What is a souvenir? It helps to go to the origins of the word, from the French, for remembrance or memory. Most often today, the word “souvenir” is closely associated with objects which are collected or purchased, and brought back to one’s home as mementos or gifts, filled with meaning and connection to a person, a place or an occurrence. We are all souvenir-hunters, if the truth be known, and there are likely very few of us who haven’t engaged in the procurement and collection and gifting of souvenirs at one time or another.
Souvenirs may be as common-place as a shiny rock plucked dripping from some Montana river to a painting of a memorable boulevard in Paris, where the tourist enjoyed a wonderful visit, wishing to be later reminded of the sounds, scents and jostle of days and evenings well-spent. Most of us though would most readily associate the word souvenir with tschotchkes, the ultimately meaningless tees and trinkets found in souvenir shops--the world of t-shirts, caps, souvenir spoons, keychains, postcards, refrigerator magnets, and all manner of banal detritus, which have as their common elements cheap manufacture, low price points and mass appeal. So prevalent is this mass-produced avalanche of cloth, glass, wood and metal, that these are the bauble-bubbles that pop for us when we hear the word “souvenir.” There are many places in Montana to pick up such memories “on the cheap.”
There is also a dark side of souvenir-hunting, which would most notably include memorabilia of strife, war and occasional cruelty. Items stripped off conflict corpses, for example, would comprise everything from South American shrunken heads, scalps from Montana Indian wars, guns and helmets from World War II, to chunks of the Berlin Wall or heads of great beasts mounted on a study or tavern wall. Stuffed bear, elk and bighorn sheep of Montana are iconic, stuffed souvenirs of the hunter and collector.
Anything poignant with memory, it seems, may qualify as a souvenir. Occasionally the search for souvenir memorabilia approaches the incredible. The Elgin Marbles (also known as the Parthenon marbles) were stolen from Greece in 1801 and are now housed in the British Museum under protest by Greece. When it comes to souvenir hunting, it seems, there are no rules.
Souvenirs of quality are an entirely different species of keepsake, beautiful treasures made by artists and artisans local to the area in question, many of whom have special items to offer--handmade products which will be used by the purchaser and serve as tangible reminders of desirable events and places. In Montana and the American West, quality souvenir and gift items are almost impossible to define, as they are often one-of-a-kind, unique in design and construction. Montana souvenirs, for example, might be hand-cut from metal, stone, old barnwood or the teeth of elk. They might be richly valued, like Yogo sapphires or silver-smith earrings; unusual or odd like the paw-print of a grizzly bear or a hand-drawn map of Yellowstone Park; or simple and functional, as with pillows, comforters or furnishings. Montana, in particular, has a vast and recognizable collection of at-home artists and artisans who create for a living, hoping their creations will serve as gifts and souvenirs of the unique crafts of The Treasure State.
Quality souvenirs of the American West and Montana can be found at the Distinctly Montana Gift Shop, where the owners make every effort to pick and choose the best among Montana-made craft suitable for both gifting and for souvenir-hunting. Online souvenirs are available 24/7, and may be purchased and sent directly to your home or to a special friend or family member.
Souvenirs are the gift of memories. Montana creates memories.