Ho Ho Ho! It's Merry Christmas 2004 Museum Shopping

By Caroline Lewis
Shows a photo of a Christmas tree with lights on it and a table with nicely wrapped presents.

Socks from Aunty Beryl (musn't grumble); selection pack from Granddad (for the 27th year running); a beige scarf from your sister (ever seen me in beige?); Robbie Williams' biography from your parents (what did I do to deserve that?)... Picture courtesy the American Museum.

Avoid this worst case scenario by setting an example at Christmas with unusual, beautiful and cultural gifts! Sounds difficult? The 24 Hour Museum is here to help.

This trail brings you the funniest, craziest, most beautiful and even useful gifts from the UK's museums and galleries. Enjoy shopping this Christmas — browse a museum and get your stockings filled at the same time. What's more, many museum shops offer online or phone ordering, so if you're too tired after your cultural experience, just put your feet up and purchase gifts at your leisure.

Shows a photo of a gold-painted cherub tree decoration.

If you think you'll miss those late night shopping experiences, try going to a special late-night museum opening over the festive season where you can wrap up your shopping while munching on a mince pie — but don't let the complimentary mulled wine persuade you that the musical socks are a good idea! Picture courtesy the American Museum.

If your recipients will love you for something artsy and craftsy, there's plenty to choose from - just take a look at all these craft fairs going on (the perfect place to pick up some unique jewellery, hint hint):

Shows a photo of a cake with white icing and a snowman and reindeer decoration. Writing on it says Artists Christmas Fair.

The Artist's Christmas Fair at Portsmouth's Aspex Gallery on December 4, 12.00 - 16.00, should get you into the spirit of things, with unique handmade presents on sale alongside children's activities and de-stressing back rubs for those who are tired out already.

There will also be the opportunity to own an edible piece of art if you enter the prize draw in aid of the gallery's relocation. The prizes are cakes, homemade by renowned local baker Pam Rogers and decorated by 12 artists, on show in the gallery from November 26.

Shows a black and white photo of a silver brooch with spirals and two leaves.

If you miss that, travel up the road to ArtSway in Hampshire where there's a little gallery shop selling high quality crafts including jewellery, ceramics and textiles. This cute little number is called Twirling Leaves.

Moving up north, the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, is holding its fourteenth annual selling exhibition of craft throughout December, featuring quality ceramics and fine designer jewellery.

Shows a photo of a very decorative teapot. The lid has a crown shape around it and a bendy handle.

Cup of tea, anyone? How could you refuse if it was brewed in this beauty, created by Julia Roxburgh. Courtesy the Shipley Art Gallery.

Gifts from Scunthorpe's 20-21 Visual Arts Centre will also wow the discerning shopper. Throughout December there's a selling exhibition of jewellery, ceramics, glassware and silk scarves entitled Handmade. Look out for the stunning tiaras and the jewellery influenced by architecture. The gallery shop also stocks handmade bags, embroideries and pottery animals.

Shows a photo of a mottled blue plate.

Too nice to eat off: kiln-formed glass plate by Sarah Broadhead-Riall, courtesy 20-21 Visual Arts Centre.

Hartlepool Art Gallery will be offering the fruits of talented craftspeople to shoppers with taste throughout December, with prices from 50p to £100, while Belgrave Hall, Leicester and the Bowes Museum, Durham, will both be holding Victorian markets on December 12 and 19 respectively. The Victorian Christmas market at Caldicot Castle in Wales will be spiced up with characters from Dickens' Christmas Carol (December 11 and 12) and real reindeer (December 12 only)! Crich Tramway Village, Derbyshire, will host a traditional market that weekend, too.

Shows a photo of three ceramic containers, painted blue and brown.

Look at these for a lovely bunch of pots. Stun your recipients with your good taste! Picture courtesy Hartlepool Art Gallery.

Only a small selection of craft fairs and markets has been mentioned here, so check to see if your local museum or gallery is holding something. Anyway, enough of all the pretty things, we promised something different so read on for some unusual picks, starting with a few Victorian novelties.

Shows a photo of various novelty items.

Traditional matchbox with matches £1 (for the grown-up stocking), pewter thimble £4, police whistle £7, magnifying glass £20.

After some sniffing around, we found that the Sherlock Holmes Museum has a masterful range of goodies related to the Victorian investigator. Choose pocket money items that are sure to fetch a smile or break the bank to get the full sleuthing regalia. Lots of items available online, see the museum website.

Shows a photo of a man wearing a Sherlock Holmes outfit, standing outside 221b Baker Street. He has a pipe in his mouth.

The Inverness cape (made from 6 metres of genuine Harris tweed) and unmistakeable deerstalker will set you back £450 - but wouldn't it be worth it?

Another Victorian icon is immortalised in the shape of a porcelain candle extinguisher. The brilliant little Lady with the Lamp has been produced by the Bronte Porcelain Company of Malvern, for the Florence Nightingale Museum.

Shows a photo of a small ceramic figurine of Nightingale.

Should you give one of these historically accurate figurines as a Christmas present, you will be helping the museum's Save Athena campaign (as the inscription reads). Athena was Florence's pet owl, so dear to her that it often travelled in her pocket. However, the bird, stuffed 150 years ago, does not belong to the museum, which needs to raise £13,000 before Christmas to purchase it and other artefacts. See our story for more details.

Want to give a real piece of history? The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth is selling off the family copper! Limited edition items, made from copper, oak and other timber taken from the HMS Victory during various refits, are now on sale.

Shows a photo of a round tray with a wooden base and a certificate with the date 1805 on it.

HMS Victory Tray. It's survived the salty sea air, so it's sure to stand up to a splattering of tea.

Each piece comes with a certificate of provenance signed by the Commanding Officer of the ship. Prices range from £20 up to an incredible £30,000 - well, these aren't any ordinary bits of wood!

Shows a photo of two clocks, made from round pieces of wood.

HMS Victory Clocks: £40 and £45.

Some more pieces of the past are available at the Museum of Garden History shop. On sale are restored historic garden tools, replica 16th and 17th century terracotta watering pots, gardening books and other gifts to make garden lovers happy (including new tool sets).

Shows a photo of various antique garden tools.

Secateurs, shears, brass watering cans, wooden trugs and kitchen implements have been lovingly restored to full working order by Michael Ristic of Rustic Kitchen and Garden Things.

There will be two Christmas shopping evenings at the museum in the restored church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, on December 8 and 15 from 18.00 to 20.00.

Shows a photo of a terracotta jug with a decorative spot and lid.

This replica 17th century watering pot is modelled on an original displayed in the museum and handmade by Manor Architectural Ceramics. The decorative pot, £89.95, is fully functional.

The Courtauld Institute has mastered the art of the green-fingered gift with a range of garden seeds that will produce carpets of wildflowers reminiscent of a Monet or a Van Gogh.

Shows four pots, each with a picture of Monet's Vase of Flowers.

Choose from a seed shaker (£5.95), grow kit with stoneware planter (£6.95), or a foolproof biodegradable seed mat (£4.95 or £9.95).

Also available at the gallery are lots of Impressionist gifts guaranteed to impress, like this Music for the age of Impressionism CD featuring Debussy, Satie, Fauré and Massanet (£9.95), the Impressionist Art Cube with eight famous paintings (£4.95), trinket boxes (£10) and even a range of Cezanne-inspired jewellery.

Shows a lavender plant in a pot in the style of gothic architecture.

The National Trust is known for some of the prettiest gardens in Britain, and you can find plants to help replicate them on sale at its properties. It also offers this rather nifty Heritage Planter (£27.99), available in shops or online.

The NT's catalogue has certainly got a few surprises in store. What do you get for the gourmet who has everything? Silver mussel tongs, of course!

Shows a photo of a hand holding the silver tongs, which look like a mussel shell. They are being used to pick up a mussel from a bowl.

As the catalogue says: "Beautifully and accurately detailed, this spring-loaded mollusc keeps your fingers out of the mariniere when picking up the moules!" £49.99

Shows a photo of several soft skittles with animal heads and a multicoloured ball.

There are treats for the children, too. Padded animal skittles that tinkle when they fall over (there's a bell inside) are sure to be a winner (£17.99).

Shows a photo of a small green chair with the name Joshua printed on the back and a farm scene on the seat.

Who's been sitting in my chair? Personalised chair with hand-painted farm scene, £19.99.

Speaking of farms, the National Trust website has details of its farm shops, where you can pick up locally produced Christmas fare - stilton and homemade chestnut stuffing, perhaps? Castle Howard in York has also recently opened a farm and chocolate shop.

Shows a selection of mugs and eggcups and a small jug, each with a grey-green thistle pattern.

The National Trust for Scotland has some super things, too. Look out for Christmas character Murdo the Moose, special tartan scarves and classy Tain pottery. Pictured here is the Glenaldie range, with pieces priced between £8.99 and £10.99.

Stately gifts couldn't get much better than the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild wines from Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury.

Shows a photo of a bottle and a pudding with a printed wrapper resting in a straw-filled box.

Waddesdon Tokaji and handmade Christmas pudding £30.

Waddesdon has a convenient online ordering system, too. Packed in all that straw, these goodies are sure to arrive in good shape and get a nice welcome.

Shows two wine bottles in a straw-filled box.

Waddesdon Pauillac and St Emilion red wines in a straw-filled box £34. (Postage and packing £7.50)

After the celebrations, the drinking and the overeating, come the New Year resolutions. Help someone you know stay healthy with this unusual calendar from the Natural History Museum.

Shows a colourful picture of two children holding baskets of fruit and vegetables. There is a date on the picture.

Eat more fruit calendar, £19 from the Natural History Museum.

You won't find much fruit for sale at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, but you will find some juicy presents in its bookshop, which is oozing with great stuff on the contemporary culture front.

Shows a photo of a packet containing papers printed with woodpeckers.

Your friends' coffee tables would surely thank you for any of the new titles available on architecture, design, philosophy and film, and there are fantastic pocket and children's books in stock, too. This Woodpecker Accordion Book to Make looks like hours of fun.

Fred Tomaselli's Monsters of Paradise is the latest offering from the gallery's own publishing arm, containing a substantial collection of the New York artist's fabulous collaged paintings.

Shows a photo of small cardboard cutouts of characters from Dracula.

Miniature theatres in a box should liven up the family Christmas — choose from Teatro de Mexico (£15.99) or Edward Gorey's Dracula (£16.99) with all the ingredients for a three-act drama.

It's well worth going to a gallery and browsing the bookshop — you never know what gifts you might find other than calendars and stationery. For instance, Birmingham's Ikon Gallery shop is the city's only stockist of exclusive Lomographic cameras.

Shows a photo of a yellow camera with Pop written on it.

These quirky multi-lensed cameras take multiple shots in quick succession, producing a mini-film in each picture. (£18 - £130).

Ikon also stocks the latest novels by Birmingham's Tindal Street Press, including Birmingham Noir, Birmingham Nouveau and the booker nominated Astonishing Splashes of Colour.

The National Gallery shop is hosting some late-night shopping evenings on the theme of an Italian Christmas. Go on December 1 for an Italian cocktail to help you make your choice, or December 8 to catch a freshly signed copy of Alexander Sturgis' book Dan's Angel.

Shows a photo of two angel figurines in Renaissance style.

Will you indulge in one of these charming Raphael-inspired angel figurines at the National Gallery shop?

The following week (December 15), Leslie Forbes will be signing copies of her novel Waking Raphael and there will be a demonstration of water-mixable oil paints — now wouldn't that make a splash with the artist in the family?

Shows a photo of two decorative fabric stockings.

Maybe you could pop some of those paints in one of these gorgeous stockings from the National Gallery.

The shop at the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, has the thing everyone really wants for Christmas — toys for adults. Tobar tin toys (from £2.50) promise to delight, amuse and intrigue even the hardest-hearted of relative or curmudgeonliest of friend.

Shows a photo of a red tin robot. The package behind it says Mechanical Planet Robot.

Who could resist wind-up robots, squeaking caged birds or rocket merry-go rounds? Release someone's inner child with something from the Chapter shop.

Grampian Transport Museum also has some boy's toys that would go down rather well with old and young alike. To find Dinky and Corgi models, as well as highly original gifts like repro automobile brassware and decorated heavy horse shoes, get thee down to one of the special winter openings.

Shows a photo of the interior of the transport museum's shop. There is a woman holding a box which contains a red model sports car.

Shopping is fun when there's a museum involved. Take in some seasonal refreshments and enjoy a ride in the world's oldest surviving Sentinel steam lorry with original oil lamps on December 3, 4, 10 and 11 at Grampian Transport Museum.

Hang on there — all these toys for adults will make the children jealous! Christmas is a most special time of year for children (the lucky things don't have to spend every spare minute shopping) and museum shops are not only bursting with toys and educational games that will delight, but also with fun seasonal activities to occupy little ones during the holidays (and while you shop).

Christmas at the American Museum, in Claverton near Bath, sounds like a heavenly opportunity. The festivities, entitled Celestial Celebrations, will run up to December 15, with late night opening on Wednesdays (until 19.30).

Shows a photo of a gold painted crescent moon with a face surrounded by gold stars and ivy.

This year's seasonal decoration of the museum is inspired by the eighteenth century Age of Enlightenment — think science, astronomy, medical discoveries and botany.

Children can follow a special trail, while adults can enjoy the bazaar of beautiful things for decorating and giving (with free parking). If nothing takes your fancy from the Museums and Galleries range, you can't go wrong with something from luxury chocolatiers James' — just wrap it up quickly with some of the lovely paper on sale, before you're tempted.

Up in West Lothian, Almond Valley Heritage Centre is hosting a Christmas shopping evening on December 2, from 18.00 to 21.00. Parents are invited to have purchases gift wrapped while the bundles of joy are busy in the Christmas crafts corner, or sitting on Santa's knee.

Shows two shelves stacked with toys and novelties, inluding Russian dolls.

It might be a good idea to keep darlings away from the enticing shelves of the Almond Valley shop so as not to give away Santa's sources.

Colchester Museums are certainly no scrooges — visiting Colchester Castle for its Christmas open evening (December 15, from 16.30 to 20.00) is free, there's 10% off in the gift shop and Santa will be giving out presents!

For more ideas on how to keep the kids happy throughout the holidays, see our special feature (coming soon).

So, no excuses for boring presents, nor for not joining in festivities. This list is by no means exhaustive — original museum presents are far too numerous to mention! Go and find the perfect ones that will restore everyone's faith in Father Christmas.

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