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Product Development & Licensing at the Smithsonian Libraries

Although you may be familiar with the gift shop note cards and calendars bearing Smithsonian Libraries images, did you know that you can buy a leather chair inspired by National Museum of American History trade literature or a rug based on designs found in the Dibner Library?  By working with the Smithsonian Enterprises’ Product Development and Licensing (PD&L) team, the Libraries has had the opportunity to collaborate with vendors on a wide variety of product lines – including fireplace accessories from Pilgrim Hearth and Lenox figurines.

How does an image become a product?

PD&L develops relationships with vendors that they feel will uphold the integrity of the Smithsonian brand and often invites product designers to visit the Institution, giving them an opportunity to find further inspiration and explore the hidden treasures in our collections. For Libraries material, this could mean poring over a table full of trade literature or viewing rare botanical titles in the Cullman Library. The designers come armed with digital cameras to quickly capture illustrations that catch the eye. Designers then use these images to create items that replicate their patterns and features or are just based on their general style. There are multiple review stages in product design, where both PD&L and the contributing unit have the opportunity to approve the designs, accompanying description and even promotional materials. For all products based on material found in SIL’s collection, the Libraries receive a portion of the profits from their sale.

What makes a good product?

Often, vendors will approach the Smithsonian with a product line already in mind. They will consider what is commercially viable and how the line will work with their existing products. Product Development and Licensing pursues products that showcase the Smithsonian's unique collections in a quality product.  According to Carol Leblanc, Director of New Business Development and Licensing for Smithsonian Business Ventures, the main goal is to ensure that “every product, in its’ own way, strives to offer the public another means of learning in an enjoyable, meaningful and authentic way; enhances the value of the Smithsonian name, and provides an opportunity to significantly increase the financial resources of the Smithsonian Institution.” 

Stay tuned – in the coming weeks we will feature more products inspired by Libraries collections! —Erin Clements Rushing


Journal des dames et des modes
Journal des dames et des modes
, 1914. Plate 168.

"Belle de l'Opera" figure. Courtesy of Lenox.

One Comment

  1. Geezaloo. How much would a National Museum of American History leather chair even cost, lol. Must be several thousand or something. I wonder how comfortable such a thing would be, though…

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