How did the idea for the museum come about? Were you fascinated by a particular object/era and it grew organically from there?
In September 1963, I realised that no purposeful record was being kept of our everyday consumer history. I also understood how important this ever changing part of daily life was for most people.
By 1975 there was enough material to hold a major exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, ‘The Pack Age: a century of wrapping it up’. Following its success, the next step was to establish Britain’s first museum devoted to the history of advertising and packaging, which opened in Gloucester in 1984. Now known as the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, it moved to Notting Hill in 2005.
Do you have to resist the temptation of every ‘shiny, new item’ that comes to you in order to keep the collection ‘controlled’? I imagine that deciding what you will include can often be a heart wrenching process?
Still at school, I began to gather the contemporary evidence – sweet wrappers, cereal boxes, coffee jars, yoghurt cartons, soap powder packs – all this represented a way of living. As a student, the notion of a museum took hold; then in 1969, while working in market research, I discovered it would be possible to uncover earlier examples of our throwaway history, the tins, bottles, packets and promotional material that somehow had survived. And now the quest was on to puzzle together the growing pieces of a vast jigsaw.
Are there any objects in the collection that still prove emotionally stirring no matter how many times you see them? Is the emotional pull, as well as the historical, something that you intentionally seek out in an item?
I found myself surprised by how much history was physically represented in a lot of the products, particularly with products from the second world war and the images of industry on the Victorian products – is this a trend that you often find during periods of anxiety or development?
I read somewhere that Albert Einstein may have approved the patent for the Toblerone… is this true?
Toblerone story now known not to be true …. pity
Is there one object in the museum that has a particular story that you find beguiling, sad, interesting?
By the very nature of the collection, there are items that have a personal or emotional connection for me, as there will be for any of our visitors who remember, say, the 1960s or ‘70s. For others it is likely to be a brand new way of looking at history. This is one of the reasons to lay out the story chronologically and add the context from Victorian times through to the present day. The toys and games, fashion and design, entertainment and leisure, exhibitions and royal occasions for each era are all part of the big picture, and along with the world wars, it helps us to place ‘known’ history alongside the personal past of our parents and grandparents.
What five words would you use to describe your lovely museum?
Memorable, evocative, colourful, a revelation, a treasure trove.
If you could choose one item from each era to keep at home – what would they be?
Incidentally, I am still looking for a WWII can of Spam, a pre 1925 jar of Marmite and a Coco Pops box from when it was first launched in 1960.
As with most museums, only a small part is on display (which means new exhibitions keep appearing, such as one on radios currently being set up) so there is plenty at home, along with all the research material.
It is a museum that travels with you ‘through the ages’ but will never age ‘itself’ … is the plan to just keep letting it grows as time passes?
The use of historic reference enables comparisons with today; if you don’t save ‘today’ then you don’t have the comparison in the future – or the memories.
Pictorial advertisements often reflect current fashions, sayings, situations (ie war) and the latest technology such as telephones, motor cars or the radio. Packaging is far less affected, as it wants to maintain a consistent image for customer to recognise. During WWII packaging had to conform to restrictions of paper, card, tin and printing inks, and messages were added to packs explaining this, as well as asking the public to save paper for salvage or return empty bottles and jars. By the 1950s packs reflected society by offering prizes like holidays or TV sets, and the use of celebrities and TV characters became more widespread.Too many interesting stories in the displays which only hold up when spoken, not written – but what I find exciting is when a small group or a family goes around the Museum, and they recount their own personal stories as items on display will trigger off a memory moment.
Are there any thoughts that you would like to impart to any perspective customers?
This September, it is 50 years since I began to save the present, and to mark this moment a brand new DVD is launched, ‘In search of our Throwaway History’, which has itself taken three years to produce and contains over 3,500 items.
We love this museum and feel it’s great for all generations – have you been? if so, we would love to know what you thought.
* This is part of our ‘quirky London finds’ series that showcases great ways to spend your free time in London on one of our trips*