Elf on the (Museum Store) Shelf

Created by Ken Mayes

Created by Ken Mayes

Museum gift shops have the best gift ideas!

Whether it’s for a birthday, baby shower, or the holidays, museum gift shops are my go-to source for unique gift ideas (and to be totally honest, there’s usually something in it for me too – Santa’s watching right?). Why, you ask? With an estimated 17,500 museums in the United States there’s almost an unlimited variety of shops to choose from, focusing on the arts, science, and history, to whimsy, creativity, and “play” museums. The world is your oyster (seriously).  And, a (growing) number of these institutions have merchandise available online. Your purchase doesn’t only make you a totally rad gift-giver, just as importantly, it supports the museum you purchased it from. So, take it from me: be totally rad, and take care of your holiday shopping at a museum.

To whet your appetite, I have included 12 gift idea items selected from museums around the country below. A few were suggested to me via Twitter, but the list also includes recommendations by my peers and yours truly.

Artist Palette Cutting Board: $36.00
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Houston, TX
Whether it’s for you or for a host or hostess, this clever cutting board contains all the elements of an art form. Hand-crafted in New England of yellow birch with exotic wood accent dots. All of the colors are the natural colors of the wood, no dye or stain is used.

Barbie Shoe Bracelet by Sara Gallo: $54.95
deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
Lincoln, MA
Wear your nostalgia on your wrist! This collection of purple Barbie shoes looks like a fashion-forward sculptural bracelet until closer inspection reveals a strand of your favorite accessories from afternoons with your best girlfriends –your Barbies!

Buy a Moleskin notebook, Help a Special Collection: 2 for $20
University of Scranton
Scranton, PA
Using digitized images from their Zaner-Bloser Penmanship Collection, Scranton University printed a set of limited edition, custom Moleskine® notebooks. All proceeds from sales of the notebooks will go towards the preservation and digitization of the Zaner-Bloser Collection.

City Square Off: $22.00
National Building Museum
Washington, D.C.
Go head-to-head against your opponent in this tactical game of city planning. Draw a shape card and then simultaneously try to fit the matching tile into your city grids. Plot wisely, as you must always have space to play your next piece. Build your city without going over the limits and consider yourself the master planner!

Decimal Equivalents Canvas Bag: $24.00
Museum of Useful Things
Boston & Cambridge, MA
Made to our specifications, this Museum of Useful Things original tote is a new arrival. Featuring a cross-body strap and handy handles, this bag is big enough for all the essentials and features an interior pocket to keep small items close at hand. Printed with a vintage tool catalog decimal equivalents chart to carry your belongings in style.

Dino Chess: $12.95
Indianapolis Children’s Museum
Indianapolis, IN
This unique chess set features fossil heads of some dinosaur favorites. Comes with an instruction booklet.

Embellished Dresses Note Cards: $24.99
Chicago History Museum
Chicago, IL
In delightfully witty illustrations, Ruben Toledo, artist, fashion chronicler, critic, and contributor to The Costume Institute exhibitions, has captured the essence of some of fashion’s ground-breaking creations, from the little black dress to the “New Look” to hot pants.

How Machines Work: $19.95
National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Explore the science behind simple machines and mechanisms–from levers, gears, and pulleys to ratchets, cams and cranks. Then build your very own machines and discover for yourself how they work. A must for budding engineers, this unique interactive book contains all you need to build 12 working models.

Mens Shuttle Split T-shirt: $14.95
U.S. Space and Rocket Center
Huntsville, AL 35805
This traditional t-shirt is a fun shuttle shirt split down the middle with space phrases that any space buff would be proud to wear. Also includes the NASA logo with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center printed on the bottom. Available in grey or blue.

Rosie Lunchbox: $12.99
Rosie the Riveter World War II / Home Front National Park
Richmond, CA
This Rosie the Riveter Lunchbox is perfect for packing lunch or treasures! A full sized lunchbox @ 7.6″ x 6″ x 3.75″ (not merely a ‘snackbox’) with a BLUE background. “Rosie” image on both the front and back ‘lids’ and six WWII “Women on the Home front” poster images are printed on side and bottom.

Singing Frog: $8.00
Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, AZ
Imagine the sweet sounds of little frogs in a tropical swamp! These charming wooden frog instruments are played by scraping the wooden rod along the ridges on the back with a beater, producing sounds similar to the calls of frogs.

Women Who Rock Exhibit T-shirt: $25.99
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland, Ohio
The special exhibition Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, and Power highlight the best, the illustrious — and sometimes lesser-known women — who moved rock and roll music and American culture forward. Celebrate the innovative women and the exhibit that honors them with this official Hall of Fame t-shirt. Available only through the Rock Hall for a limited time.

So, are you ready to go shopping? Not interested in in the items above or interested in broadening your gift giving ideas even more? Well, there’s plenty more where that came from! You can also support your local (or favorite) museum by purchasing a membership as a holiday gift (or if scrooge is more your style – yourself!).

Have additional suggestions? Share them in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Elf on the (Museum Store) Shelf

  1. My favs are the handcrafted items you can sometimes find at state or county historical societies! Bringing home a ‘piece of the place’ and supporting a local artisan always enriches my experience!

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