JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Should you give Hummels as Christmas gifts?
No figurine exists that is as charming and warm as a Hummel depicting an innocent looking child smelling a dandelion. Those of you who own one or two or more would agree. "Are they still worth anything?" "Should you give Hummels for Christmas presents?"
It was around Thanksgiving when my parents would make their annual trip to the Amana Colonies in southeast Iowa to a shop where they always purchased their Hummel figurines. My father had roots in that area so they would visit his grandparents' farm, have a tasty German meal at the Colonies and buy Hummels for themselves as well as to give to each of their grandchildren on Christmas Eve. They received as much pleasure giving them as the kids did receiving them.
Although the good times of seeing our kids faces light up when they opened their presents to find a Hummel figurine have come and gone, Kathy and I still cherish those moments. My mother's face would take on a big smile as the kids opened their Hummels and then she would tell them what the Hummel was called, make a few comments about how delightful they looked and recount how they happened to buy them and, of most importance, warn the kids not to drop them.
For those of you who do not know, the Hummel figurines were inspired by the artwork of Berta Hummel who was born in 1909 in southern Bavaria. She was a precocious child and at an early age showed signs of unusual artistic talent. Throughout her childhood she painted cards, wrote poems and plays.
She began her formal study of art at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1927. There she became friends with two of her fellow students who were nuns of the Franciscan Order at the Convent of Siessen. She made a decision to spend the rest of her life in the convent and became a Franciscan nun in 1931.
Because Sister Maria Innocentia, which became her new name, was especially gifted at drawing and painting children in charming ways, the convent allowed her to continue her studies at the academy. Her artwork drew the attention of Franz Goebel, owner of the Bavaria W. Goebel Porcelain Works, who proposed to the convent that Sister Maria's sketches be made into figurines.
The first Hummel figurines were made and sold in 1935. The Hummel children, according to W. Goebel, became "the world's most beloved children." These figurines portray adorable little children looking innocent and pure and doing simple things like washing clothes, eating an apple or going on a hike. They were all handcrafted and hand-painted by artists at the convent.
All of the Hummels are distinctively marked. The Crown mark was used from 1935 to 1949. The company added the bee mark in 1950. Goebel discontinued making Hummel figurines in 2008 and Manufaktur Rodental took over the factory in Germany and began making new Hummel figurines. Hummel figurines made by Rodental are marked with a yellow and black bee on the edge of an oval line surrounding the words.
Hummel figurines continue to be produced in the original factory in Rodental, Germany, where they have been made since 1935. They are still created with the strict oversight of the Convent of Siessen. By the way, Sister Maria died at the young age of 37 in 1946.
The popularity of Hummels in America began after World War II. American soldiers stationed in Germany began sending the figurines home as gifts. Hummels were very valuable at one time and they also appreciated in value until recent years. If you want to buy Hummels, now is the time.
To show you how the value has dropped, consider these figurines. A "Budding Maestro" (boy playing a horn) that was worth $60 in 1990 is worth less than $10 today. An "Apple A Day" (boy eating apple in an apple tree) was worth $200 in 1990 and is now worth about $35 today. "Bath Time" (boy and girl standing over wooden water pail) was worth $300 in 1990, today it is worth about $45. "Adventure Bound" depicting six children going on a hike was the most valuable of the figurines with a retail price of $4,900. Today you would be lucky to sell this figure for a $1,000.
What should you do with your figurines? If you sell them, you will lose money. If you have them sitting on your shelf and don't mind them gathering a little dust, why not hang on to them for a while? The value of good antiques and collectibles has peaks and valleys. Although the value may have dropped, their charm and beauty have not. I also wouldn't be surprised if the value jumped higher again some day.
Should you buy them as Christmas gifts? If you like them, and who wouldn't, go ahead. Hummels still represent probably the best of the best collectible gifts. If you purchase them on eBay, you are going to get some good deals. Your local jeweler or gift shop may have them as well.
We still have all of the Hummels that my parents purchased and, of course, our children still have their Hummels given to them on those memorable Christmas Eves long ago. They are still cherished and will be for a long, long time.
Riddle: Why was the strawberry sad? His mother got into a JAM! Some of the cutest Hummels depict children picking or eating fruit. You can see the entire collection of Hummels at the Donald E. Stephens Museum of Hummels in Rosemont, Ill.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.