Start a great story by giving this pendant, engraved with the very words that launch us into fairytales. "Once upon a time..." is engraved onto a torn page from a tiny silver book with brass accents suspended on an 18" babyball chain. It's a charming stocking filler for a little girl, for a woman who loves to read or someone who writes stories herself. It was inspired by the 2012 exhibition Shakespeare: Staging the World.
Talk about making a romantic statement for Christmas. This delicate sterling silver pendant, inspired by the museum's Shakespeare:Staging the World exhibition carries a passionate Shakespearean quotation from Romeo and Juliet - "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls for stony limits cannot hold love out". The declaration of romantic intention is finely engraved on a tiny silver column about an inch and a half long.
In Shakespeare's day, pearls suggested virtue and opulence. All contemporary portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, show her dripping in pearls. To accompany the Shakespeare:Staging the World exhibition, the British Museum commissioned this exclusive baroque pearl necklace from the Real Pearl Company. The design is copied from the "Portrait of an Unknown Lady" by George Gower, kept in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The pearls are 9mm freshwater cultured pearls, in an 18" string, with silver fittings and a presentation box.
People keep telling me that brooches are not in fashion - but then I see something as extravagantly gorgeous as this and I have to say, who cares about fashion. Made of 18ct gold-plated pewter and enamel with Swarovski crystals, it's inspired by a 300 year old pendant brooch bequeathed to the museum by Baron de Rothschild in 1898. The original jewel is made of gold, enamel and diamonds. In 1610, it was given by King James I to Thomas Lyte of Lytescary in Somerset (interesting name - do you suppose his house was haunted?). The British museum original opens to reveal a miniature portrait of the king on vellum. Learn more about the original Lyte Jewel.
Getting back to the fashion question, it would make quite a dramatic statement on a coat or wrap during the holiday season.
Fashion and decorative arts seem to have been at their peak in Shakespeare's day. As a result, the museum's 2012 Shakespeare exhibition, part of the International Shakespeare Festival, has inspired a feast of feminine doodads - jewelry, scarfs, charms and so forth, for the British Museum Christmas Shop.
Take the Bluebell pomander, for example. It's made of pewter and filled with bluebell scented potpourri to add fragrance to a drawer, a closet or a room. The pierced pewter ball, about two inches in diameter, is beautifully crafted in stylized bluebell flowers and supplied with a blue satin ribbon.
There are actually a whole series of these pomanders - Daisy, Lavender, Poppy and Rose - each one crafted in a stylized version of the flowers they represent and supplied with a suitably colored ribbon. You can see and buy all of them at the British Museum Christmas Shop.
I want one for every closet in my house (heavy hint).
The flowers featured on this lovely scarf are from 16th century watercolor studies of daffodils, marigolds and gillyflowers in the museum's collection. The studies, by Jacques Le Moyne, are included in an album of 50 watercolor drawings, circa 1585, that are considered to be the finest botanical studies of the 16th century. But enough of all this academic stuff - just look at it. It's so cheerfully pretty I want to own it.
The scarf is made of silk twill and measures about 35 inches square.
The Portland Vase is one of the great treasures of the British Museum, and probably the most famous carved glass cameo of antiquity. It is thought to be Roman, from about A.D. 5-25. It was made by a dip overlay method whereby the blue glass vessel was dipped into a crucible of white glass and the two blown together. The white glass was then carved away by a master craftsman, probably a gem cutter. At one point in its history, the vase was loaned to Josiah Wedgewood, who copied its scenes in his famous jasperware.
This sheerness of this scarf, with the design printed against a sapphire blue ground, captures the feeling of light through the dark blue glass of the original vase. It would make a nice present for someone who might be getting married soon or celebrating an anniversary. That's because the scenes depicted on the Portland vase are thought to relate love and marriage and the vase itself might have been a wedding gift. The scarf is about 14 inches by 60 inches.
Try visiting the Museum's online, 2012 Christmas Shop for more inspiration. There are hundreds of ideas - gifts in every price range, for men women and children.
You might also want to consider giving a UK-based or traveling friend an annual membership in the British Museum. In addition to supporting the museum, annual members receive free admission to all the museum's special exhibitions, three issues of a fascinating magazine, and five Members' Evenings when the museum can be explored after hours.