Behind the Scenes: Mütter Museum
The Mütter Museum, located in Philadelphia, provides an opportunity for people interested in medicine to explore unique anatomical specimens, models and medical instruments in a 19th-century ‘cabinet museum’ setting.
“The museum helps the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body and to appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease,” Julia Jordan, director of retail operations and visitor engagement, detailed. “The museum hopes to provide a broad spectrum of the various ways the body can present itself and the history behind treatments of a varying degree.”
“The mission of the museum is advancing the cause of health while upholding the ideals and heritage of medicine,” and the gift shop reflects its mission by offering a range of products geared towards educating and also celebrating the human body, she detailed.
The floorplan of the gift shop is as unique as the museum itself, which offers 400 square feet and a variety of merchandise, including books, gifts, jewelry and more. “Anatomical earrings and socks with images of our ‘swallowed objects’ are definitely among our most unique products,” Jordan emphasized.
During the pandemic, the store altered its floorplan by removing some furniture to allow room for guests to move around better in the small space. “We now have timed-ticketing that allows for a limited number of guests in the museum at any given time and provides an opportunity for more ease of shopping for guests,” she described.
Within the curated mix of offerings, Jordan noted that the store tries to offer items to cover the variety of reasons people may visit the museum, whether they are interested in the history of medicine, 19th century Philadelphia, the unique nature of the collection, or our medicinal herb garden.
A Curated Product Mix
Customers enjoy the variety of books — some address medicinal treatments and diseases, others relate to the garden and the medicinal plants. Jordan explained that the store recently added sketchbooks, along with graphite pencils for individuals interested in anatomical drawing and its history.
Best-sellers include branded syringe pens, custom t-shirts and stickers. “Many of our custom and branded items remain high on the bestseller list, and books written by author Caitlin Doughty like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes are incredibly popular. We also have plush organs and microbes that are always a favorite among visitors,” she described.
Custom products are an important part of the store’s offerings, as they help tell the story of the museum after guests leave the cultural destination. Options include custom printed glassware, art supplies, pins, magnets and apparel.
“Many guests tend to enjoy the items that are branded, as everyone wants to showcase their visit to friends and family. We have done particularly well with t-shirts and hoodies that have custom designs that reflect a visitor’s experience in the museum,” she shared.
Jordan shared that she attends NY NOW, twice a year, and the annual Museum Store Association show and conference to procure the store’s products. She also utilizes social media to help source merchandise.
“We find that it is best to partner like-minded or themed items together. Typically special exhibits or concepts have an assortment of merchandise that connects the overall theme and so it is best to show those together,” Jordan said. “Additionally, making sure that items are displayed in two areas of the store, switching up the height that they are displayed or the manner in which they are displayed, ensures that every guest will see all that we have to offer.”
The Dr. Mütter Merry Emporium
The Dr. Mütter Merry Emporium is an annual market that is held each winter. The market offers curated items from local artisans. Unfortunately in 2020, the second annual event was canceled, but it did return in 2021 with much success. Jordan shared that she anticipates that the event will return again this year.
“Local artisans apply for a table and we utilize our two large lecture halls within the building to house those who are accepted. The area is transformed into a winter wonderland and guests are able to have their picture taken with the Plague Doctor,” she detailed.
Permanent & Temporary Exhibits
The Mütter Museum offers a range of permanent and temporary exhibits. To learn more about the museum’s podcasts, visit muttermuseum.org/stories/podcasts. To read more about fascinating stories on the human body, visit muttermuseum.org/stories. The Mütter Museum also offers a range of videos on its website that share information on interesting unique topics, such as “When Beer Was Safer Than Water” and “Moving the Iron Lung.”
The goal of “helping visitors understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body and appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease” is met each day at this cultural destination. Even after the visit, or for individuals who are unable to travel to Philadelphia, the museum offers resources and products for sale on its website.
In 1863, the Mütter Museum opened its doors in its first location. Today, the museum resides at the current home of The College of Physicians at 19 South 22nd Street, but it still maintains the original display cases, and it is a very popular destination for people visiting and living in the Philadelphia area.