The Robert Opie Collection
Much of The Robert Opie Collection is currently housed at Opie's Museum of Memories
at Museum of
Brands, Packaging & Advertising in London. 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 material. 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 in Gloucester.
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Many people now recognise that such a wealth of historical reference provides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."