Robert Opie has made a career out of collecting the kind of items that the rest of Britain commonly throws away. It is something of irony then that people will travel for many miles to see those self-same items displayed in the display cases of his museum. Opie is the founder of the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising – one of London’s must see museums – and his collection is quite astounding.
It all began in 1963 when Opie was just a wide eyed sixteen year old. Finding all the local shops closed while on an overnight stay in Inverness, the young would be collector sought refreshment from a tiny shop in the main railway station.
Fifty years later and he can still recall exactly what he ate, a packet of ginger nuts and a tube of munchies. Staring at the brightly coloured chocolate wrapper, Opie suddenly had a revelation. No one had documented the history of brands and packaging, he thought. Opie put the wrapper in his pocket and resolved to rectify the situation. It was the start of a 53 year passion.
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, is the result. Opie is still on the hunt for collectibles fifty years later. He regularly tours local shops looking for interesting examples of packaging.
Opie insists that he is not an obsessed collector but rather a social historian. After a couple of hours touring his incredible museum it is hard to disagree.
The museum tells the story of some of Britain’s best loved brands. The likes of Heinz, Oxo, Bird’s Eye, Persil, Mars and Smarties crowd the exhibit cases of the museum and the museum provides a series of ‘oh wow’ nostalgia moments for visitors.
The museum is not solely dedicated to brands and packaging however. Appliances, toys and fashion all feature and this gives the collection a more rounded feeling.
Opie has now amassed over 12,000 exhibits for his collection. This has meant that the collection has had to move on several occasions.
The museum began life in a warehouse in Gloucester Docks in 1984 before moving to larger premises in Notting Hill, London in 2005. However as the collection kept on growing during this period, the pressure to find a larger home began to increase again and finally in 2015 the museum moved to its current location at the London Lighthouse building, also in Notting Hill.
Over this time the museum has built up a reputation for the depth and variety of its collection, the knowledge of its staff and the excellence of its visitor experience.
The museum of Brands is continuously rated as one of London’s must see museums with the collection regularly featuring in Trip Advisor’s top twenty museums. A quick browse of some of the reviews on the site gives you a good idea of how well received Opie and his collection has been.
The founder of the museum is only too aware of the relevance of the collection to visitors. “It’s a portal into your own past,” he says recalling in particular the joy of older visitors when they come across a product which they recognise from their youth. “People immediately make the link between these objects and the key moments in their own lives. Very few places can do that.”
The collecting gene seems to have been passed down to Opie by his parents, Peter and Iona Opie. The pair were keen collectors of children’s books and literature, amassing such a vast collection that it is now housed in the Bodleian library in Oxford.
Opie confesses that in his family, collecting was not just encouraged but expected. He goes on to explain how his father encouraged him to annotate and catalogue his possessions when he a child.
One imagines that given his achievements with the museum, Opie’s parents would be incredibly proud of their son’s efforts.
If you are looking for more attractions in Notting Hill, click the following link: https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/notting-hill-area-guide
- More details about the Museum of Brands including opening times and admission prices is available here.
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- Find more great small museums and galleries in London with City Countdown’s definitive guide to The Best Small Museums in London.