Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pittsburgh Penguin

I had two missions to accomplish when I revisited Pittsburgh in 2008. One was to see the Pirates in their new home near where the old Three Rivers Stadium was located. It’s a beautiful spot, a short walk across a bridge from downtown with excellent views of the skyline beyond the outfield. It was one of the few times I’ve been rained out of a baseball game, but the delay made it possible for me to see my first double header the next day. I was worried about falling behind schedule on my intended route through Cincinnati, St. Louis and Kansas City to check off some of the other ballparks I hadn’t visited yet. But the extra day in Pittsburgh gave me more time for my other mission: to find some Pittsburgh Penguin booty and maybe even a Penguins tree ornament. I needed the extra day because the Penguins shop was closed at the Mellon Arena. It’s known as the Igloo because of it’s domed shape, because of the icy sport that’s played inside and because of a misconceived geographical connection between penguins and igloos, but I think Mellon is an equally descriptive name for the building. The next day I arrived early so I could do my shopping and still make it to the baseball stadium in time for the first pitch. I came away with a t-shirt commemorating the Penguins’ conference title and also this hockey player ornament. He qualifies as a penguin tree ornament on two levels. First, he’s wearing a hockey sweater with Pittsburgh Penguin team emblems and, second, he is, himself, a Penguin. I have tried to replace the removable hockey stick with a candy cane, but his hands are too small. I’m not a hockey fan, so I didn’t pay attention to the fact that he represents an actual person, Jordan Staal, who is one of three brothers playing in the National Hockey League. Brother Eric, of he Carolina Hurricanes, is a member of Canada’s Olympic team this year. Eric and Jordan played together on Canada’s world championship team in 2007. Brother Marc is a New York Ranger, and another brother, Jared, who was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes, currently plays for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. Hallmark had a smaller Penguins ornament of Sidney Crosby last year, but the one I saw was gone when I went back to the store to buy it a couple of weeks later. I have one other Penguins ornament which we’ll get to another day. It’s a good one too.

Forever Collectibles Jordan Staal Pittsburgh Penguins player ornament with removable hockey stick
Acquired: May 2008, Pittsburgh Penguins Team Store at the Igloo
Number: 462
Price: $5 (originally $15)
Size: 5 inches tall

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The bridge club

I’ve been playing bridge with the same group of friends for more than a quarter of a century, maybe two or three times a year. In the very beginning, we had four or five extra players who could fill in as the fourth, but it didn’t take long for us to settle on a regular foursome. There has been one big change. When I moved away from New York, the group invited Wallace Schroeder into the fold. I returned a few years later, and became part of the foursome after Rusty King passed away. The other two members, Anne Cronin and Dave Kipin have been playing since the beginning. We take turns hosting dinner and bridge night, and combine it with birthday and holiday celebrations. This wooden snowboarder is one of the penguin ornaments Wallace gave me at one of our “Christmas” bridge nights. He’s got a good eye for penguin ornaments and a good eye for cards. I put quotation marks around Christmas because we don’t always celebrate until some time after the holiday. This year we’re playing our delayed Christmas bridge tonight, on the far side of February. We don’t always do a lot of other things. We don’t always remember whose deal it is or who is supposed to lead. We don’t always play three rubbers. We don’t always finish the wine we’ve brought. We don’t always stay up until the wee hours like we used to. But we always have fun, we always have fascinating conversations, and we always hope our next bridge night is not too many months away.
Wooden snowboarder on a metal board with yellow scarf and hat
Acquired: December 18, 2004, gift from Wallace Schroeder
Number: 264
Size: 3.5 inches tall

Friday, February 26, 2010

Linda tried to warn me

These goofy little skiers are made from cookie dough, hardened and covered with a protective coating. I love their faces, their funny hats and their candy cane skis, as well as their green and pink ribbon hangers. But most of all, I love them for where I found them on a ski trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo., with my good friend Linda Martelli. She tried to warn me about where my budding obsession with penguin ornaments was going to end up, but it didn’t stop me. I mean, how could I resist something as cute as these little guys. Over the years, Linda dragged me up some of the best ski mountains in North America: Mt. Mansfield, Whiteface, Vail, Snowbird, Alta, the Grand Tetons, Taos. I’m glad she did, because it’s how I learned to ski and how I learned to love being in the beautiful outdoors in winter. (She bugged me to get out on the tennis court too, but without success.) Even later on, when I was the one waiting downhill for her to catch up, I was glad to be on the slopes with such a good and patient friend. Even though she’s gone, I always have her with me when I’m on the mountain, thanks to a Swiss Army skier’s knife she brought me from a trip to the Alps. There are a lot of other memories too: trips to the beach on Long Island and Atlantic City, countless games of Scrabble into the wee hours while watching Mary Tyler Moore reruns, late nights after work singing along at piano bars in Greenwich Village followed by predawn breakfasts at the Empire diner, baseball games (she was a big Phillies fan) and the Ice Capades. One night she and I and our friend José Rivera decided to walk for miles back to our hotel after a night out in Fire Island. It was August and the Leonid meteor shower was on display overhead as we trudged home in the sand, looking straight up almost all the way. Linda died in August 1993 while I was in New Mexico getting ready to move there from New York for the second time. The Leonid meteor shower, that same one from our walk on the beach, was at its peak the night I heard the news. I sat on the deck behind my aunt’s house north of Albuquerque at dusk and watched as the first shooting stars whistled across the still blue sky toward Sandia Peak, and I imagined it was Linda slamming tennis balls across the heavens, teasing me to smack them back to her. No thanks, Linda, but thanks for all the memories.

Cookie dough skiers on candy cane skis, with red and green ribbon hangers
Acquired: February 26, 1985, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Number: 0033 0034 0035
Size: From 2 to 2.25 inches tall

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Feet first

This sledder seems to be racing along with his scarf and hat flapping behind him. He’s covered with glitter that looks like a wake of snow crystals streamlining by him as he speeds down his imaginary hill.

Ceramic glittery penguin on a sled
Acquired: 1980s, Macy's Herald Square, New York City
Number: 0149
Size: 4.5 inches long

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Return to Park City

I was skiing in Utah, for the second time, with The New York Times ski club, although I had already left my job there earlier in the month to live in New Mexico. The weather was good some days, not so good on others, and on one of the not so good days we went shopping, when I found this ornament. I don’t remember traveling with the group on the way out. But I remember flying home with them, because we had to spend a night in Cleveland, courtesy of Continental Airlines, when bad weather forced the airports in New York to shut down. We checked into the hotel late and raced to the bar before it closed. To make the most of the little time left, we began drinking prairie fire shots. You fill a shot glass with tequila, add six drops of Tabasco sauce, and swirl the glass in hand before downing. The Tabasco whirls up like a flame (or like a red scarf swirling behind a flashy ice skater), and it burns all the way down.

Papier-mâché Park City, Utah, 1988 skater with red knit scarf
Acquired: March 9, 1988
Number: 0112
Size: 4.75 inches tall

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sand dollar

This painted sand dollar was a gift from Jenny and Jason Babaz, family friends for almost 20 years. They got it for me during a vacation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They even had it personalized and dated. The Babaz family has kept me supplied with penguins through the years, including this other ornament from a previous post.

Skiing penguin painted on a sand dollar inscribed with “Uncle Don” and 1997
Acquired: December 1997
Number: 0150
Price: gift
Size: 3 inches diameter 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Learning the ropes

An emperor penguin is giving a Santa elf a skating lesson and it looks like it’s as hard on the teacher as it is on the pupil. Both have cushy pillows strapped to their backsides with ropes just like the one that serves as a hanging ribbon on the ornament. It looks like it is carved from wood, but it’s actually made of plaster or something that’s very heavy. This was a gift from my cousins in Albuquerque: John, Holly, Lee and Jackie Truitt. The artist signed the back “LS ’95.”

Hallmark 1995 penguin teaching an elf to skate with pillows
Acquired: 1995
Number: 0151
Price: gift
Size: 2.25 inches tall, 2.5 inches long 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Skating in style

I love how this penguin’s body is made of flat wood cutouts, but is assembled in layers to give it a 3D look. Of course, the round head helps a lot, along with the stickout blue bow tie and gold buttons. The wings almost look like a cape draped around his shoulders. He’s topped off with a felt Santa hat trimmed in white.

Layered wood skater in felt Santa hat
Number: 0111
Size: 4 inches tall

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Standing tall

This ornament resembles many of the early wood skier ornaments in the collection, but he is the tallest of the bunch. I don’t recall where he came from or when I got him. One year I had a Christmas party to show off the collection, maybe the first year my tree was nothing but penguins. I was surprised and delighted that a number of the guests brought penguin ornaments to add, and this may be one of them. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down who gave what, but you’ll hear more about the ones I do remember later. Stay tuned.

Tall wood skier with red skies, green stocking hat and red and white striped scarf
Number; 0027
Size: 3 inches tall

Friday, February 19, 2010

Seeing double

It occurred to me today that the only Winter Olympics sport not represented in my penguin ornament collection is curling, so here are a couple more skaters. These two nicely painted wood ornaments are identical to each other. They are the same on both front and back. I think I bought one for myself and received the other one as a gift.

Two flat wood skaters painted the same on both sides
Number: 0109 0110
Size: 4.25 inches tall 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Behind every skater

Olympic athletes know how to get the job done when it’s time for competition. But they also depend on a lot of support from their coaches, friends and family on the sidelines. So while the skating penguin takes to the ice, his mate watches from the stands, enjoying a big ice cream cone. These ornaments are big and heavy, probably solid plaster.
Pair of heavy penguins, one skating, the other eating an ice cream cone
Acquired: December 2001, Target, Middletown, N.J.
Number: 0176 0177
Size: both 4.25 inches tall; skater 4.5 inches long 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The rakish skater

It must be that wicked over-the-shoulder glance from this ceramic skier’s eye, along with the holly bouquet and smartly wrapped gift tucked under his wings and the dashing red scarf, that prompted my friend and colleague Jean Rutter to say she thought he had a rakish look about him. I’ve called him the rakish skater ever since. Long before I started numbering and cataloging the collection, I tried to think of nicknames for each penguin to help me keep track of them from year to year. The rakish skater is one my favorite ornaments and it’s my all-time favorite nickname. Thanks, Jean. I can narrow down when I bought this penguin, because it had to be between 1989 and 1992 when Jean and I worked together on the graphics desk at The New York Times. Otherwise, I might think it was around 1985 because a stamp on the back of the penguin’s leg says “Schmid, ©Gordon Fraser 1985.”

Flattish ceramic skier with holly, gift and red scarf
Acquired: 1989-1992, Macy’s Herald Square, New York City
Number: 0135
Size: 3.5 inches

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Over a barrel

After finding this crazy ornament at a Cracker Barrel store, I now go out of my way to look for penguin Christmas ornaments there. It was the first time I had ever been to a Cracker Barrel, after the Florida-Georgia football game with my sister Gale. I have to admit I liked the place and the food. I've found a few other good ornaments over the years at different stores, but none quite like this first one with a rubbery skating penguin sprawled across a frost-covered silver ball and tangled in a string of lights.

Acquired: October 30, 1999, Cracker Barrel, Jacksonville, Fla.
Number: 0152
Size: 4 inches tall

Monday, February 15, 2010

Big and little brothers

These two skiing penguins look an awful lot alike, but the one on the right is considerable shorter than the other one. Both are on 5.125-inch long skis. The tall one has the distinction of being ornament number 200, at which point it became clear to me that I needed to start cataloguing the collection to keep track of which ones came when and from whom. There is a big mystery surrounding No. 200. It was left in my mailbox at work with a note that said “From a secret Santa!” It’s kind of fun having a mystery, but I really wish I could tell the generous giver that this was a big milestone in my penguin tree collection. I bought the smaller one myself about three years later at the Holiday Shops in New York City’s Bryant Park.

Tall wooden penguin on old-fashioned style “popsicle stick” skis
Acquired: 2002
Number: 200
Size: 4.75 inches tall

Short wooden penguin on old-fashioned style “popsicle stick” skis
Acquired: Dec. 21, 2005, Holiday Shops at Bryant Park
Number: 282
Size: 4.25 inches tall
Price: $15

Sunday, February 14, 2010

From the heart

Here's a skier, wearing a heart-shaped wreath, that's just right for continuing the Olumpic theme and also for sending a Valentine's Day greeting. It resemles another ornament that I bought the same day, which I'll have more to tell about in a future post. Happy Valentine's Day!

Skier with heart shaped wreath
Acquired: December 2004, Grand Central Terminal Holiday Market, New York City
Number: 259 (number and year corrected July 11, 2010)
Price: $12.50 (two for $25)
Size: 4 inches tall

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Four wooden skiers

The title says “four wooden skiers,” so why am I only showing three?
I gave the fourth of these skiers to my friends Marie and Nancy. I should ask if they still have it, because I think I gave it to them missing one of the ski poles, which I still have. It was only the third time I ever gave an ornament away along with the two sledders from the previous post. Unlike the sledders, these skiers were different. There were two different color patterns, and at least one of them had the word “Vail” written on it. I think the one I gave away was like the Vail skier, but without the inscription.

Three wooden skiers, one inscribed “Vail.”
Acquired: mid 1980s, probably at the same time, in Vail, Colo.
Number: 0030 0031 0032
Price: unknown
Size: about 2.5 inches tall

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olympics opening ceremony

The Winter Olympics are under way and I’ve got a lot of skiing, skating and sledding penguins to get us through the games. These two sledders used to be four, all identical, that I bought in the early years of the collection when all the ornaments seemed to come in sets of four. That’s the only explanation for why I deliberately bought four penguin ornaments that were exactly the same. They might be the first ornaments I bought for myself. I believe the previous sets of four were all given to me as gifts. Later, realizing that I didn’t need all of the sledders, I decided to spread the penguin love around a little and I gave two of them away. One went to my brother and sister-in-law and their family, but I don’t remember who got the other one. Because I gave these ornaments away before I started assigning numbers, I don’t count them in the total. I bought the sledders on my first visit to Park City, Utah, and the other ski areas near Salt Lake City. Park City was the venue for giant slalom and two snowboard events, GS and halfpipe, at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Wooden sledders
Acquired: March 10, 1984. Park City, Utah. Rocky Mountain Christmas Gifts
Number: 0028 0029
Price: $12.93
Size: 2.25 inches tall

Thursday, February 11, 2010

12 days of Snowbabies

Department 56 produced a 12 Days of Christmas series with their adorable white bisque porcelain Snowbabies representing the gifts in the Christmas carol. This ornament is called “Four Playful Penguins.” The inscription on the base says “4 penguins.” I don’t remember what the other numbers in the limited edition looked like, but this is the only one featuring penguins. I wonder if some collector has the other 11 pieces and can’t find the penguin ornament to complete the set. The series was reintroduced recently, but has been retired again. Here are the other numbers:
Twelve Drummers Drumming
Eleven Icy Igloos
Ten Clocks-A-Chiming
Nine Sledders Sledding
Eight Candles Burning
Seven Babies Singing
Six Gifts For Giving
Five Caribou
Three Shining Stars
Two Puffins Playing
One Baby In A Snowsuit
I bought this one about a year after my other Snowbabies ornament. I stayed in Anaheim on my way home from Australia specifically to go shopping in Downtown Disney for a Spode platter with Disney characters for my sister that I had seen the year before and couldn’t find anywhere else, including online.

Department 56 Snowbabies Four Playful Penguins from 12 Days of Christmas series
Acquired: December 2, 2004, Downtown Disney, Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif.
Number: 255
Size: 4.5 inches tall
Price: $15.50

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Department 56’s Snowbabies series consists of white bisque porcelain figurines for holiday decorating, mostly featuring toddlers in wooly onesies frolicking in the snow with each other and sometimes with arctic creatures like polar bears and penguins. This baby even has angel wings. Kristi Jensen Pierro is the artist behind Snowbabies, which were first introduced by Department 56 in 1987. Some Snowbabies are tree ornaments, but I have only found two with penguins, including this one that I bought at the Department 56 store in Downtown Disney at Disneyland while I was in Los Angeles for a convention. You have to click on the picture and zoom in to see the amazing detail, especially on the baby’s face. The box, which looks like a small green hardbound book, has the number XV on its spine and this poem on its back:
“Best Friends” are we,
My little penguinand me.
Standing closely together,
Treasured memories forever.
I've been to Disney World countless times and lived "next door" in Kissimmee for nearly a year, but this was my first visit to Disneyland, fulfilling a childhood dream of riding the Matterhorn roller coaster.

Department 56 Snowbabies “Best Friends” mini ornament
Acquired: September 10, 2003, Downtown Disney, Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif.
Number: 206
Size: 2.375 inches tall
Price: $12.50 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I was in Europe for nearly the entire month of September 2007, traveling by train from Denmark to Prague via Berlin, then to Lausanne, Switzerland, and Paris. I had an extra empty collapsible bag so I would have plenty of room to pack a lot of penguin Christmas tree ornaments. This is the only one I found, and it it’s not technically a Christmas tree ornament. I found it in a gift shop not far from the remarkable St. Nicholas church in Mala Strana, Prague’s lesser quarter across the Vltava River from old town. It was among a lot of other glass ornaments, but none of them had a Christmas theme, only butterflies and flowers and things like that, probably intended as sun catchers to hang in a window. There are worse examples of cheating in my collection, so I’m happy to have at least this one souvenir from my big European adventure to hang on the tree. I saw a lot of penguins during the trip, Christmas shops too, and I found a great little Royal Copenhagen penguin at a flea market in Copenhagen, but there were no penguin ornaments anywhere. Two years later when I went back to Prague, it was a different story. A side trip to a couple of Bavarian towns yielded so many penguins that it more than made up for the dearth the first time around. But that’s a tale that will take up several posts down the road.

Glass penguin with red beak and feet
Acquired: September 2007, shop in Mala Strana, Prague
Number: 375
Size: 5 inches tall
Price: 195 CZ Korunas (about $10) 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Penguin Holiday

“How did they do that?” Everyone asks the same question when I tell them that this ornament is painted on the inside. My quick response is, “With a tiny brush.” But there is a lot of skill involved, a lot of artistry and a lot of attention to detail in this centuries-old Chinese technique. The company that makes these ornaments offers a wide range of products and designs, each of them as beautiful as this one with it’s group of penguins carrying a small tree and sprigs of holly. Even the rope hanger is exquisite. And take a look at the jewel box it came in. It’s another wonderful find from Noël Eternel in Montreal and arguably the most beautiful ornament in my collection.


Ne’Qwa hand painted inside mouth blown glass by Edith
Acquired: September 11, 2009, Noël Eternel, Montreal, Quebec.
Number: 705
Price: 44.99 $CAN
Size: 5.5 inches tall 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Go team!

A generic no-team, no-sport coach is the best thing I have for a post on Super Bowl Sunday. I know there are penguin football ornaments available, but I’ve just never seen one with a team I want. The coach came with another ornament that has a penguin in a golf cart. Nice golf club covers. They aren’t part of a set (the penguins are very different), but both were both gifts from my cousins Lee and Pat in Nevada, and both are plastic Hallmark ornaments from the same year.

Plastic Hallmark 1993 penguin coach
Acquired: probably 1994 or 1995
Number: 0136
Size: 2.5 inches tall

Plastic Hallmark 1993 “Putt-Putt!” penguin golfer in cart
Acquired: probably 1994 or 1995
Number: 0137
Size: 3.25 inches tall

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A little this, a little that


It’s amazing what you can do with a small piece of wood, some paint and a few scraps of fabric. With a little imagination and a good hand with a brush, you can turn it all into a nice little Christmas tree ornament. I don’t remember how I got this one. I only just noticed what looks like “Bcc” written on the back of its right foot. Or maybe it’s 8.00, as in 8 dollars.

Rough-hewn wood penguin with red, white and black scarf, yellow felt feet and beak
Acquired: unknown
Number: 0138
Size: 3.625 inches tall

Friday, February 5, 2010

Belly blizzard

It’s hard to make out, even when you zoom in, but it almost looks like there’s a snowstorm going on inside this small solid glass penguin’s belly. It’s reminiscent of the cloudy patterns in some of the glass marbles we cherished in childhood. The delicate red scarf is a nice finishing touch. Christmas Past in New Hope, where I bought this ornament, is one of my favorite regular stops when I’m in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Department 56 solid glass penguin with snowy belly and skinny red scarf, made in China
Acquired: October 14, 2007, Christmas Past, New Hope, Pa.
Number: 389
Size: 2.75 inches tall
Price: $7.50 

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I find penguin ornaments even when I’m not looking for them. This glass emperor was at Fire and Ice, a small gift shop at the Philadelphia airport.. It must have been all the colorful rhinestones on its sides, wings and tail (and what looks like dangly earrings) that caught my eye. I was on my way to Florida for a family cruise to celebrate my sister Gale’s birthday. We decorated the tree at our brother’s house and I put this one on as a guest ornament until I left for home.

Glass emperor with colorful rhinestones, Fire and Ice, Philadelphia airport
Acquired: Nov. 23, 2008
Number: 573
Price: $32.50
Size: about 5 inches tall

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A night at the opera

This tiny ornament is a beauty, but wait ‘til you hear this: it’s made of glue — molded and hardened Elmer’s glue! He looks like he’s headed for a big night out, maybe to the opera, in his black tails with a brilliantly colored bouquet of roses tucked under his wing. I was in Santa Fe last summer to see La Traviata and while I was there I found the ornament at Susan’s, one of my favorite Christmas shops. The opera was fantastic, but even better was finding out by surprise that my good friend Barb, who I hadn’t seen in years, was part of our group. It's good to know that even after a long separation, friends stick together, like glue.

Small dried glue penguin with roses
Acquired: August 16, 2009, Susan’s Christmas Shop, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Number: 700
Price: $20
Size: about 1.75 inches tall

(I have to mention this: my spell checker wants me to replace Traviata with Travolta.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Looks like more winter

Is this a penguin peeking out of its igloo to see if six weeks' more of winter are in store? Well, if a groundhog can do it, why not a penguin? And why not a penguin who lives in an igloo? Looks like more winter with all that snow around and on top of the igloo. Or maybe it just a game of penguin hide-and-seek with his friend hidden out back. Another excellent ornament from Christopher Radko that I found at a store just down the road from where I live.

Christopher Radko "Penny's Palace" glass ornament
Acquired: June 7, 2009, Switzerland Old World Gifts, Tannersville, Pa.
Number: 625
Price: $70
Size: 3.75 inches tall, 4 inches wide

Monday, February 1, 2010

Open arms

I wish I could remember anything at all about how I got this little ceramic ornament. My memory is a complete blank, although this is one of my favorites and I feel like I’ve had it almost from the beginning. It’s a simple design, but the wide-open wings give it a lot of irresistible personality. It might be showing signs of age where the paint seems to have chipped away, but it’s also possible that the flaws have always been there and I just never noticed them.

Acquired: before 2001
Number: 0108
Price: no record.
Size: about 2.5 inches tall