What is a “Good” Souvenir & Who Started This Craze?

London Souvenir Stall

I’m a sucker for souvenirs, what about you?  Travelling definitely wouldn’t be the same without them. I know it’s crazy, filling up my luggage with mementos I don’t need, but I just gotta have them.   It’s reassuring that I’m not alone.  Souvenir shops are all over the place.  You can see them everywhere!   You’ve seen them at attractions all over the world.  The gift shop is positioned to ensure you walk through before the exiting the attraction.  Disney is a great example of this. No escape, you have to pass through their gift shops to exit an area.   Clearly holiday makers are relaxed and in spending mode.   It’s not so much what we purchase, but the memory attached to it.

There’s a pecking order in souvenirs. For some it’s a status symbol; been there done that. For others it’s meaningful – a keepsake to treasure.  Serious collectors are intent on finding that certain object, like the Eskesen floating view pen, to place in their huge collections.  There’s also the fun side – buying gifts, often tacky, for friends or family to share the experience.  Understanding why you buy certain gifts when your on holiday will help you choose the right souvenirs, gifts and novelties to place in your shops.

Who Started all this souvenir business anyway?

Well, there is evidence that the European Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land from as early as the 12th century arrived back bearing badges. These were attached

Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh

to clothing and usually depicted a saint.  Maybe a forerunner of today’s T-Shirts and probably just like lapel pins or hat tacs you see today – These items said, look at me,  I’ve been travelling (and you haven’t).  After America was found, Sir Walter Raleigh arrived back from the New World with tobacco he received from the natives there.   What about Lord Thomas Elgin who in the early 19th century souvenir-ed (stole or looted) rare antiquities from the Parthenon in Greece.  You can see those little gems the Elgin Marbles, in the British Museum today.  They even stock souvenir replicas of them. (oh look at that)  souvenirs of a souvenir.


Queen Jubilee mug
Queen Jubilee mug


In 1851 the first world fair was held at the Crystal Palace in London. This exhibition introduced souvenirs as we know them today – but perhaps more tasteful. Mugs, plates, toys, games ceramics, and paperweights all commemorate the occasion.  Royal events equal big tickets in the keepsake stakes. In 1887 special issue coins marked the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. By 1952 when Queen Elizabeth was crowned there were mugs, biscuit tins, key holders, brooches, stamps.  I don’t think I need to mention the impact Princess Diana had on the memento industry. Today, of course, in London, it’s William and Kate.

What about today?

All this being said, and the history is really to extensive to go on with here, we want to point out that there are thousands of different ideas on

Custom Products from Fairway Manufacturing Company
Custom Products from Fairway Manufacturing Company

what souvenirs are.  If you travel to Australia you want Opal allsorts, iron ore jewelry, koala toothbrushes, hats with dangling corks, two-up games and G’day Mate tote bags.  Now if you go to The USA you could end up in any of the 51 states there.  What gifts will you find in a particular state?  A lot!  Each state has different historic value.  You have the original 13 colonies, the Midwest, the south the rocky mountain region and the west coast.  It’s what makes the United States souvenir business so great.  You can get virtually anything there.  For souvenir dealers, you want to make sure you have souvenirs that are important for your region.  You can be in the Great Smoky Mountains and find all kinds of great hillbilly souvenirs.  It’s important history for that region.  You can go to a cave in the area and find cave artifacts, items to do with hillbillies (as that is historic in the area) and the state that the Great Smoky Mountains (it’s in more then one state) is located in and items with a US flag on them.  The US is so vast that is has more unique places then anywhere else.  You can even find Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco in shops.  When you’re looking for gifts for your shops, remember these things:

  • People
  • Places
  • Events
  • History
  • Location

Have a Google for souvenirs and see what you get. The National Museum of Funeral History in Texas might win the gong as most enterprising, Tombstone Cufflinks,

Cremation T-shirt, and Coffin Ring boxes. Their slogan – ‘Any day above ground is a good one.’  Hollywood, as expected, is big on souvenirs and so is New York City.  The range of souvenirs from these cities can be extensive, while other cities will have only a small bit of tat to buy.   In Tennessee you will find fancy Elvis style sunglasses or a replica of his driving licence, or number plate? Elvis features on numerous items, as popular in death as in life.  Yes, you can buy Elvis schwag online, but it’s just not the same as a visit to Graceland.  When going through the souvenir shops, you look for something that will keep that experience in mind.  When you purchase that souvenir after the experience, it means so much more to people.

I know souvenirs are not all made alike. But when I look around at my house, on my shelves, on the T-Shirts I wear, and other items I use daily like key chains or fridge magnets,  I’m transported back to the places I’ve been.  I can feel the climate, sense the smells, taste the food, remember the fun, the people, the whole experience.  Souvenirs are a great reminder of a past event.  When purchasing items for your shop, try to think of things that would make you feel this way.  Nine times out of ten, your customers feel the same way.  These items will make great souvenirs and gifts for your shops.

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