Behind a brightly coloured wall in Ladbroke Grove can be found a roller coaster ride on the nostalgia express down corridors of memories from everyone’s childhood.

This is the Museum of Brands, and the result of one man’s obsession with collecting the most mass-produced objects in the world, yet objects hardly anyone retains.

Packaging.

The museum has been around for a couple of decades, and at its heart is the original collection by consumer historian Robert Opie, which has been added to over the years, and is now laid out as a labyrinthine passageway inside the museum.

A visit is to walk down a corridor of time from the earliest beginnings of consumer goods to the very latest things you can find on the supermarket shelves. The world of the monochrome opens with Victorian posters and newspapers but turn a corner and walk into a multicoloured explosion as mass production makes colourful packaging cost-effective and brands have never looked back.

Mecano, Hornby, Mousetrap, Twister, Spirograph

There’s a huge amount to see in these long winding glass-lined corridors, and while there are chronological and topical themes, it’s really just a wander through time and design to see the things we remember.

The fascinating thing is how brands that are familiar today emerge, often with their core branding elements already locked in. There are changes over time, with the trends and fashions of the era, but often that brand of chocolate bar from the 1940s would still be recognisable today. I’d wager a good bet that if Sainsbury’s reintroduced their iconic 1960s/70s branding again it’d be hugely popular.

Wartime shortages show not so much a retreat as an evolution, and comparing WW1 to WW2 shows how society had changed between the wars. Less Imperialism and much more overt hatred of the enemy.

The Shitler’s Special Nasti Toilet Roll is however very funny.

Rowntree’s, Bournville, Fry’s, Cadbury’s, Bassett’s, Nestle’s

The chronology also shows up not just in the labels, but in the containers. From the early days of china and glass bottles, slowly to the rise of tins, and later the arrival of plastics. The containers are a whole language in themselves and you can almost date a product by the container without the label.

The link between popular TV shows and consumer goods is explored here with cases filled with many people’s favourite childhood toys — from Stingray to Dr Who and the Daleks, to the Avengers and Thunderbirds.

Branding gave TV companies the ability to reach out through the television screen and into the wallets of the people watching. Even seemingly unrelated games could have the magic dust of a celebrity endorsement on the box cover to push those sales.

The interesting thing about toys and games is that often the brand of the maker is not prominent. If you’re buying a Dalek game, it’s the licensed brand name that matters, not the maker of the game. Unlike say Airfix, where you know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s a classic example of the difference that branding can make – it can make the manufacturer famous, or bury them under someone else’s brand.

Weetabix, Kellogs, Oxo, Colman’s, Peek Frean, Bovril, Heinz, Bird’s

A series of cases look at how Royalty is coopted into selling souvenirs at royal events, mainly Jubilees. We’re used to monarchy being sold on tins and plates today, but these were appearing at a time when the idea of seeing the Monarch’s face was still a relatively new idea. It was only the rise of newspapers in Victorian times that put the picture of the monarch in people’s homes other than an expensively purchased painting for those who could afford one. Now the image of the King is being used to sell biscuits and tins of tea.

What could be more patriotic than dunking a rich tea biscuit into a milky cup of tea?

Picture Show, The Scout, Radio Times, Weldon’s Ladies Journal, Jackie

Obviously, there are loads of transport toys and products in here, from early model toys to the London Underground map as a board game. Early radio magazines, and later the television equivalents, and plenty of periodical magazines add character to each of the chronological cabinets.

Persil, Brillo, Vim, Husdon’s, Oakey’s, Bryant and May, Omo, Surf, Fairy

One case which absorbed more time for me than most people was devoted to Pip, Squeak and Wilfred — because earlier this year I wrote about Wilfred’s unlikely appearance on London Buses., so it was fascinating to see so much more of the comic strip turned into consumer goods to buy.

What lifts the gallery from simply cases full of packets, is that dotted all around are other contemporary objects of the eras, so look for very old record players, radios, gramophones and televisions. A fridge looks strange to younger visitors, and the Chopper bike brings back memories for others.

So, if you fancy a ride down the nostalgia express, pay a visit to the Museum of Brands in Ladbroke Grove.

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8 comments
  1. Brian Butterworth says:

    I was in the Scottish Whisky Experience in Edinburgh last week and their World Biggest Collection of Whisky bottles seemed like a poor version of the Museum of Brands.

    Museum of Brands is a great day out, especially if you were once fond of, say, Quatro!

  2. Tim Lewis says:

    I visited the museum many years ago when it was based at Gloucester Docks. What made me feel old was that I recalled a lot of the exhibits from my youth 🙁

    • Chris Rogers says:

      I was going to say that! The Opie collection used tu supply stuff to TV and films too

  3. Alex Mckenna says:

    The Emma Peel doll! Such fun. The REAL Avengers!

  4. Paul says:

    Mecano was the name of a 1980s Spanish pop group.

    I think that you are referring to Meccano.

    Very interesting article. Of everything that you have featured, I guess that the label on Heinz Tomato Soup is the least changed ?

    And doesn’t the Chopper bicycle bring back memories of an iconic but very impractical and heavy product ?

  5. John Fraser says:

    Tim, what makes me feel old is that most of these products came after my youth!

    JR

  6. Michael says:

    The next time I visit London this is going to be the first place I visit.

  7. Peter says:

    This is a little gem of a museum. We visited last year during a break in lockdown. The kids (7 and 10) at the time loved it too. Just as we were finishing an unassuming man approached us and it was Robert Opie himself who had been quietly watching visitors admire his exhibits. It was fascinating talking to him too.

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