About 35 years ago, Houston resident Joe Morrison received a pair of frog-shaped ashtrays as a gift from his grandmother.

Neither the giver nor recipient could possibly have imagined what that simple act set in motion. While one piece in the matching pair of ashtrays ended up being broken some time later, Morrison still has the other.

It’s part of a collection of more than 11,700 frog-related items.

“I just like frogs,” Morrison said, “and it’s amazing how many types you can find.”

Multiple factors contributed to the extraordinary growth of Morrison’s collection, including his wife Pat.

“We started with the two frog ashtrays, and people thought we collected frogs,” Morrison said. “They started giving us frogs and it just snowballed from there. My wife started picking up a few from garage sales, and then she got me interested in it and we started going to flea markets and finding them.

“The next thing you know, I’m looking for more space for them in the house, and I’m building shelves and buying display cases.”

“It’s fascinating,” Pat said. “Until you start looking for them, you don’t realize how many frogs there are out there and how many different kinds there are.”

Morrison’s vast assembly of frogs features representations of virtually every possible household item. Most of the compilation is set up in a museum-like setting that occupies the better part of his home’s basement, where frogs are neatly arranged, displayed and stored on shelves and walls, in cases and drawers, and hanging from rafters and sitting on floors.

As well as thousands of “knick knacks” and “whatnots,” the incredible accumulation includes stuff that makes sound, stuff that can be worn, stuff to use for eating or drinking and even stuff to use in the bathroom. Pieces in the collection are made of all kinds of materials.

“I have frogs made of gold, silver, coal, bronze, glass, plastic, wood, leather, crushed pecan shells and about everything else you can imagine,” Morrison said.

The immense amphibious assortment includes hundreds of foreign frogs.

“I have frogs from 50 different countries,” Morrison said. “You wouldn’t think that that many countries would have things that look like frogs.”

Morrison’s frog fascination took a major leap forward when he and Pat found out about an annual frog collectors’ convention in Eureka Springs, Ark.

“They had a gift shop down there and I was like a one-eyed dog in a sausage factory,” he said. “I went crazy in there, and it kept going and going.”

After a 19-year run, the Eureka Springs convention series eventually ended, and a frog lady in Oklahoma hosted one for five years. After that, the baton was passed to the Morrisons.

“People wanted us to do it, and we started sponsoring one,” Morrison said.

With Joe at the helm, frog fans have now gathered in St. Charles each June for the past 17 years. The frog fanatic family is a tightly-knit group and includes froggers of all ages who live in all corners of the U.S.

“We have people from all over the country,” Morrison said. “The youngest we’ve had was six years old and the oldest was 93.”

As colossal as Morrison’s collection is, it pales in comparison to some.

“I know a lady who has 20,000,” he said.

A Missouri native formerly of the St. Louis area, Morrison worked many various jobs during his life. His favorite movie star is Michigan J. Frog, an animated Warner Brothers character who first appeared in a 1955 cartoon and went on to be the mascot of the WB Television Network from 1995 to 2005.

Not surprisingly, many people who witness Morrison’s subterranean frog museum are stunned at its overwhelming magnitude.

“They’ll say things like, ‘You said you had frogs, but you didn’t tell me you had frogs!’” he said. “Most people can’t fathom this many frogs in one place and they ask ‘Where did you get them all?’ It’s kind of mind-boggling.”

“People are amazed by it,” Pat said. “And they come back later and say, ‘I never noticed them any place before, but now everywhere I go, there’s frogs.’”

To some extent, frogs find Morrison as much as he finds them.

“It’s like when you go into a store in July and see a heater,” he said. “It really doesn’t register in your mind. It was that way with me and frogs, but now they jump out at me.”

Morrison doesn’t watch a TV shaped like a frog (although he has several frog radios) or ride around his neighborhood in a frog golf cart, but you never know.

“It’s hard to find a frog I don’t already have,” he said. “I sometimes challenge people to think of something I don’t have, and if they do, I look for it. But it’s hard for anybody to come up with anything.

“I’m always hoping to find something different. We talk about it at the convention, and if somebody comes up with something, it’s like, ‘ooh, look what they have.’”

While Morrison’s primary motivation used to be amassing as many frogs as possible in as little time as possible, his focus has since shifted.

“I think with most serious collectors, after a while you start thinking that maybe you should look more for quality than quantity,” he said. “I think that’s the way the collection habit goes.”

Quantity and quality guidelines notwithstanding, Morrison’s quest for more frogs is not likely to end soon.

“I’ll keep collecting until I croak,” Morrison said.

Most people can’t fathom this many frogs in one place and they ask, ‘Where did you get them all?’ It’s kind of mind-boggling.”

Click on this link to view many more images of Joe Morrison’s frog collection:

http://houston.mycapture.com/mycapture/enlarge.asp?image=50060301&event=1744787&CategoryID=57447

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