Much more rewarding come Christmas time than trawling the internet or trudging up and down the high street is a tranquil shopping trip to a museum. It is so seductive to combine some cultural enlightenment with a glorious array of historically inspired presents and – very often – a splendid restaurant.
Firstly, there’s the little-known Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which houses the books, antiquities, drawings (including 9,000 by Sir Robert Adam), casts and models that Soane acquired in his lifetime. It’s small but extraordinary, with a delightful shop. Look out for Romilly Saumarez Smith’s fascinating jewellery – grey pearls with a silver and diamond clasp (£1,800) and some charming 18ct gold, oxidised-silver and red-garnet earrings (£1,400). There are things for the home too, of which the most unusual are Glover & Smith’s pewter pieces – the Ammonite (£37, fourth picture) or Roman (£39) bowls and spoons would make interesting salt cellars.
Then, of course, there’s the V&A. Its shop gets bigger and better every time I visit and is always a good source of quirky jewellery. I’ve got my eye on a charming pink-coral brooch (£110) by Cilea and Sarah Cavender’s bold Cobra multistrand gold necklace (£175, third picture). But also noteworthy are Utopia & Utility’s lovely stacking vessels (from £225, examples first picture), some exclusive to the V&A, in hand-blown coloured glass with spun copper, brass or ceramic.
Everything the British Museum sells bears some relevance to its exhibits and it would be hard not to be charmed by something there. Most glorious in my view are the precise and sublime reproductions of its greatest treasures. I love, for example, the replica of the head of Ife (£1,600, second picture), taken from an original crafted in Nigeria between the 12th and 14th centuries, and a fine bronze sculpture (£400) inspired by a seventh-century helmet found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. Other gems include the Trianon Letters calligraphy set (£150) – a thing of beauty even if one never writes a single letter. The box is made from honey-coloured wood and is filled with the kind of implements used to sign the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. There are wonderful stocking fillers too – such as the small, round magnifying glasses (£10) with pretty cloisonné handles – and for children I especially like the complete set of Usborne’s brilliant History of Britain books (£30).
All these things are sold online for those who can’t get to the museums – but if you can, what a delightful way to do the Christmas shop.