Lights Out At The Opie Collection

By Jon Pratty | 17 October 2001
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The Robert Opie Collection of historic advertising and packaging is closing for good at the end of October.

Based in a historic waterside wharehouse at Gloucester Docks, the collection of 500,000 items of historic packaging and advertising memorabilia has been open for visitors for the last 17 years.

Now the building is being redeveloped, the museum's temporary lease has run out, and the doors are closing for good on October 31.

A number of museums and venues have offered space to house some of the collection.

"Finding another space is only part of the problem," said Robert Opie (left.)

"In the last six months we've had all sorts of people coming in saying 'come to this, that or the other place.' But we've basically got to find the money to set up and sustain an entirely new museum on a new site. That's the big problem."

A lot of lottery money, according to Mr Opie, now goes to the big national museums and new attractions: existing museums are feeling the pinch as a result.

Part of the problem, said Opie, is a lack of visitor numbers: "The museum-going public has grown about 17% in the last ten years, but the number of museums has roughly doubled. As a consequence audience figures on the whole are down."

Opie, who has spent 30 years putting together the collection, is now calling for a radical re-appraisal of the collection of design and advertising material.

"Britain is absolutely stuffed with historic commercial artwork - a wonderful heritage - and yet you can't se it anywhere. Maybe once in 50 years you might see it in the V&A in a one-off display. But this work in Britain is highly regarded around the world."

"The Opie Collection is very important evidence of both our commercial and design History," said Loyd Grossman, chairman of the trustees of the 24 Hour Museum and of the Campaign for Museums.

"It's about design and commercial history. It's strange that no-one is able to fund the collection."

There should be some sort of nationally funded network to support design heritage, thinks Mr Opie. "Design and commercial artworks should be represented in national collections, both historically and in a contemporary fashion. Lots of money seems to be spent each year on design awards but nothing on establishing a historical perspective on design matters."

Pledges of real financial assistance are what is needed right now if the museum is to re-open: "There will be key people out there who can help us. All we need to switch on the lights again are perhaps two key sponsors or donors willing to put in around £50,000 each. But we are concerned to get the right kind of backing, and we are closely looking at moving to charitable status."

Whatever happens in the short term to the Robert Opie Collection, the day-to-day work goes on: "Even a trip to the supermarket is a voyage of discovery for me," said Opie. "New products or pack designs are dated, stored and kept! Even at home there's very little in the way of recycling as such - it all gets put in the museum!"

The Robert Opie Collection (closing October 31) is at The Albert Wharehouse, Gloucester Docks, Gloucester, GL1 2EH. Tel (+44) 01452 302309