The importance of archives: the retail angle #ExploreArchives | Library and Archives

For Explore Your Archives Week, Rosie Gibbs, buyer at the Museum talks about how the collections within the Library and Archives provide inspiration for her, her team and external designers.

The retail buyers at the Museum are responsible for sourcing and developing the products on sale in the Museum’s shops and online store, and one of the first places we look for inspiration for new ranges is our Library and Archive collections.

Photo of the poster
Original WWI ‘The Fly Danger’ poster produced by the Museum
Photo showing retail products on a table featuring the poster design
The new range of products created using the poster

They are a fantastic source of design material and are incredibly important for retail products as they enable us to create ranges that help tell a story about the Museum and its collections. It is very important for us to be able to offer visitors exclusive gift products that remind them of their visit, and that they cannot buy anywhere else.

Some of our best-selling ranges allow the beauty of our paper specimens to speak for themselves, for example, a collection using William Smith’s Geological map of England and Wales, with part of Scotland (1815), where cropped sections of the map allow people to admire the stunning colours and detail of the original item.

Some ranges illuminate unusual stories about the Museum, for example, the First World War poster range that tells the story of the Museum’s role in the war effort; the Museum released a range of ‘Danger’ posters warning against pests in British camps and at home – twenty thousand posters on flies, mosquitoes and lice were printed and circulated from 1917.

Photo showing prints and books created using the archival artworks in our collections
A large range of images from the Library and Archives artwork collections is available to purchase in the shop

In addition we have a vast range of prints that highlight some of the most beautiful illustrations and watercolours from the artwork and printed collections, allowing customers to enjoy this wonderful content in the comfort of their own home.

Photo showing Rory holding a drawing within the Library
Rory researching the Waterhouse drawings in the reading room

We have also been lucky enough to collaborate with a number of British designers, who have come in and studied material and used this research to inspire exclusive gift ranges for the shops. We have just launched a fine bone china homeware range with London illustrator, Rory Dobner, that details the full front façade of the Museum building, painstakingly drawn in pen and ink to show all our stunning architectural highlights.

Rory spent many hours in the public reading room, studying some of the original blueprints and elevations for the front facade, as well as many of Alfred Waterhouse’s original drawings – including a terracotta panel with a dodo on it that inspired Rory to draw us an exclusive dodo illustration that has also been used on a range of high quality gift items.

Photo of the original sketch of the Dodo design for an inset in the Museum by Waterhouse
The dodo drawing by Alfred Waterhouse
Photo showing products featuring the Dodo on a table
The new range inspired by the architectural plans and drawings held in the Library and Archives

We have also ventured into the world of fashion through a collaboration with luxury label, Klements Ltd; Charlotte Allen, the designer behind the brand, spent days in the Museum photographing key specimens and studying original watercolours from the Archives, all of which can be seen in the collage of images in the final designs.

Everything from Alfred Waterhouse’s illustrations of terracotta sculptures, to mineral specimens, and even a bird or two from John James Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’, are visible in the prints, transforming Museum content into beautiful, wearable fashion pieces including genuine silk scarves, shift tops and a dress.

I love my job as a retail buyer here at the Museum, and we are incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful resource on site at South Kensington – it’s an absolute treat to take an hour (or two!) away from the desk and wander the bookshelves in the library, and there is something very special about seeing some of the beautiful pieces of art in our collection in their original glory up close – there is so much inspiring material for design that the hardest part of the job is choosing what we use!

The initial research behind a new product range is always the most exciting, and discovering new content in the paper collection for us to use that may not have been seen for many years, is honestly one of the best parts of the job, and a welcome oasis away from a busy office! I’m currently working with a designer on a new stationery range to launch for Spring 2016 that will use a collection of black and white etchings from a number of early 20th Century Zoology reference books, with a contemporary twist – so watch this space!

Written by Rosie Gibbs, Buyer, Natural History Museum.

Being a retail buyer means I am responsible for researching new commercial design themes, and sourcing and developing products with internal and external designers that are to be sold in the Natural History Museum shops and online store.