Shoppers should be alerted that New York museums, and the phone directory lists about 100 of them, are not for browsers only. Museum shops, which once offered only catalogues, posters and cards, have expanded stock to include high-quality reproductions, original handicrafts and distinctive, sometimes exclusive, designer gift items.
Museum shops offer buyers ample opportunity with goods that reflect treasured museum collections.
New York's greatest concentration of museums is on Fifth Avenue. At 82nd Street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (largest in the nation, fourth largest in the world) has a multilevel shop. Its bookshelves contain handsome exhibition catalogues, tomes on artists and schools of art, volumes on costumes and collectibles such as porcelain, glass, silver and furniture.
There are serious academic studies, books to grace coffee tables and those suggesting travel for art lovers as well as address books, post cards and an impressive array of greeting cards: Tiffany windows, Van Gogh in Arles, Winslow Homer watercolors, Calder animals (24 cards for $8-$10).
The gift gallery sells reproductions. A lovely letter opener and magnifier set (from a 17th-Century German carved ivory hunting knife) costs $75. There's art glass: baroque decanters and glasses (1820s New England design), a 6-inch tulip mug ($35), cobalt blue glass bottles (19th-Century American, $28 a pair), emerald green glass pitchers (19th-Century American, $17-$28), Tiffany stained-glass windows ($60-$70) and crystal candleholders (early 19th-Century New Jersey, $65 a pair).
Ceramic items include blue and white plates and bowls of Japanese, English, Italian and Chinese origin, as well as porcelain table service, including a remarkable Tobacco Leaf patterned tureen ($600). Silver drinking cups (from 17th-Century Danish and German pieces) cost $200, $80 in silver plate. An 18th-Century pewter sundial for the windowsill tells the time in areas near 42 degrees latitude, or makes a charming paperweight in the tropics ($45).
There's an Egyptian cat in solid bronze ($975) or an exact copy of the statue of the Goddess Selket (one guarding Tutankhamen's tomb) gilded in 23-carat gold (limited edition, $2,250), or a 19-inch Aphrodite cast of marble and polymer and hand-patinated ($225), or Japanese Netsuke ($20-$40).
Wearables include reproductions of jewelry from Egyptian, Greek Islamic and other collections, as well as scarfs, mufflers and neckties based on fabrics in museum collections.
The Guggenheim Museum (Fifth Avenue and 89th Street) shop is a small space, artistically stuffed with tasteful items, including one-of-a-kind artists' "blank books" of handmade paper and exquisite bindings ($10-$25). Picasso scarfs, from the Manno collection, come in cotton ($16) and hand-screened silk ($130), each in a bright-yellow gift bag. For card players: an Artdeck ($10) picturing works by 13 artists. There are greeting cards, posters and a rich selection of books, especially on post-1900 art and artists.
Nearby, at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, the Jewish Museum shop features fiction and nonfiction about anything related to Judaism. The shop sells ceremonial items, many handcrafted, including blue ceramic Shabbat and Pesach plates ($130), a silver-plated kiddush cup ($25), embroidered hallah covers ($20), jewelry and a selection of menorahs. Calendars, greeting cards and other items (including a Jewish marriage contract) are reproduced from museum collections.
The International Center for Photography (Fifth Avenue and 94th Street) has books on photographers and all aspects of photography, as well as accessories for the photographer, including handsome Cadic design portfolios ($15-$20). There are also original prints by unknown-but-good photographers and occasionally by recognized masters.
New York Skyline
Nine blocks uptown, at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, the Museum of the City of New York shop offers books that chronicle New York's changing skyline in the last 200 years or provide inside information on the history, culture and life style of the city. There are volumes on decorative arts and costume, children's books, as well as date books, calendars, posters, cards. This shop is especially good for children.
There are dolls: Peggy and Teddy Rag Dolls (Edwardian reproductions) cost $13 a pair in kit form or $23 each for completed dolls; Kitty Cucumber is a limited edition handmade porcelain kitten in doll's clothing that turns and sways as it plays Brahms' Lullaby ($50); a Jumping Jack puppet dances on a pull cord ($28) and paper dolls have authentic period costume changes ($15).