Hallmark Hockey Greats, 1998
Hallmark debuted its line of Hockey Greats Keepsakes Ornaments, releasing Wayne Gretzky as their first hockey ornament around Christmas of 1997. The next season, Hallmark continued the series, issuing a Mario Lemieux holida ornament in 1998. Lemieux had just retired (for the first time) at the end of the ’96-97 hockey season, so his achievements were still fresh in people’s minds. Like the previous year, this ornament also included an exclusive hockey card.
The back of the box has a short bio of Mario Lemieux:
Known for his courage as well as for his size, strength and skill, Mario Lemieux was inducted into the National Hockey League Hall of Fame in 1997 – the same year he retired. During his dozen seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he led the team to two consecutive Stanley Cup titles (1991, 1992). He was named the league’s MVP three times and wrapped up his career as the sixth highest scorer in NHL History.
This series of Keepsake Ornaments highlights a different outstanding hockey player each year.
Underneath this is a small photo of John “Collin” Francis, the sculptor of the ornament, as well as a fine-print reminder that the ornament is “for decorative purposes only” and “not for young children”.
Likeness 3 out of 5
The likeness of this ornament is all right – and nowhere as God-awful as the previous year’s Gretzky ornament, but not great. This ornament is supposed to be Lemieux circa mid-1990s (based on the “conceited swan” logo that the Pens used during that era). But Lemieux, facially, looks too young – even younger than 18 years of age, which is how old he was when he broke into the NHL. I’d say this ornament makes Lemieux look like a mature 15-year old. But I can’t fault the sculptor too hard – he’s probably used to making ornaments of cherubs and elves and little “Norman Rockwell-esque” children…so sculpting a likeness of a manly hockey player is something he needed more practice on. Had this ornament been painted in a bright yellow home Penguins uniform, circa 1985, I’d almost buy that this is a very young Lemieux.
Pose 3 out of 5
Lemieux is rendered in a skating pose, which looks good when you hang this ornament up. Unfortunately, the ornament won’t stand up on its own – you’ll have to hang it on something if you want to display it year round. I wish these ornaments came with some sort of stand, so that you could display them on a shelf instead of hanging them from a tree. But then they would not be Christmas ornaments, would they?
Detail 5 out of 5
Once again, Hallmark has excelled at the amount of detail on their hockey ornaments – from the texture on the hockey socks to the stripes on the jersey. They even went through the trouble to use a glossy paint on the helmet and skates, while using flat paint on the “cloth” areas of the figure, such as the socks, shorts and jersey. This extra step gives the figure an added touch of realism. Lemieux’s hockey stick is detailed better than last year’s Gretzky ornament, too. Compare this to any other hockey figure at the time – Starting Lineup, Headliners, or even Pro Zone -and this figure wins out for its strict attention to uniform detail.
Like last year’s release, a hockey card was included with the ornament. This time around, it’s not an Upper Deck card. The card has no copyright information on it, and only bears the Hallmark logo on the front. While this Lemieux card is the standard 2 1/2 inches in height, it is just a hair smaller than the standard width, measuring 3 7/16″ wide instead of 3 1/2″.
The 1996-97 season was the last for the courageous Mario Lemieux. In his 12-year NHL career, “Super Mario” captured five Art Ross Trophies, presented annually to the league’s leading scorer. He left the NHL while at the top of his game, having led the league in scoring in each of his last two seasons. Fittingly in his final home game, Lemieux scored in the waning moments of a Penguins victory during the first round of the ’97 playoffs.
I like this card more than the card that was issued with last year’s Gretzky ornament because it isn’t a re-hashed Fleer, Topps, Score or Upper Deck card. It is truly unique (as far as I know) to this ornament. Usually, when some hockey item (like a Starting Lineup figure) includes a hockey card, it’s basically a card from a year or two back, but with some other logo stamped on it. The stats on the card are always a season or two out of date, and it’s really just the same card but with a minor variation (a Hallmark logo, a Starting Lineup logo, etc.).
If you purchase one of these ornaments, make sure that the card is included. The card could be easily removed from the box, as the boxes were not sealed with tape. The cards were also not put in anything to keep them in mint shape – they were loose in the box, so a dinged corner or a little edge wear is not uncommon.
Repaints / Variations
Three years later, Hallmark would release a repaint of this ornament when Lemieux came out of retirement. The repaint is of Lemieux in his dark (road) uniform.
This ornament makes Lemieux look too young, but the details on it are really good. I’m still impressed with the selective use of glossy paints in some areas – a nice touch that shows Hallmark’s keen attention for detail. If you can find this ornament with the card, then it’s definitely worth picking up.
Year of release: 1998
Original retail price: $15.95
Approximate Size: 4 1/2″” tall
Sculptor: John “Collin” Francis