Heart of Glass

Photos by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Maxine Wolf Houses 4,230 Figurines in Marquez Knolls Home

By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief

Tucked away in a Marquez Knolls home, Maxine Wolf, a 12-year resident of the Palisades, keeps lions, tigers and bears. Entering the second bedroom of the home, which has been converted into a sort of mini museum, there are dogs, penguins and a full orchestra.

And each one of them is made from glass, ranging in size from one-eighth of an inch to about five-and-a-half inches tall.

Wolf has been collecting glass animals and figurines since the age of 10. Now, 57 years later, her collection features 4,230 pieces.

“My parents are European and my father started bringing them from Venice, Italy, for me,” Wolf shared of the start of her collection. “Then there was this little shop in the basement of Rockefeller Center in New York that sold these wonderful, very whimsical animals, which I have since found out were from Germany. My father would take me whenever we went to New York, where my only family from America on my mother’s side lived, and he would always buy me one, two, three, four animals.”

When Wolf’s father went to Italy, he would return with a number of figurines, one time bringing back 60 animals at once. Wolf does not have the original piece that started her collection, as the quality was not good and it has since disintegrated.

“It was a little buffalo, that was before I was 10, it sat on my dresser, but until 2000, when I discovered Ebay and the internet, there were really very few places to buy them,” Wolf explained.

On her short list of places to purchase new animals and figurines were Disneyland and the shop in New York.

“And then, in the ’90s, I got to go to Italy twice and I brought home tons of them,” Wolf said. “I often wondered what the people in customs were thinking at the X-ray machine. I had them in tupperware containers, each wrapped up in cotton and tissue and I can imagine what the X-rays looked like.”

When Wolf discovered the internet in 2000, her collection really took off.

“Between 2000 and 2016, I collected intermittently,” Wolf explained, “but in 2016, I found out you could go on the German and U.K. websites, and that’s when things went wild.”

In 2000, Wolf had 275 pieces, and in 2016, she had 1,500. Now, with help from the German and U.K. Ebay sites, she has nearly tripled her collection in the past few years.

“It slows down as you start having most of them,” Wolf said.

When asked if she has a favorite, Wolf said that she loves them all. Everything in the collection is organized by theme, then by the country they were produced in. There are glass producers in countries around the world, including German, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, England, Mexico, Japan, China and the U.S.

“Being a professional organizer has helped me tremendously with the collection,” Wolf added. “It has allowed me to have many, many figurines, yet to have them organized and not overwhelm my small home.”

In addition to the physical collection that is housed in 21 cases with a total of 191 shelves, Wolf keeps the figurines organized in an extensive Excel spreadsheet that includes the height and width of the piece, country the piece was produced in, when and where it was purchased, how much Wolf paid for it, and whether it’s transparent or opaque.

Wolf’s collection includes just about every animal imaginable, from insects to birds, mammals and fish. Her themed cases include Africa, the forest, the garden, sea life, dogs, birds and more. She also has a glass eye—complete with veins and all.

“There are ants that are the true size of an ant and have their head, thorax, abdomen, six legs and antennae,” Wolf said of one of her tinier pieces.

When looking closely at Wolf’s collection, one notices that her figurines are not pinned down to the shelves they sit on, which prompted questions of what would happen in case of an earthquake.

“I keep my fingers crossed. Can you wait for the big one until I’m dead?” she said with a laugh. “It just depends how hard it shakes.”

Wolf said she isn’t worried because her collection is for fun.

“It’s just my passion, it’s my fun,” she shared. “It brings back all the happy memories of my childhood.”

The prices of each piece vary drastically. Wolf can sometimes get a group of 20 for $20, but some of the Perelli pieces are more valuable. She also purchases figurines locally at Puzzle Zoo.

“I think the most I’ve ever paid is $50,” Wolf said. “But mostly, my kind of break point is $15 to $18. The shipping is often one-third of the cost, and I take that into consideration … they’re worth something to me, but if I tried to resell them, they don’t really have that much value.”

Wolf is currently searching for others that share her passion for collecting or would like to start. She communicates with two other people in the world who collect and they both live in Canada.

Wolf has worked out a deal with the two other collectors.

“One of them, whoever sees the animal first gets to say, ‘I want to bid on it,’” Wolf explained. “The other one, there’s one company that made stuff in England from the ’50s to the ’80s, and she’s an avid collector of those. So we’ve made a deal that if it’s one of those and she doesn’t have it, she gets to bid on it, but if it’s German and I don’t have it, I get to bid on it.”

Wolf shared that if anyone collects or is interested in collecting, they can reach out directly to her at letmaxinehelp@roadrunner.com. She can also host private viewings of her collection.