Looking for special gifts and easy free parking? The Shops at Mount Vernon is a place to find gifts not available anywhere else in the Northern Virginia area and there is no admission fee for visitors who are just shopping. This year offerings include items that represent various elements of the recently dedicated Ford Orientation Center and Reynolds Museum.
Two prime examples are the $24.50 nightlight that recreates the stained glass window in the orientation center and a tree ornament that replicates the "Mount Vernon in Miniature" mechanical model that graces the main lobby of the Center. Illumination from within highlights each room of the actual Mansion, the ornament sells for $19.50.
"We are offering several items that represent various exhibits in the new museum," said Julia A. Mosley, director of retail, Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens. And those are not limited to gifts for adults.
One of the most fascinating exhibits within the museum is the forensic explanation of how artisans and scientists worked together to replicated the most authentic and life-like images of George Washington at the various stages of his life. That effort is related in the children's book "Where Was George Washington?" accompanied by it main character "Liberty" the calico cat.
Written by Carla Heymsfeld with illustrations by Jennifer Koury, Liberty races through the Mansion searching for George whom she is sure is missing. Along the way she encounters many of the Mansion's other residents including Martha's grandchildren, Nelly and Washy Custis.
Although it is told in children's terms, the people, places and events in the book are true to history relating the story of Jean Antoine Houdon's 1785 visit to Mount Vernon to create his famous bust of America's first president. The book, priced at $14.95, is accompanied by a fuzzy, stuffed, miniature calico cat for an additional $10.95 that will be a keeper for any child.
HIGHLIGHTING this year's gift list is the 2006 annual tree ornament, "The Sleighride." Encircled within a three inch diameter evergreen and red ribbon enameled wreath is a three dimensional scene encompassing the Mansion with George and Martha traveling under a starry winter sky in a sleigh drawn by a white stallion.
At this time of turmoil throughout much of the globe and America's entanglement in the Iraq maze, the ornament includes a particularly poignant quote from Washington uttered on Aug. 15, 1798 — "Peace, with all the world is my sincere wish." Selling for $18 it incorporates a brief history of Washington's feelings after winning the Revolutionary War.
"It's been the best selling annual ornament we've ever had. We plan to sell approximately 23,000 which is well over the normal 15,000 to 18,000 we normally sell," said Mosely. It has already sold out once and was reordered.
Another exquisite ornament is the pierced porcelain Christmas ball with the Great Seal of The United States. As a complement to the Presidential China from Woodmere it sells for $60.
For bookworms on any shopping list The Shops have added two new selections this holiday season. "The George Washington Collection" hard bound edition by Carol Cadou is priced at $60. And, the latest edition of "Historic Homes of Virginia" features a picture of Mount Vernon Mansion on the cover with details on the inside. A product of Rizzoli Publishers this hard bound volume sells for $55.
For a gift that will keep increasing in value over the years, there is a wide selection of antique, estate, and specially created jewelry ranging from less than $100 to The Shops' two signature pieces that are jaw droppers by any standard. A Van Cleef & Arpels four strand pearl necklace with a multiple sapphire clasp can be acquired for the sum of $9,400. To complete the package there is the aquamarine, peridot and tourmaline Bonwit Teller broach from a New Jersey estate priced at a mere $6,900.
For the less extravagant there are the elegant pieces designed by local creator Ann Hand. Her "Liberty" pin is priced at $100. Other creations include her Martha Washington shell with its center pearl that can be worn as a pin or on a gold necklace. The pin is listed at $150.
In the category of wearable gifts, Ann Hand has also created the Washington/Lafayette silk scarf that is priced at $250. Other 100 percent silk scarves range from $36 to $58.
For men there is a wide range of ties featuring designs such as George Washington's signature to the railings of Federal Hall in New York City where he was sworn in as the nation's first chief executive. There are also ties with donkeys and elephants for those that want to emphasize one or the other political party. Ties range from $26 to $38.50.
INCLUDED WITHIN the range of children's gifts are those that not only provide enjoyment but also education. One such gift is Martha Washington's Bake set for $18.50. Within its own carrying case is a recipe book of 18th century dishes, a rolling pin, wooden mixing spoons, and an assortment of animal cookie cutters.
Not to be outdone by the other Estate attraction, the Pioneer Farm is represented by a wooden folk art set of "Animal Pull Toy Ornaments" that include a sheep, pig, horse, and guinea bird. It is listed at $10.50.
One of the most unusual children's gifts offered by The Shops this season is the "Snowman in A Box." It contains everything for creating the perfect snowman sans snow. There's the top hat, two eyes, carrot nose, smiling mouth, pipe, scarf and buttons in its own carry case for $14.50.
For the more practical minded there are the dual use dolls of George and Martha themselves. Priced at $9.95 each, these soft, nine inch dolls can be used as tree ornaments during the holidays and as toys throughout the remainder of the year.
When it comes to a hot item in the broadly defined "toy" category there is the Byers' Choice wooden Noah's Ark with all its occupants that include 27 hand carved wooden animals and, of course, Noah, himself. "Even at $150 we have had trouble keeping this in stock. They sell as fast as they arrive," Mosely said.
There is also a large selection of Byers' Choice wooden carolers, Russian lacquered eggs, traditional Polish blown glass postcard ornaments, and ornaments depicting each US. President. The latter fill a small Christmas tree within The Shops.
As for food, spirits and dining accessories there are wines, jellies, cookies and other items. These include a tin of chocolate covered shortbread cookies for $15 and a complete line of tea from Williamsburg at $5.50 for 20 foil wrapped tea bags of breakfast, herbal and George's Cherry Tree teas.
Of particular note is the American Heritage Chocolate. The historic division of Mars, Inc., is offering a complete compliment of cocoa and chocolate as it was used in early North America.
Enticing the shopper to "Go back in time and experience chocolate as our ancestors" enjoyed it, American Heritage's handmade chocolate is "inspired by an authentic colonial recipe. Offerings include multiple stick muslin bags, chocolate spice drink, chocolate sticks, and block chocolate bars. They come with a brochure that details chocolate recipes as well as "Chocolate in Daily Life" and "Chocolate and Health."
As for additions to the dinner table, Spode offers a set of turkey pieces including a turkey tureen at $85 plus a three-piece ensemble comprised of a small turkey cranberry tureen and matching turkey salt and pepper for $55. A dinner bell and salt and pepper shakers fashioned after Mount Vernon's garden house sell for $10 and $14 respectively.
Finally, to get through the cold days and nights ahead there are a variety of afghans woven in America including the "Cherry Afghan" with GW's signature. A particularly practical item in this category is the new travel fleece blanket, offered in both red and blue, that rolls up and comes with its own carry handle for $25.
This is just a smattering of the treasure trove to be found inside The Shops at Mount Vernon. From the myriad decorations at one end to the elegant china at the other and all the various art and literature possibilities in between it is truly a one stop shopping experience not to be overlooked.