A Bountiful Harvest of Ceramic Turkeys Make for a Special Thanksgiving

From a single bird, a collection of ceramic gobblers grows.

Photo by Erik Rank

It started with a single turkey—a small ceramic planter that my wife, Robin, purchased to use as a centerpiece on our Thanksgiving table.

“Shortly after that,” she recalls, “I was at an antique store in Montclair and they had a large ceramic turkey and matching salt-and-pepper shakers. I bought all three.”

That, she says, “gave me the ceramic turkey bug. Once I had four, I thought like, wow, I have a collection. This is it.”

By the next Thanksgiving, Robin’s flock had grown to 10. That was 25 years ago. Today, the census is 42. Like magic, they emerge from their boxes every year about two weeks before Thanksgiving. Most line up on our mantelpiece. Others stand sentry on our end tables. Some peer down from atop the antique hutch in our dining room.

All Robin’s turkeys are ceramic. (She scoffs at papier-mâché and chalkware as chintzy.) Several are open-backed planters; we now have multiple centerpieces on our Thanksgiving table. Two have dimpled backs to hold candles. Some are just plain turkeys. They range in height from 3-inch-tall salt-and-pepper shakers to an 8-inch planter, with three-tone tailfeathers. She’s also complemented the collection with turkey platters, decanters and pitchers.

Robin finds most of her turkeys at antique stores or yard sales, ranging from a few bucks to $25. She believes the turkeys date from the late 1940s and ’50s, but few have markings indicating their origin. Those that do, come from China or Japan.

Several landed in Robin’s collection as gifts. “What I’ve learned,” she says, “is that once you collect something, people buy those items for you.”

All Robin’s birds sport glossy, colorful feathers, mostly in autumnal shades of brown, green and orange. Now and then, an odd color scheme sneaks in. One is sky blue, with dark blue tail feathers. I’m partial to a plump, emerald green critter with a bright red head and wattle. Robin’s favorite is a tall, yellow-and-brown gobbler with prominent clawed feet.

At Thanksgiving, our guests ooh and ahh at the turkey collection, then take their places at our dinner table. The turkey centerpieces are removed, replaced with bowls of mashed potatoes, vegetables, stuffing and cranberry sauce, and, of course, a turkey platter piled high with roast turkey.

A few days after the guests have departed and the leftovers have dwindled to scraps, the turkeys go back in their boxes.

Then out comes Robin’s collection of wooden snowmen.

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