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The story of the Hummel figurines is unique. It is practically required reading for those with an interest in the artist, her work, and the resulting three-dimensional fine earthenware renditions—the famous Hummel figurines.
These charming but simple figurines of boys and girls easily capture hearts. In them we see, perhaps, our son or daughter, sister or brother, or even ourselves when we were racing along the paths of happy childhood. When you see the School Boy or School Girl, you may be taken back to your own school days.
Seeing the figurine Culprits could bring back the time when you purloined your first apple from a neighbor’s tree and were promptly chased away by his dog. You will delight in the beauty of the Flower Madonna or Shepherd’s Boy. You will love them all with their little round faces and big questioning eyes. These figurines will collect you, and if you have the collecting tendency, you will undoubtedly want to collect them.
You may ask yourself what artist is behind these beguiling figurines. Who is the person with the talent to portray beauty and innocence with such simplicity?
The answer is Berta Hummel, a Franciscan sister called Maria Innocentia.
Berta Hummel was born on May 21, 1909, in Massing in lower Bavaria, which was located about 40 miles northeast of Munich, Germany. She grew up in a family of two brothers and three sisters in a home where music and art were part of everyday life. In this environment, her talent for art was encouraged and nourished by her parents.
Berta attended primary school between 1915 and 1921. During these early years, she demonstrated the great imagination so necessary for an artist. She created delightful little cards and printed verses for family celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas. Her subjects were almost always the simple objects with which she was familiar: flowers, birds, animals, and her friends. In her simple child’s world, she saw only the beautiful things around her.
When she finished primary school, Berta was enrolled in the Girls Finishing School in Simbach in 1921, in order to nurture and train her talent further and to give her a wider scope of education and experience. Here again, her artistic talent was recognized and upon finishing, it was decided that she should go to a place where she could further cultivate that talent and realize her desire to pursue art as a vocation. In 1927, Berta moved to Munich, where she entered the Academy of Fine and Applied Arts.
There she lived the life of an artist, made friends, and painted to her heart’s content. At the academy, she acquired full mastery of art history, theory, and technique. It was here also that she met two Franciscan sisters who, like herself, attended the academy.
There is an old adage that art and religion go together. Berta Hummel’s life was no exception. She became friends with the two sisters and began to think that this might be the best way to serve. Over time, she decided to join the sisters in their pilgrimage for art and God, in spite of the fact that she had been offered a position at the academy.
For a time, Berta divided her days between her talent for art and her love for humanity and hours of devotion and worship. Then she took the first step into a new life of sacrifice and love. After completing her term as a novice, the 25-year-old took the first vows in the Convent of Siessen on Aug. 30, 1934.
Although Berta Hummel (now Sister Maria Innocentia) gave her life over to an idea she thought greater than any worldly aspiration, the world became the recipient of her wonderful works.
Within the walls and the beautiful surroundings of the centuries-old convent, she created the paintings and drawings that were to make her famous. Within these sacred confines, her artistic desires enjoyed unbounded impetus.
Little did her superiors dream that this modest blue-eyed artist who had joined their community would someday win worldwide renown. Much less did they realize what financial assistance Maria Innocentia’s beloved convent would derive from her work as an artist.
During World War II, in 1945, after the French had occupied the region, the noble-minded artist’s state of health was broken. On Nov. 6, 1946, at age 37, despite the best care, Sister Maria Innocentia died, leaving all her fellow sisters in deep mourning.
The M.I. Hummel figurines, modeled according to Sister Maria Innocentia’s work, are known all over the world. They are her messengers, bringing pleasure to many, many people.
Finding, buying and selling M.I. Hummel collectibles
The single, most important factor in any collecting discipline is knowledge. Before you spend your hard-earned funds to start or expand a collection, it is incumbent upon you to arm yourself with knowledge.
In today’s market, there are many sources, some quite productive and some not so productive, as is true of any collectibles field. Supply and demand is a very important factor in the world of Hummel collecting.
We have been through some extraordinary times. Nearly four decades ago, retailers had a very difficult time obtaining Hummel figurines and plates in any quantity, never had a choice of pieces, and often went for weeks with none in stock. They often had to order an assortment, and there were three monetary levels of assortments.
In addition, it was often two to three months between ordering them and taking delivery. This was true for almost every Hummel retailer in the country. In those years of limited supply, even small dealers would see their shipments gone in a matter of days. There was a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s that dealers not only couldn’t meet collectors’ demands, but kept lists of collectors and what each collector was looking for. The result was most of their stock was presold, and what was left would sometimes literally be fought over.
The shows and conventions that featured Hummel saw great crowds in those early years of the surge in Hummel popularity. Frequently, the dealers would literally be cleaned out before half the show was over, leaving booths empty of all but tables and display fixtures.
Our economic times have changed all that, but the good news is that the collector now has many sources from which to choose. This is particularly true if you are not specializing in the older trademark pieces. These can be found in gift shops, jewelry stores, galleries, and shops specializing in collectibles. Even the popular television shopping programs feature Hummel figurine sales from time to time. They are also available by mail-order from various dealers around the country, many of whom also deal in the old trademark pieces.
A great way to find them is by looking in the various antique and collectible publications. Many of them have a classified ad section where dealers and collectors alike offer Hummel figurines and related pieces such as plates.
Productive sources, if you can get to them, are the large annual gatherings of dealers and collectors held around the country. Especially if you’re trying to find the older-marked pieces, these shows can be a goldmine. But even if you’re a collector of the new pieces, attending the shows is fun and a good learning experience. They usually offer lectures and seminars by experts and dealers, all of whom are subject to much “brain-picking” by crowds of collectors. You also have the opportunity to meet other collectors and learn from them.
The Internet has provided collectors of all sorts of Hummel-related pieces with a place not only to shop, but also to interact in chat rooms or online discussion panels with other collectors. Online appraisal services with trained appraisers can give you a value of your collection for a fee.
Using the Internet, the possibilities for expanding or selling a collection are endless. Take, for example, the number of Hummel-related collectibles on auction websites; on eBay.com, a search under the word “Hummel” will bring forth an average of thousands of choices every day. The one caution about using the Internet for buying, however, is to beware of potential fraud. Without the opportunity to actually pick up and inspect a piece, it is sometimes difficult to legitimize authenticity. See “More About E-Buying” for a bit more detail on Internet buying.
Bargains? Yes, there are bargains to be found. Estate auctions and sales and country auctions are your best bet. Flea markets (especially in Europe), junk shops, attics, basements, relatives, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors are by far the best sources for bargains. In short, look anywhere one might find curious old gifts, castaways, etc.
|Hum 45: Madonna With Halo and Hum 46: Madonna Without Halo
These Madonnas, designed by master sculptor Reinhold Unger, were part of the original 46 figures that were released in 1935 at the Leipzig Fair. They are often confusing to collectors because of their similarity.
Apparently, they are also occasionally confused with each other at the factory. Sometimes, the mold number appears on the wrong piece, possibly explained in some cases by the fact that the two pieces are identical without the halo, which is an add-on piece during assembly. The fact that they are sometimes found with both mold numbers incised on one piece lends evidence to the theory that the body is from the same mold and the mold number is impressed after assembly, but before firing.
At least nine legitimate variations have been found. The chief differences are in size, color, and glaze treatment. They are found in color and white overglaze. The known color variations are beige, rose, light blue, royal blue, and ivory. They have also been found in terra-cotta.
In 1982, both the 45/III and the 46/III were temporarily withdrawn from production, and in 1984, the 45/0 and 46/0 were also withdrawn temporarily. The 46/I was temporarily withdrawn in 1989, apparently leaving only the 45/I, Madonna With Halo, available to collectors.
While variations are rampant, only the appearance in terra-cotta, which is valued at $2,000 to $3,000, and one other has any significant effect on value. There is a variation where there are red-painted stars on the underside of the halo. This variation can as much as triple the value for its counterpart without the stars.
More About E-Buying
People flock to Internet sites to shop for a wide array of collectibles. As more opportunities develop for making the best deal, collectors need to educate themselves on the proper methods of buying online, and by doing so, reduce the risk of possible abuse by an unscrupulous merchant.
• Understand how the auction works.
• Check out the seller. For company information, contact the state or local consumer protection agency and Better Business Bureau.
• Beware of out of focus pictures.
• Know when to buy—early morning or “night owl” shopping on an auction site may be beneficial.
• Be especially careful if the seller is a private individual.
• Get the seller’s name, street address, and telephone number to check him/her out or follow up if there is a problem.
• Ask about returns, warranties, and service.
• Be wary of claims about collectibles.
• Use common sense and ask yourself: Is this the best way to buy this item? What is the most I am willing to bid?
• Get free insurance through the auction sites whenever possible.
• Protect your financial information by using Pay-Pal.
The Price to Pay
There are several factors that influence the actual selling price of the old and the new. The suggested retail price list addresses those pieces bearing the current production trademark. Each time the list is released, it reflects changes in the retail price.
These changes (usually increases) are due primarily to the basic principle of supply and demand, economic influences of the world money market, ever-increasing material and production costs, the American market demand, and last, but certainly not least, an expanding interest in Germany and the rest of the European market.
The list does not necessarily reflect the actual price you may have to pay. Highly popular pieces in limited supply can go higher and some of the less popular pieces can go for less. This has been the case more in the recent past than now, but the phenomenon still occurs.
The value of Hummel figurines, plates, and other collectibles bearing trademarks other than the one currently being used in production is influenced by some of the same factors discussed earlier, to a greater or lesser extent. The law of supply and demand comes into even more prominent light with regard to pieces bearing the older trademarks, for they are no longer being made and the number on the market is finite.
More simply, there are more collectors desiring them than there are available pieces. Generally speaking, the older the trademark, the more valuable or desirable the piece. One must realize, however, that this is not a hard and fast rule. In many instances there are larger numbers available of pieces bearing an older mark than there are of pieces bearing later trademarks. If the latter is a more desirable figure and is in much shorter supply, it is perfectly reasonable for it to be more valuable.
Another factor must be considered. The initial find of the rare international figurines saw values shoot up as high as $20,000 each. At first, the figurines were thought to exist in just eight designs and in only one or two prototypes of each.
Over the years, several more designs and multiples of the figurines have surfaced. Although they are still quite rare, most bring less than half of the original inflated value. So you see, values can fall as the result of an increase in supply of a rare or uncommon piece.
This situation can be brought about artificially as well. If someone secretly buys up and hoards a large quantity of a popular piece for a period of time, the short supply will drive the value up. If that supply is suddenly dumped on the market, demand goes down. This has happened more than once in the past, but not so much today.
Yet another circumstance that may influence a fall in pricing is the reissue of a piece previously thought by collectors to be permanently out of production. This has happened because of collectors’ past confusion over company terminology with regard to whether a piece was permanently or temporarily withdrawn from production.
Many collectors wish to possess a particular item simply because they like it and have no interest in an older trademark version. These collectors will buy the newer piece simply because they can purchase it for less, although recent years have seen the last of the older trademarked pieces go for about the same. It follows naturally that demand for an even older trademark version will lessen under those circumstances.
You may find it surprising that many of the values in the old trademark listing are less than the values reflected in the current M.I. Hummel suggested retail price list. You have to realize that serious collectors of old mark Hummel collectibles have very little interest in the price of or the collecting of those pieces currently being produced, except where the list has an influence on the pricing structure of the secondary market.
As we have seen, demand softens for some of the later old trademark pieces. That is not to say that those and the current production pieces are not valuable—quite the contrary. They will be collectible on the secondary market eventually. Time must pass. Make no bones about it, with the changing of trademarks and the passing of time will come the logical step into the secondary market. The principal market for the last two trademarks is found in the general public, not the seasoned collector.
The heaviest trading in the collector market in the past couple of years has been in the Crown and Full Bee trademark pieces. The Stylized Bee and Three Line trademark pieces are currently remaining stable and the Last Bee trademark pieces are experiencing a stagnant market.
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