The Robert Opie Collection
Much of The Robert Opie Collection is currently housed at Opie's
Museum of Memories at The Wigan Pier Experience.
Built up since 1963, The Collection now contains over 500,000
items which together tell the extraordinary story of Britain's
consumer society, its lifestyle and culture - dramatic changes
that have happened as a result of and since the Industrial Revolution.
History of The Collection
Initially, as a teenager, Robert Opie gathered together contemporary
packaging, everything from cereal boxes to cigarette packs. The
first item in the Collection was a Munchies pack bought by Robert
on Inverness railway station in 1963, when he was 16.
A few years later Robert's mission extended to understanding the
origins and development of brands and retailing ; he assembled
the evidence from thousands of surviving examples of bottles,
tins, labels, signs and many forms of promotional and advertising
By 1975 there was enough material for Robert to be invited to
stage a one-man show at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
This was entitled The Pack Age ; A Century of Wrapping It Up.
This temporary show was such a success with the public and the
media that it encouraged Robert to try to create a permanent Museum,
and this was achieved in 1984, with the setting up of the Museum
The Collection expanded rapidly when Robert decided to extend
it into further areas of social history - toys and games, travel
and transport, leisure and entertainment, comics, magazines and
newspapers - every facet of daily life, including souvenirs from
exhibitions and major events such as coronations. Ephemera such
as postcards, song sheets, posters and brochures show not only
the story of design and fashion but also the whole structure and
transitional nature of everyday life. The research Robert undertook
was similar to assembling a vast jigsaw where each tiny piece
contributes to the undersatnding of the wider picture. "
Some may consider so much apparent trivia to be so much rubbish,"
says Opie, "but it is amongst the fragments of daily living
that we are psychologically and socially rooted, and this is where
the impulses of our society can be found."
Many people now recognise that such a wealth of historical reference
provides intellectual stimulation, has social significance, gives
aesthetic pleasure, is an education to the young, provides the
evidence from which the student may learn of the past, and is
an excursion into nostalgia. Robert Opie concludes :"It is
difficult to understand why recognition for this part of our national
heritage cannot at the moment obtain the status it deserves. It
remains the poor relative alongside the established works that
fill our national galleries and museums. Our mission is still
to change this perception."