Museum Shop Trail: Gifts with Added Culture!

By Max Houghton | 29 November 2001

Christmas chimes around once more, bringing with it definitive proof that there are two types of people: those who buy their Christmas presents in the January sales (my mother) and those who are visibly panicking come mid-December. If by now the thought of the heaving high street is rather less than inviting, why not choose to shop in an altogether more stimulating environment.

Spend your precious weekends taking a leisurely stroll around your favourite museum and solve your Christmas present problems all in one go. Prepare to be the most popular guest at the party when discerning dads, awkward aunts and fussy friends unwrap the gift of their dreams ...

Silk orchid design scarf from the Royal Botanic Gardens at KewChristmas chimes around once more, bringing with it definitive proof that there are two types of people: those who buy their Christmas presents in the January sales (my mother) and those who are visibly panicking come mid-December.

If by now the thought of the heaving high street is rather less than inviting, why not choose to shop in an altogether more stimulating environment.Spend your precious weekends taking a leisurely stroll around your favourite museum and solve your Christmas present problems all in one go.

Prepare to be the most popular guest at the party when discerning dads, awkward aunts and fussy friends unwrap the gift of their dreams ...

Put a sock in it! Or buy a wonderfully over-the-top satin stocking (£29) from the Courtauld Institute. Their Georgian themed exhibition should provide a wealth of inspiration, including replica jigsaws from 1787 and gloriously decadent champagne bottle cufflinks (£7.50)

Follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter and take a trip to Oxford and the Bodleian Library. Take home a little bit of the historic building's unique ambience with a model of Radcliffe Camera by Timothy Richards, or rifle through one of the best collections of choral CDs in the country - a must for music lovers. Left: A pocket (Radcliffe) camera? A snip at £175.

Lovers of a different kind might like to linger a while over a book of Surrealist Love Poems, £12.99, from Tate Online, or any Tate Shop. There's also a beautiful catalogue book (£29.99) which accompanies Tate Britain's Victorian Nudes exhibition if you like your Christmas reading to be spicy!

There's also a Surrealism paper weight at £19.00, below. Tate shops at each outpost of the organisation are fantastic for gifts of all kinds, especially postcards and posters.

If you're past the flirting stage and ready to give your heart, who better to declare your undying love than the King and Queen of Hearts (£19.95 each), delightful hand-made automata from Covent Garden¹s Cabaret Mechanical Theatre.

For cultural crockery with a historical feel try visiting Charleston, the Bloomsbury haven in Sussex.
Here are ceramics, furniture, textiles, clothes and books all cast from that idiosyncratic Bloomsbury mould.

Ladies who lunch might prefer a Macclesfield silk scarf, from the Macclesfield Silk Museum...

...or a flamboyant orchid design, also in silk, from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Without a doubt, the best present for culture vultures is the chance to own a signed work of art by English pop artist Peter Blake for just £30. Pallant House Gallery in Chichester has commissioned a limited edition of 2000 works on tin, called Bobby Rainbow by the man who created the famous album cover for Sergeant Pepper¹s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

English eccentrics with a penchant for pocket watches might welcome a timely gift from the Time and Tide shop at the National Maritime Museum.

Choose from a fine selection of timepieces from £60 - £700.

Back at the cutting edge, bright young things will appreciate a Radical Fashion glass choker, £125.00, a trendy tie-in with the V&A¹s current exhibition featuring works of the world¹s most influential designers.

Also worth a look is the Crafts Council shop at the V&A, which has commissioned a winter collection inspired by the soft colour palette of the season.

Right: The Snowfields brooch by Lindsay Bain and (above) Anash Waddington's Icicle bracelet are particularly eye-catching.

More unusual wrist decoration can be found at Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, in the shape of a Roman numeral bracelet.

Not surprisingly, at the home of the Rothschild Collection, there's a fabulous selection of the finest vintage wines - See left.

Alternatively, the Thomas Crapper collection of bathroom preparations (from £2.99) provides a diverting gift for those with a toilet humour (below.)

Still down there in the murky depths the tiny Flintham Museum in Nottinghamshire does a nice line in reproduction WWII loo roll. Moving on rather quickly to clean up our act, head straight to Bath, to the Pump Rooms and luxuriate at bathtime with their indulgent soaps.

Now you've washed your hands, you can eat your dinner - off reproduction Eric Ravilious 1950s ceramics if you like, but only if it¹s a special occasion. Available from the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. Pictured here is a real Ravilious design from the Potteries Museum.

William Morris fans might like to drink their tea from a mug decorated in one of the popular Morris designs - meanwhile you can find out more about the ubiquitous designer at the William Morris Gallery in east London.

More mugs can be found at the Geffrye Museum in London specially commissioned from contemporary designer Kate Malone.

There's lots than ceramics to browse through at the Geffrye shop: they specialise in very high quality art books so be prepared to carry home some heavy shopping!

A visit to the shop at the Freud Museum is an experience in itself: it occupies the former loggia to the house, and was designed by Freud¹s son Ernst, an architect. Best buys include a Brainy Beanie, £17, or...

... a Mouse Rug, £19, not your average computer accessory. It¹s a replica of a Qashqa'i rug used by Freud to cover his psychoanalytic couch.

If you enjoy board games, why not look at the finely carved Lewis chess pieces (£11.95 each), available from the Edinburgh shop of the National Museums of Scotland. The chess pieces are accurate replicas of C12th originals in the museum. The full set, including a board, costs £195.

More gifts for the intelligentsia include an Einstein mousemat (£7.99) from the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

Museum shops are also perfect places to buy children's presents; keeping both grown-ups and little horrors happy with their winning combination of education and fun.

Tate Modern has a great selection of highly creative art kits. Collage kit based on Matisse's The Snail, £ 12.99

For a more scientific approach try the Explore Centre@ Bristol. Four year olds and above will love the Discovery Car, which has precisely reproduced mechanical functions to show how a real car works (£25).

Literary kids might like to hear an original recording of Dylan Thomas's recollections of the yuletide of his youth in A Child's First Christmas in Wales, availble on tape or CD from the Dylan Thomas Boathouse Museum.

The National Gallery in London has great gifts for kids in their museum shop, which can also be accessed online. Here's a colourful Tiger toy box, £7.50.

There's also an amusing collection of Quentin Blake illustrations turned into placemats also at £7.50. The National Gallery Shops are open until 9pm each Wednesday evening until Christmas with a host of special events planned as well.

If only London's transport system was as good as its transport museum! Design fans will adore installing the original Johnston font (the tube typeface) onto their computer, £17.95 from the Museum Shop.

Fashionistas will approve of the skinny-fit Angel t-shirt (£9.99).

...and connoisseurs of good vehicle design will love this Routemaster bus model.

Finally, it's easy to dismiss diaries and calendars as dreary stocking fillers, but not so at the Arnolfini in Bristol. Choose the Adbusters calendar (£10) for anarchistic, anti-corporate fun.

Turn to the esoteric Redstone diary (£11.95) for a daily treat of colour, its uplifting theme for 2002.

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