Bring It Back: Souvenirs We Love


The origin of the word ‘souvenir’ is late 18th century, French, from souvenir ‘remember’, from Latin subvenire ‘occur to the mind’, but it has come to mean a keyring made in China. If you have the misfortune to walk around Leicester Square, once a perfectly pleasant and fairly unremarkable set of roads featuring cinemas and theatres, you’ll now find yourself barked at by Korean women trying to lure you into very bad restaurants, and souvenir shops selling police constable, red telephone boxes, guardsmen – all the things you don’t see anymore in London.

A friend of mine once made a fortune very cleverly. After taking a cruise, he realised that the ship’s entertainment consisted of unemployable 70s sexist comics, and replaced them with modern stand-ups. I can’t help thinking that London’s souvenir tat needs a similar shakeup; dump the key-rings, bottle-openers and fridge magnets, create some truly remarkable gifts. In the market at St James’s Piccadilly there’s a man who sells brass kaleidoscopes, and he does a roaring trade.

In Transylvania the usual glut of Chinoiserie existed, although I did find some nicer items – a leather-bound volume of Dracula in English (the only one! Missing a trick there, I feel), and if you have to own a snowglobe, go for this batglobe (you need Quicktime for this).

Generally the tat was of a high quality – hats, models, books – but no bats! What’s the best/worst souvenir you’ve ever bought?



9 comments on “Bring It Back: Souvenirs We Love”

  1. Jo W says:

    That batglobe – Brilliant! Want ! 🙂

  2. mike pitcher says:

    never mind souvenirs,I have just received my copy of Strange Tide yay Life is good

  3. davem says:

    That is a very cool globe 🙂

  4. John says:

    When I was a teen I received a fantastic souvenir gift from a maid who worked in a Florida hotel where we were staying. She had noticed my group of wooden animals set out on the table in our room and talked to my mother about them. My mother told her that on this trip I was starting to buy unusual wooden animals for a new collection. The maid then told my mom that she had once been a galley cook on an Australian merchant ship and she had something she might think would be a unique addition to my new collection. Later that day she returned and gave it to my mother when I was out on the beach. It was a polished wood kangaroo with a joey in her pouch that served as a salt and pepper shakers. The head of the momma came off for salt and the little joey was the pepper shaker. Apparently mother with joey kangaroos are mass produced as ceramic salt and pepper shakers, but I’ve never seen one in polished wood. I’m not at home or else I’d take a photo and attach it to this comment.

  5. Dave Skinner says:

    Oh, the Batglobe is superb. I wonder if anyone’s done one with Whitby Abbey inside it.

    (And if they haven’t. I wonder how much it costs to get one designed and a thousand made!)

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    Splendid, I remember when a relative came back from Scotland being given a tartan flat cap with large bobble and stuck in ginger hair as a kid, oh the 70’s tat.


  7. Steve says:

    The best was some squeaking dolphin toys i brought back from the dolphinarium at Varna for my goddaughter. She and her sister loved to play with them at 2am, much to their parents delight 😉

  8. Iain Triffitt says:

    USB DRIVES! I try to collect them when I come across them, but it’s only the British Museum who have done anything clever with them – I have a Bast and Mexican Day of the Dead Skull. I think they’re perfect souvenirs and more places should make them (though they need a clever shape, just putting a sticker on an ordinary USB drive, like the National Computer Museum is just not trying.)

  9. Helen Martin says:

    I have a little glass cylinder with red brick dust inside from Hamburg. I like to think some of my people walked over them when they left in the 1880’s. That’s not to say that all the other bits and bobs we brought back aren’t fun or useful but somehow that one grips me.

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