Secrets of the stores

By Kathy Sklar

For many of our visitors, a trip to the museum is not complete without a souvenir purchased at our stores. We have three at the museum, and they’re full of merchandise that will appeal to families, our youngest visitor, our most intellectual—even the students on the tightest budget.

Lincoln-plate-7-4-2007_medMary Todd Lincoln was determined to show her high style despite the turmoil of the Civil War. She selected the Lincoln White House china shortly after her husband's inauguration.

But what really catches our visitors’ attention and moves them to buy something? Is it our beautiful Star-Spangled Banner book? Perhaps one of our thought-provoking history books or a beautifully illustrated children’s book? Maybe it is a t-shirt or a “genuine reproduction” of the Declaration of Independence?

We do sell a lot of those things, but in terms of quantity of items sold, it is the small and basic things that visitors love—our #1 seller is bottled water! People take care of their basic needs first. It is not easy being a tourist, and staying hydrated is important. Next is our solar-powered personalized key chain. With your name on one side and an image of the museum on the other, it is hard to think of a more perfect and personal souvenir. Personalization is a popular theme; custom dog tags and name mugs are also high on the “items sold” list.

Jackie-o-braceletEngagement bangle. The original was an engagement gift from John F. Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy liked it so much she wore it all her life.

Rounding out the best-sellers are a variety of post cards, freeze dried ice cream (just like what the astronauts eat), candy, magnets, and “all you can fill” bags of marbles.

All sales income—no matter how large or small—supports the chartered educational purposes and activities of the Smithsonian. That said, there is some unheralded merchandise that deserves a higher place on the “items sold” list. Here is an insider’s guide to what’s great.

First Ladies Jewelry: Many are inspired by the hard work and classic style of our First Ladies. The museum’s collection has the “real thing” but the store gives you a personal opportunity for glamour. Everyone looks chic in Jackie Kennedy’s sunglasses and elegant in her triple strand of pearls.

Presidential China: People have saved and collected pieces of china owned and used by the presidents ever since Martha Washington set the table. The store’s selection of presidential china is representative of the entire presidential china collection.

2catstudio_2089_1232746There are over 3.5 million square miles in the continental U.S. and catstudio squeezed them into 432 square hand embroidered inches.

Regional Cuisine Cook Books: Whether you want to know the real history of barbeque or the favorite recipes of the First Ladies, we have books that will give you much food for thought.

Catstudio Textiles: Embroidered shirts are just one example of our selection of home décor and apparel products made from a variety of fabrics and embroidery techniques.

Of course there is more in store. What is your favorite souvenir?

Kathy Sklar is the business program manager at the National Museum of American History.