London’s museum shops are really raising their game. The wonderful V&A has had a terrific shop for years, and still excels; but it’s the small museums that are catching the eye.
For innovative and unique things — specially commissioned, or collectables relating to an ongoing exhibition — most London museums and galleries have a shop offering well designed, very well-priced homeware you won’t find elsewhere.
From specially commissioned ceramics alongside the Jewish Museum’s current show of Edmund de Waal, to Rodin-inspired sculpture and porcelain at the Courtauld Gallery shop, to complement its beautiful show of Rodin watercolours; to amusing nautical things at the National Maritime museum; casts based on its wondrous collection at the Soane Museum, or lovely historic and mid-century modern items at the Geffrye museum of the home, it’s all here. If you can’t find a Christmas present worth having among this lot, even Lapland won’t help you...
1. The Geffrye Museum: Shoreditch, E2
The Geffrye, Museum of the Home in East London (www.geffrye-museum.org.uk) has some specially designed things, many picking up on the stylish mid-century modern look. A dinky enamel measuring jug (£14.95) and Modern Home set of side plates (£22.50) are great. Wild & Wolf’s range of chopping boards with wonky handles, hand-cut from London plane trees, are a perfect gift and very desirable (£40-£60 depending on size). Totally adorable, a box of hand-made wooden biscuits that look edible in a cute box for £12.50, or a Pavane plant pot, 18cms tall, for £24.95.
2. Sir John Soane's Museum: Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A
The Soane Museum shop (www.soane.org) always has wayward and wonderful treats reflecting its original quirky 18th century owner, Sir John Soane. Reproductions of casts in his famous collection include a knockout River God Mask cast by Haddestone – it’s big, 585cms high, and well priced at £343. But there’s also a cute lion, 21cms long for £29. Corinthian bookends teach you something for £150 a pair. It also does Ionic. The Fanny the Dog tea set is sweet, and unique. Fanny was Mrs Soane’s beloved dog. The teapot costs £75.
3. Jewish Museum: Camden, NW1
Top picks at the little-known Jewish Museum in Camden (www.jewishmuseum.org.uk) — the only one that doesn’t yet have a shop website, so drop in, it’s well worth a visit — include really beautiful handmade ceramics by David Cohen, who does raku plates from £350-£700; Antonia Salmon’s work (£180-£310), including a magical curvy Dervish bowl, and Janet Haig’s mysterious organic looking vases with lovely glazes. Its handy sized trays, one with an old sepia print on it (£18), are great, and there’s plenty more.
4. The Courtauld Gallery: Somerset House, Strand, WC2R
The Courtauld Gallery Shop under the portico at Somerset House on the Strand, from where you can also watch the open-air skating in the courtyard, is full of treats, often more than are on the website (www.courtauldshop.com). To accompany its exhibition of Rodin and Dance there’s a unique porcelain vase hand-painted by Mia Sarosi (£35), inspired by the exhibition. Hugely collectable, and fun, is a very saucy cup and saucer with a fine Rodin watercolour of a nude coyly concealed under the cup (£25). Other dance-inspired delights include beautifully tinted resins cast from Edgar Degas’s original sculptures of dancers, for £295-£345. Or choose a print from its 40,000-strong collection, from £25-£35.
5. The National Maritime Museum: Greenwich, SE10
The National Maritime Museum (www.shop.rmg.co.uk) is one of the trio of museums at Greenwich. A fabulous building and a great museum. It’s easy to get to on Jubilee or Overground. It’s made a special effort with nautical offerings. Great for the homeworker - a wooden desk tidy for just £40. Monkey-fist door stop puts a traditional nautical knot to excellent use — £40. Raise a smile by screwing an “admiral” plaque to someone’s bedroom door (£10), or get the sweet Nelson tree decoration, for £10. If you are on a budget, there are nice red enamel mugs, just the thing for your sailor’s rum - just a fiver.