Gift shops in museums used to be the last stop of each visit, where people would buy souvenirs for themselves and their friends. But what happened last month when the British Museum opened its online store on Chinese e-commerce website Tmall says otherwise.
The store has become so popular since its launch on July 1 that some of its items have already sold out. It’s even more interesting considering the fact that many of its customers in China have probably never even been to the museum before.
Perhaps French museum expert Diane Drubay made a good point when she said that gift shops have become “a point of entry to the museum”, as she told The New York Times. “Instead of being the last place people go after a visit, it can be the first.”
But you’re probably still wondering: What is it about museum gift shops that makes them so different?
Each museum product contains a small piece of history. For example, in the British Museum store there are different kinds of sticky tape printed with patterns inspired by the famous Rosetta Stone. Known as the “key to ancient Egyptian writing”, the stone was discovered in 1799, and contains an inscription that helped historians better understand some of the most mysterious Egyptian scripts. And in the gift shops of China’s Palace Museum, there are earphones inspired by the necklaces worn by ancient officials, which may also indicate the wearer’s position with the beads’ different materials and colors.
And with the design evolving over the years, museum products are no longer limited to exhibition catalogs to be put on the bookshelf or duplicates of famous paintings to be hung on the wall. They now mean items that we can put to use every day － glasses, jewelry, cushion covers － which means we’re able to not only “own” a piece of history, but also hold it in our hands, wear it on our neck, or even sleep on it.
这些年来随着设计的不断进步，博物馆商品也不再仅限于放在书架上的展览目录或是挂在墙上的名画复制品。它们如今都是我们每天会使用的物件 —— 玻璃杯、首饰、坐垫 —— 这意味着我们不光能“拥有”一段历史，还能将其握在掌心，戴在脖子上，甚至睡在上面。
Indeed, museum shops are no longer just about selling things. As US museum store consultant Geoff Walsky once told Gift Shop Magazine, “A great museum gift shop is an extension of the museum itself.”