The Great Hall Christmas shop, as pictured in 1944
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A Century and a Half of Art-Inspired Gifts

Visitors to The Met have been shopping prints, postcards, sculpture reproductions, and other gifts since 1871

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 aheadArt 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!)

Information Desk, September 21, 1927

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.

In 1877, The Met appointed Tiffany & Co. to reproduce important jewelry pieces from the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot art; the original version of this bracelet copy was stolen from the Museum in 1887. Electrotype copy of a gold bracelet by Tiffany & Company. Cypriot. Gold, 4 in. diameter, inches (10.2 cm), 6th–5th century B.C. The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76 (74.51.3552)

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.

The Information and Sales Desk in the Great Hall, originally set up in 1910, as pictured in 1921.

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).

The Great Hall Christmas shop, as pictured in 1944

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.

Over the decades, our blue hippo William has proved irresistible to The Met’s reproduction team.

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.

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  1. Author icon JOSE P MENENDEZ

    While I lived in New York( 1961 until 1972) it was my pleasure to visit the MET every day I could. And Christmas time was my favorite because of the display in one of the halls of the Nativity Tree. I will take that great pleasure to the grave. As the years went by, I became very familiar with most of the exhibits. I was thrilled at the installation of the Temple of Dendur, the exhibit at the Costume Institute of the garments of the Manchus, The Cloisters- with its view of the Hudson during the Autumn foliage season…The MET has been my cathedral of culture. I will never forget its invaluable contribution to my pleasure and to the pulse it has created for the City. It is my wish to be able to reenter this site before my advancing age limits my ability to do so. I wish all the staff my best wishes during this period, and yearn to visit the site and see you all some time in the future.
    From a devout Metropolitan Museum fan – albeit a tad too far geographically by now to easily enjoy myself inside its structure and exceptional insuperable collections.
    Again to all those who have made and make this Site so special to me and many others, THANK YOU.

    Reply

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