Been There: The Charm of Souvenirs

Museum History


Communications staff
December 22, 2017

The Art Institute has been a destination for Chicago visitors since we opened our doors in 1893. For the past 124 years, the museum has offered memorable experiences to millions from all over the world, prompting those so inclined to commemorate the occasion with a souvenir or keepsake. Often whimsical, and at times even kitschy, these keepsake objects were sold in gift shops throughout the city to help visitors recall memories of art-filled adventures in our historic galleries, highlighting the Art Institute’s cultural significance to Chicago tourists everywhere.


This limited edition Jim Beam decanter (above), produced in 1972, highlights one of our world-famous lions. On the back (see below), the decanter advertised the Magnificent Mile and the now-shuttered Zimmerman Liquors, which opened the day after Prohibition ended and was the first store in Chicago to sell imported wines.


Mass-produced in Japan in the 1920s, the ceramic piece below could be found in souvenir shops around the world, part of a series of Japanese keepsakes featuring significant local attractions from tourist destinations. This image of the museum was possibly pulled from a postcard.


In addition to sugar at teatime, this set of teaspoons no doubt served to recall sweet memories had visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.


And whether it’s teatime or five o’clock somewhere, a commemorative teaspoon set or flask—like all keepsakes—allow the owner to hold their fondest memories in hand.


  • Museum History


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