Area Attractions Sell Trinkets, Treasures

Article excerpt

The Washington area abounds with museums and attractions, and each one of them - from George Washington's ancestral estate at Mount Vernon to the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress - seems to boast its own shop.

The happy result? A trove of gifts - all of them unusual and some of them unique - just waiting to be pounced on.

Replicas of the famed Hope Diamond, intricate scale models of the starship Enterprise, fabulous Faberge fakes, vintage aviation posters and Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired items are a sampling of the trinkets and treasures for sale in the museum shops.

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The most obvious first stop is the Smithsonian complex, which caught on long ago to the income potential of souvenirs and gift items. The National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History are the retail standouts on the Mall.

The National Air and Space Museum, which recently completed a major renovation, is the scene-stealer: Its three-tiered gift emporium with the high glass windows at the entranceway, on the museum's lobby level, is abundantly endowed with items to delight the aviation, space and science buff.

Exceptional finds in this shop include meticulously made, custom airplane models and colorful aviation posters celebrating pilots from the glory days of World War I's flying aces to Space Age astronauts. Here, too, are "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" movie memorabilia, along with airplane clocks, watches, ties and an impressive list of aviation titles. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who has completed several books, does book signings regularly here. The shop showcases everything from a $5 astronaut's pen to signed aviation art priced in the hundreds.

Across the Mall, the shop at the National Museum of Natural History is a gem lover's delight. Here a wide array of dazzling semiprecious and precious gems adorn the display cases. Crystal copies of the Hope Diamond, along with other gems featured in the Annenberg Hall of Gems, also can be found here, along with hundreds of books on anthropology, zoology and ornithology. The stuffed animal collection is a particular favorite for youngsters, who usually bypass the jewelry in favor of a long-legged stuffed monkey - one of the shop's best sellers.

At the National Gallery of Art's shop, art aficionados can find prints and posters reproducing work by Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and a host of others, along with antique-style jewelry.

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Clustered on Capitol Hill are four outstanding shops worth exploring: the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society and the U.S. Supreme Court. All are within easy reach of one another and worth a peek.

The Library of Congress' two shops - one in the Madison building at 101 Independence Ave. SE and the other in the original, or Jefferson, building, at 10 First St. SE - are by far the most elaborate and splashiest on Capitol Hill. Like most of the other museum shops, the library's is nonprofit. Proceeds after overhead go toward the library's special needs and projects. The shop averages about 4,000 visitors a month; summer months are the busiest.

From the current exhibition on "The Wizard of Oz," which runs through October, the shops highlight a wide selection of Oz gifts, including pins and pendants of Dorothy's ruby slippers, scarecrow pins and ceramic banks featuring the Oz characters. A comprehensive collection of author L. Frank Baum's Oz books also lines its shelves.

"Focusing on special exhibits is a key in attracting customers," says Anna Lee, the veteran merchandiser and retail marketing officer for the library's shop. She has been with the Library of Congress for nine years.

"When I started shopping around for Oz items," she says, "I called Warner Brothers because they own the licensing, and I culled through countless items before I decided on the ceramic banks, crystal ruby pins and Dorothy dolls. …