grew up in a family of collectors, where every room in the house was lined with books. His father was interested in the origins of children’s books, the collection becoming so important that it is now part of the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
All this has resulted in The Museum of Brands, right on our doorstep in Lancaster Road. And it is brilliantly presented and exciting to look at. First, you walk through a time tunnel, from the Victorian era to the present day. The examples of earlier packaging started one day in 1969 when he went to look at the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens which had been drained for the first time since the 1930s. Amongst the mud he saw some milk bottles and realised that it might be possible to discover how our consumer society had evolved. So off he went to Portobello Road to see if he could find old packs and advertising.  By 1975 he had acquired enough material to have his own exhibition at the V&A, called ‘The Pack Age’.

Apart from a variety of visitors young and old and from all over the world, there is conference space which marketing agencies and companies hire and the museum also gets hired out for evening events. Opie has noticed how grandparents with young children are often reminded of stories as they go round the museum, and it is a great way of understanding history. Opie likes the John Betjeman quote: “Once you understand the past, the confusion of the present becomes clearer.” museumofbrands

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