Yesterday Senator Bernie Sanders met with the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Brent D. Glass, to discuss the souvenirs sold in the museum’s gift shop. Back in January the Senator sent a letter to the Smithsonian complaining that none of the souvenirs sold there were made in the USA, including little busts of the presidents which were made in China.
As much as I lament the disappearance of American industry, when it comes to souvenirs, imports have pretty much been the norm at our gift shops for many years. Wherever trinkets could be made the cheapest, that’s where our prized souvenirs originate. Before the World Wars, cheap ceramics and glasswares emblazoned with decals depicting tourist attractions from Maine to California, were imported from Germany. After WWII, production shifted to Japan, and in the 1960s, to Hong Kong. Today, we expect to find our miniature Washington Monuments made in China.
Interestingly, one popular souvenir, the Floaty Pen, is a product of Denmark. The company is Eskesen, which is still in business. Today, it is getting harder to find souvenir shops that carry floaty pens, and when you do find them, they are often made in China. Sorry, I want my floaties to be made in Denmark.
When I was a child, the words “Made in Japan” essentially meant “Cheap Crap” and that really is what kitschy souvenirs are. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem with souvenirs is that the unchecked collecting of them leads to a home that looks like a gift shop.
Again, it is all a matter of taste. I’ll admit to having a cup of floaty pens, and a small shelf of snow globes, but for the most part I’ve found that the best souvenirs are items from an area that are indicative of the place. Buy sweetwater baskets in Charleston, SC, buy silver jewelry and pottery in the US Southwest, and buy Gucci in Florence, Italy.
Bought in the market in Santa Fe, New Mexico