Gift-giving is a perfectly fine tradition, but it can get a little overwhelming and hardly a year goes by without at least one loved one stumping you. And so here, from me to you, is a holiday hack: Museum gift shops.
Perhaps the most turbo-charged instance is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has an expansive store with multiple outposts. Fine stationary, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, lavish silk scarves—just a real parade of thoughtful gifts for mom. There’s also the MoMA Design Store, which feels particularly promising for adult siblings and in-laws.
But there are numerous other, smaller institutions you could try. Personally, I will only feel that I am living my best life once I own the full set of these mugs based on Boucher’s The Four Seasons, painted for Madame de Pompadour and now at the Frick Museum. If you’ve got the cash, the Neue Galerie will sell you some beautiful art deco jewelry. (Even if you don’t, their cafe has very good cake.) There is a Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, which is presumably the best possible place to buy all the festive glassware you could ever want.
Broaden your search a bit to other cultural heritage institutions and you’ll find even more fun stuff. For instance, few things have delighted me more this year than learning that the New York Academy of Medicine Library has a Zazzle store and it is lovely. So many products featuring completely bananas 19th century advertisements, like this mug touting a “great blood purifier and kidney remedy.” With a cat!
Of course, not everybody lives in a city that’s got spare museums coming out its ears. However, there’s always the internet. You can order from museum gift shops all the way in the United Kingdom! Did you know that the British Library has a lovely shop? And who doesn’t need an £85.00 cushion featuring a polar bear print?
A less pricy alternative that still hits that housewares sweet spot: these placemats from the Sir John Soane’s Museum, “depicting the frontispiece to The Grave by Louis Schiavonetti, after William Blake. The Grave, a poem by the Scottish poet and minister Robert Blair, was first published in 1743 and was one of only three poems written by him. It was reprinted 49 times until 1798 and continued to be popular well into the 19th century.” Very metal! £25.00. Similarly rewarding in the thoughtfully weird vibes department is the Wellcome Collection. For instance:
And, FYI, the Cluny in Paris sells basically everything you could want with details from their famous medieval unicorn tapestries, while the V&A has never met an object it won’t cover in an arts and craft print. Perhaps your loved one would appreciate a tea cozy? (Closer to home you can get a William Morris garden tool set from the Morgan Library.)
Sure, you can make the argument that museum gift shops are crass and commercial, but once you’ve decided to exchange Christmas gifts, you might as well proceed under the principle of in for a penny, in for a pound. Find the quirkiest museum within driving distance and just seeing what they’ve got; bonus points if they’re perpetually poorly funded.
Anyway, free tip.