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Bradford Kelleher, 87; turned museum gift shop into model

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Associated Press / November 7, 2007

NEW YORK - Bradford Kelleher, a museum merchandising pioneer whose marketing ideas for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's first full-blown gift shop became a model for nonprofit institutions around the world, has died. He was 87.

Mr. Kelleher died last Wednesday in Riverhead, Long Island, the museum said. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mr. Kelleher was hired in 1949 as a sales manager; soon after joining the staff, he created a separate sales department and opened an art and book shop. It was "little more than a rack of postcards at first," the museum said in a death notice published in Tuesday's New York Times.

Under Mr. Kelleher's supervision, the museum's reproduction business grew to include a large selection of decorative art objects based on the museum's collection.

Mr. Kelleher traveled around the globe in search of artisans who could produce good-quality reproductions.

Today, the merchandising business nets the museum more than $1 million a year, the Times said, with items for sale ranging from trinkets to gold-and-emerald necklaces costing $30,000.

As a nonprofit institution, the Met is not required to pay taxes on the sale of merchandise that has educational and cultural significance. Mr. Kelleher often defended that policy.

"If it's a faithful reproduction, it has educational value, and it's a way of giving the object wider circulation outside of the museum," he once told an interviewer.

The museum also used its commercial arm to support artisans, in one case setting up a Chinese refugee in a temporary shop in its basement to practice the ancient art of ink rubbings, which were then sold in its gift shops.

Mr. Kelleher also helped to expand the museum's mail-order catalog, satellite sales shops around the world, and its publication of books on art.

Mr. Kelleher was named the museum's publisher in 1972, and vice president and publisher in 1978. He retired in 1986.

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