Please, don't get me wrong. I love browsing through museum gift stores and have found many wonderful items therein. And we all appreciate that funds generated through such sales support worthy institutions that are often strapped for cash.
No, what I'm talking about here are a very few specific choices, the sort of small, yet memorable lapses in taste we all make. For example, I now lead a 99% respectable life, but all anyone who knew me in art school will remember - and snicker over, forever - is my "vintage bowling shirts" phase.
In that gently-poking-fun spirit, and in no particular order, here are my Top 10 Picks for Bad Museum Merchandising Ideas of 2005.
The Paul Revere House, Boston, Massachusetts
You could give someone a tasteful silver plate reproduction to commemorate the Sons of Liberty, but it does not reside in the "Fun and Games" listings as the Paul Revere Bobblehead Doll does. While the kids enjoy seconds of fun with Paul you, too, can do the same, chuckling about all of that Colonial "taxation without representation" wackiness. Tee! Hee!
The Tower Museum, London
Imagine the thrill impressionable children will get out of assembling this darling little Executioner Moving Model. Lesser Executioner Moving Models might have left out the wee ax and chopping block, but this is quality stuff. Next up: the Anne Boleyn Pez dispenser.
The Houdini Historical Center, Appleton, Wisconsin
Who knew there were Houdini socks? Not I. After rapidly deliberating over the shadowy gray "handcuff" v. ethereal blue "key" motifs, the bigger question here is how soon one sock will mysteriously vanish in the dryer. Woo-ooo! It's MAGIC!!
The Freud Museum, London
This was a tough call. Would one single out the Freud finger puppet, or go with the "Shaky Relationship" wooden toy? After some careful debate, my advice is to scroll down the outmoded left frame to -- are you ready? -- Freudian Slippers. If you had no need of analysis before, the 3-D cartoon heads of Siggy staring maniacally from your feet ought to do the trick. Special kudos on the marketers' enticing use of tongue-red socks in the open-toed model's image.
Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, A City Near You
The King Tut Tissue Box Cover is a splendid touch of décor for your guest bath that no one using your facility could possibly overlook. Note that paper products conveniently *poof* out of his reproduced funerary mask's extreme upper lip in order to mop up your friends' private tears of silent, shaking, pitying mirth. Now, if only someone would take the initiative and manufacture a nice "Hatshepsut in a Hoop Skirt" crocheted toilet paper cozy.
The Liberace Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada
Who wouldn't want a life-sized stand-up of "Mr. Showmanship" himself? 2-D Lee is showing a disturbing amount of leg in his leather hot pants ensemble, complemented by the worst example of 1970s shoes since glass-heeled platform wedgies. One prays the "impressive baton" Cardboard Liberace is mentioned as "flaunting" in the item copy refers to the slender stick perched between his hands. I just … I just … wow. Words fail me.
The Liberty Bell Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Do you have a friend who opposes current U.S. policies at home and abroad, but is fearful of speaking out? A useful gift for him or her might be the deviously clever Uncle Sam Disguise Kit. Great for hours of oppositional fun behind a completely anonymous screen. Just slip on the elasticized white goatee and festively patriotic felt top hat, and it's a given that no one is going to (1) recognize or (2) be able to recall the face, voice or distinguishing physical features of the wearer. Nope. Not gonna notice them at all.
The National Gallery, London
Here we have a nice selection of hand-painted figurines straight out of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. My personal favorite, Ears with Knife, which is absolutely not a phallic symbol, comes courtesy of the right or "Hell" wing of the triptych. Sure to put a lump in the throat of the lucky recipient who cannot fail to notice its "Fry for eternity, you Godless sinner!" sentimental message.
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Thank goodness someone has found a way to market the "Mona Lisa" on a wristwatch, especially one with such a stylish plastique band. It's up to us now, people. Everyone! Buy one! Wear it! Let's synchronize and trot the globe. There are probably at least six people on the face of the earth who have never seen this painting, so publicize we must.
International UFO Museum and Research Center, Roswell, New Mexico
It's your basic "Spacecraft with Alien" Christmas tree ornament. If I have this straight, we've got what could be an extraterrestrial spaceship, topped by a Western seasonal decoration, dangling what might be an alien life form, slated to hang on an ancient pagan symbol of the Winter Solstice in order to celebrate Christian monotheism. Yep. Wait, no … maybe it's really just a weather balloon.