Every year, the Franklin Mint sells something like $750 million worth of Gone With The Wind dolls, Tiger Woods Eyewitness Commemorative Medals, Star Trek Chess Sets, Elvis Portrait Plates and nature-inspired designer thimbles and demitasse spoons. Every day, the Franklin Mint Museum, part of the Mint's 188-acre headquarters in picturesque Delaware County, PA, exhibits these collectibles in displays so polished and demure and Windex-sparkly that the museum-quality "value and beauty" of each item is made obvious.
The outside of the museum is nondescript, but inside it is inspiring, in an extremely head-shaking way. The works exhibited are not connected by period, artist, or theme -- only by collectibility. Male and female visitors get equal opportunity to ooh and ah. So, while it may seem odd to have a dark, mood-lit red velvet-feel display hall of fake Faberge Eggs fifty feet from an array of die-cast metal miniature automobiles, it all really does make perfect sense.
A fake Faberge Egg is on the cover of the museum brochure, but the main attraction these days is a three-strand faux-pearl necklace that once belonged to Jackie Kennedy. Franklin Mint Vice Chairman Lynda Resnick bought the necklace at auction for $211,500 (pre-auction estimated value: $700), and immediately set about creating "Jackie's Pearls"--fake faux-pearls--now on sale at $195 per copy. A large wall display of Camelot-era photographs featuring a faux-pearl-wearing Jackie back a single tall display stand, the real faux-pearls resting atop (Actually, when we visited, the real fakes were out being cleaned, and a false fake was on display). As Resnick said in a prepared statement just after the pearls were purchased, "The people of the world adored Jackie, and now we can make part of Camelot accessible to all who visit our museum." A collectible Jackie wedding day doll is displayed nearby.
Scarlett O'Hara dolls are just one of the "things people want to need."
Past the pearls are more of the items Resnick once called, "things people want to need." At the top of one wall papered with a photographic image of a large field of flowers is written in big letters, "As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life."
Coloring life in this room are porcelain bells and dishes decorated with birds and flowers. Next to them is an exhibit explaining the creative process for the porcelain bisque Children Of The World figurine series. Some finished bisque children stand in front of small flags of many nations.
In another hall, on opposite sides, Gone With The Wind Scarlett O'Hara dolls compete for attention with Wizard of Oz character dolls. In the next rooms, more masculine objects include reproduction Colt 45s and Remington-like eagle sculptures.
Pewter Klingon Birds of Prey and metallic chess figures fill the faux monitors on the Franklin Mint's fake starship transporter room.
Nearby, a large liberty-like bell rotates, and as it does, images around the rim tell America's history in thirty seconds. The depressing thing is, bell-worthy (collectible?) American history ends when man landed on the moon, 28 years ago.
Just past the bell is The Star Trek exhibit, built to resemble a transporter room. A few exhilarating sound bites ("Kirk to Enterprise!" "Spock here, Captain!") are piped in. Recessed into the walls are cases showing off the official Star Trek chess set, official Star Trek coins, official Star Trek beer steins and pewter Klingon Birds of Prey. Sorry, no NextGen items.
The Mint also maintains a rotating gallery, showing off original works by "artists affiliated with The Franklin Mint." When we visited, the show was of original paintings by artist Boris Vallejo, creator of the oiled - Viking - musclewomen - with-hawks-and-broadswords look that graced '70s sci-fi books and Molly Hatchett album covers. And finally, just when you think the museum couldn't get any more razor-edge spot-on, a back room has a display of paintings done by celebrities. There's a moody Peggy Lee and a happy Van Johnson. A Janet Leigh charcoal shows a crestfallen nude woman below a large seagull, sadly flying. These look to be original.
The Gallery Store sells fine jewelry, historic weapon replicas, and personal luxury items in addition to Jackie's Pearls. It does not sell postcards, however. Which is too bad, because we would have purchased many.
The museum is free. It's great. And, as the Resnicks say, "We invite you to celebrate with us."