Mr. Potato Head rocks in Helena

Published 1:40 pm Monday, July 12, 2010

The word is out that the world’s largest Mr. Potato Head memorabilia collection resides in Helena.

A portion of that collection, owned by Dennis Martin, is currently on view at the McWane Center as part of the interactive traveling exhibit.

On his website, Martin, ABC 33/40 morning news director, writes, “I have been a fan of the ‘Big Spud’ for my entire life, and have been collecting them for over 12 years.

“My wife Angela would rather I collected $100 dollar bills, but she is very tolerant,” Martin said.

I met Dennis Martin and his son, Luke, in the special room where homage is given to their collectibles. In no time, my head was spinning around like the mirrored disco ball hanging overhead, as I took in the complete floor to ceiling Mr. Potato Head-ed-ness surrounding me.

It is likely that readers will have no idea of the many incarnations of Mr. Potato Head through the decades since his 1952 market debut with Hasbro Toys. Prior to that, originator George Lerner’s small push-pin plastic body parts were distributed inside cereal boxes.

Dennis Martin, of course, has some of these original unopened cellophane packages and a Cheerio’s cereal box, which promoted a MPH bank and, of course, the bank itself. He has foreign-made MPH’s from Japan and Greece and several older British-made versions such as Mr. Potato Head Goes to the Moon.

“Two of the most desirable MPH collectibles today are it and a ride-on toy from the 1970s,” Martin said.

He has the Boy Scout Mr. Potato Head Badge, an abundance of promotional ‘Sports Spuds,’ a recently acquired set of desirable 1990s Mr. Potato Head party supplies and even Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Christmas ornaments by Christopher Radko.

Some of the most intriguing sets are early knock-off and fakes from the ’50s and ’60s. There were Mr. Potato Head’s Picnic Pals — Frenchy Fry, Willy Burger, Frankie Frank — all with facial parts imitating vegetables and rather spooky black felt eyelashes.

Dennis and Angela Martin homeschool their six children and sometimes reward them with a special treat — going into Mr. Potato Head’s lair to play “Where’s Waldo?”

This game consists of a three-inch Waldo figure being hidden and searched for among the Potato Head displays or Martin’s other collections of Weiner Mobiles, Bat Mobiles and stuffed sock monkeys.

The instinct to collect is wired into our genes, Martin thinks. Some people — like his father from whom he likely inherited his passion — have it and some just don’t.

Readers who perhaps indulge their own collecting urges will appreciate a visit to Martin’s website at