Today marks the 150th anniversary of The Met’s founding—a moment to reflect on all that the Museum has accomplished in a century and a half, and an occasion to look forward to all that lies ahead. Art has always informed The Met Store’s products and helped us meet our educational mission. Your purchases have supported The Met’s collection, study, conservation, and presentation of 5,000 years of art practically since the Museum’s founding.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art began producing revenue-generating reproductions of works in its collection soon after it first opened its doors. This helped to raise funds and fulfill the mission from our original 1870 Charter to be “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts.” We introduced etchings of European paintings in 1871, followed by then-state-of-the-art photographic prints, for archival reasons, with extra copies going on sale to fund the Museum’s operations. (At one of the Museum’s first locations, the Douglas Mansion on West 14th Street, reproductions were on sale in the very galleries in which the original paintings hung!)
The Museum also showed an early commitment to three-dimensional reproductions. In its first decades, The Met created and exhibited copies of famous sculptures from collections in Europe (even distributing them to other museums in the U.S.). This was a common practice for art museums of the time—before collections like our own became international attractions.
A flamboyant military officer who was to become The Met’s first director assembled the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot art, an early, major addition to The Met’s holdings, which we acquired by raising money through a public subscription. The exquisite antiquities provided ample subjects for reproduction—and the Museum’s trustees engaged a prominent Manhattan jewelry house to take on the job. Tiffany & Company’s 146 facsimiles of the Cypriot pieces won awards at the Paris Exposition of 1878, and were offered for sale in the company’s famous “Blue Book” for years.
As The Met’s size grew—both in square footage and number of visitors—space in the Great Hall devoted to postcards, publications, and other reproductions grew, too. Sales and Information Desks occupied several progressively larger footprints over the first half of the 20th century.
During this era, The Met found success in developing its own full-color Christmas cards, Advent calendars, and other holiday ephemera. (This tradition is still going strong.) In addition, the Museum’s mail-order business, originally launched in 1907, steadily grew in circulation. This program let customers around the country purchase prints and fine copies of works in the collection, including silver from the American Wing (reproduced by the storied Gorham Manufacturing Company in the early 1950s).
A certain miniature hippopotamus from Egypt was first seen in a full-color print in 1927, and quickly proved a hit for visitors from far and wide. Dubbed “William” by an English writer (who, having obtained one of the color reproductions, wrote an amusing essay on the figure in the journal Punch), the blue-faience hippo quickly became the unofficial mascot of The Met. Versions of the ancient work—in resin, glass, fabric, and other materials—remain a mainstay of The Met Store’s product line today.
Today, The Met Store continues the rich legacy of reproducing and adapting works from the Museum’s incomparable holdings. Whether you’re shopping for apparel and textiles, jewelry, home decor, stationery, or children’s items, every purchase you make will be supporting the Museum’s mission to engage, connect, inspire, and explore for years (and even centuries) to come.