There is a surprisingly large number of KOOL penguin collectibles. The earliest ones date from 1933 and the latest from 1960, or thereabouts. For purposes of discussion, I have divided them into catagories roughly equivalent to type or purpose. Along the way, I shall also comment on the value of these items, although I hasten to add that this page should not be regarded as an official price guide.
Yes, this survey is incomplete. Updates will be made as additional information comes to light. A guide to dating the various collectibles may be found on the separate KOOL Penguin History page.
If you are familiar with only one KOOL penguin collectible, it is probably the common pair of "Willie" and "Millie" plastic salt and pepper shakers.
Willie and Millie salt and pepper shakers were available as a mail-order premium. These plastic 3 ½ inch tall figures are usually priced in flea markets or antique shops (depending on condition) in the range of $15 to $25 per set. A pair of these in like new condition may bring as much as $10 more. These little critters were made by Fiedler & Fiedler Mold and Die Works Company of Dayton, Ohio. The "F. & F." logo is on the bottom of each. Oh, and if anyone ever asks you, Willie is the salt shaker and Millie is the pepper.
While these little shakers are relatively common, the original box they came in is quite scarce. The value of such a box is probably equal to, if not considerably greater than, the penguins themselves.
Equally as scarce is the original order blank for these shakers, which tells us that Willie and Millie were available for 25 cents and 2 KOOL packages.
Actually, the order blank shown here (front and back) is not the "original," but rather was enclosed in the shipping box that contained Willie and Millie. "Use This Handy Order Blank to get more Willie and Millie shaker sets ...." A valuable piece of dating information is also found here: "Offer expires June 30, 1951." Gosh, it looks like somebody needs to iron that order blank.
The second-most common KOOL penguin figurine is the Willie-as-"Dr. Kool" figure, which is about 5" tall and made of "plaster." This oddly health-related item has Willie wearing a stethoscope and carrying a medical bag with the words "DR. KOOL" on the side. This is a relatively scarce item. When found, the buyer can expect to pay in the range of $75 to $150. To the best of my knowledge, "Dr. Kool" dates from circa 1952.
There are at least two varieties. One has the left flipper extended, as seen here, the other with the left flipper against the body. There may also be at least one other variation in which the beak and feet are painted orange.
Perhaps the most elusive of the figurines is the very impressive "Willie" counter-top figure, shown at left. This papier-mache figure was reportedly introduced in 1933, at which time it would have been seen as a point-of-purchase display in your neighborhood smoke shop. Examples of these are hard to find, particularly with the monocle and cigarette intact. The figure stands 14" tall and will set you back a few hundred dollars, if you can find one. As with all of the earlier depictions, the counter-top figure looks less cartoonish and more like a real penguin.
There is also an extremely rare variation of this figure that features a round thermometer in the middle of the penguin's chest. Only one of these has been brought to my attention. In April 1998, it sold in "average" condition for just under $500. I've been told that there is also a version of this figure in "plaster," but I have never seen one.
Willie penguin figurines also exist in the form of cigarette lighters, which are shown in the section on smoking paraphernalia, below.
For purposes of this page a "poster" is any paper or cardboard advertisement that was intended to be "posted" in a store window, bus or subway car, or even on a telephone pole. It does not include magazine ads or other paper products not produced in the normal rectangular "poster" format.
Forget modern day media. Tobacco companies have been sponsoring sporting events for a long, long, time. Indeed, one of the earliest KOOL penguin posters relates to the sponsorship of the broadcast of the Kentucky Derby. This 14" x 21" poster appears to relate to the broadcast of the Derby in 1936. There is at least one other variety, from the previous year. Both are quite rare. To put a value on it, well, all I can say is that some poor devil paid $150 for this one in 1997. Notice that Willie is wearing a snappy little jockey's cap!
Among the most spectacular of all KOOL penguin "poster" items is this bus (or subway) card, measuring in the area of 28 by 11 inches. I would not be surprised to learn that there were several other designs for such cards, but few seem to have survived and only two others have come to my attention.
In addition to the stiff cardboard posters, there were also thin paper posters of the type that may have been intended for taping to a store window.
Here are the two that I have found so far. Each of them depicts the very early realistic-style penguin. Examples of each sold in late 1998 for prices in the $50-$70 range.
After the penguin was transformed into a cartoon figure, we find a series of glossy paper posters, featuring truly exceptional graphics. These appear to have been issued during the war years. How many were there? Can't say, but there were at least four.
The one shown at right measures about 11" by 16" and the one on the left about "12 by 18". Notice the "ammunition belt" of cigarette packs (one of these was offered for sale in May 1998 for $135)! Several copies of the one in the center turned up in 1998 and sold for $40 or so.
Those of you with a lot of space to cover might want to seek out one of the billboard size KOOL penguin posters. This one dates from 1957 and was being offered for sale in 1998 for something like $1800 . . . I wasn't even tempted. Another billboard from that year shows Willie as a football player.
Speaking of large, if you want something really exceptional, you might try tracking down the animated and puffing, mechanical display, featured in the movie "Love Happy," starring the Marx brothers. I'm not sure if this was a real sign or just a movie prop, but the film has an extraordinary scene in which Harpo Marx flies through the air and is swallowed up in Willie's beak. Click the image for a larger version of this extraordinary scene.
Please proceed to page 2 where you'll find the large and wonderful point-of-purchase displays, tin signs, Willie the poet cigarette packs, and a colorful collection of magazine ads.
If you have KOOL penguin collectibles for sale or trade, I invite you to see my wanted and for trade page.
I also urge you to read the Collector's Alert page for important information regarding fake KOOL penguin collectibles.
Back to the main Willie the Penguin Page.
This page created and maintained by Jim Lowe
First appearance: May 18, 1997
Last updated: February 5, 2002
© 1997 to 2002 by James R. Lowe, who reserves all rights to the content of this page not successfully claimed by others.