Learn More About Collectible Gnomes

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Collectible Gnomes

© Elle Kate Taylor

For years, gnome figures and statuary have graced people's gardens and homes from Germany and England to Japan and the United States. In mythology and fairy tales, gnomes have been associated with positive energy, providing everything from watching over animals and families to being symbols of good luck.

They are depicted in all kinds of poses -- playing soccer and instruments, leaping over mushrooms, smoking pipes and holding signs. Through the years, gnomes have been made of cast iron, terracotta, porcelain, plastic, polyresin, concrete and cement and plaster.

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Let's learn more about these collectible Gartenzwerg.

  • Artina
    Artina (later Flambro and the Enesco Corporation) made poly-resin figurines of the Gnomes book characters illustrated by the late Rien Poortvliet (see Poortvliet).
  • Bernhard Block
    In 1895, wealthy German ceramics entrepreneur Bernhard Bloch bought a flourishing ceramics factory in Eichwald, Bohemia. As the Eichwald Porcelain and Stove Factory, Block & Co., products included thermodores and earthenware gnomes. The letters "BB" can be found on the base of the figures, along with a model number.
  • Cairn Studio
    Cairn Studio features the work of Dr. Thomas F. Clark, who is the studio's lead sculptor and artist. Clark started sculpting a gnome after looking at the illustrations of Rien Poortvielt, and became a master gnome sculptor, creating a series of gnomes and other characters called Woodspirits.
  • Clemens Spang
    Clemens Spang gnomes are identifiable by their teeth (they are revealed), parted legs, floppy hats, and cheeky, but not adorable, faces. Like so many gnomes, Clemens Spangs were made in Germany (Ludwigsburg) in the prolific postwar period of the 1950s and 1960s. They were made of earthenware and partially spray-painted.
  • Eckardt & Mentz
    Another ceramic gnome manufacturer in Grafenroda, Germany, Eckardt & Mentz gnomes were made from the late 1800s until 1945. Their craftsmanship was considered superb and their gnomes are hard to find.
  • Goebel
    Franz and William Goebel founded their company with the discovery of Berta Hummel, a Franciscan nun who created the famous figurines starting in 1935. From 1971 to 1987, Goebel produced a "Co-Boy" line of gnome figurines captured in various activities or representing certain professions. Among them:
    • Goebel / Goebel Co-Boy
    • Chuck the Chimney Sweep
    • Mike the Jam Maker
    • Sepp the Drunkard (presumably an activity and not a profession)
    • Robby the Vegetarian
    • Rudy the World Traveler
    • Greta the Happy Housewife
  • Griebel
    Rafenroda, a village in the German state of Thuringia, is said to be the birthplace of the popular garden gnome. It was here, that young Philipp Griebel apprenticed as a ceramic maker and later founded his own factory in 1874. Among Philipp's ceramic creations were terracotta animals and gnomes. Another villager, August Heissner, was also a major player in the gnome-making business during the same period.At its peak, Griebel's factory produced 300 various gnomes. Heirs Wendelin, Willi, Erich and Gunter continued the Griebel company until 2001. Returning to Grafenroda, another heir, Willi's son, Reinhard, resumed production of gnomes using original patterns and molds under the family name Philipp Griebel.
  • Heissner
    Along with Philipp Griebel, German manufacturer August Heissner was one of the fathers of gnome-making. His hand-painted gnomes were exported throughout the world. Heissner was hit hard by both World Wars, and Meissner moved its headquarters to Lauterbach, Hessen, Germany in 1959.The company joined the garden gnome renaissance underway, producing brightly colored plastic gnomes. Heissner gnomes were depicted playing instruments in a band, fishing, holding ducks -- you name it. The company is now a leading manufacturer of garden products and water features.
  • Hans Groth / Pursel Ceramics
    Produced during the 1950s in Lauterbach, Hessen, in central Germany under the name of Purzel Ceramics. Hans Groth gnomes are known for their large eyes and somewhat crude modeling.
  • Kimmel
    On its website, Sturgis, South Dakota-based Kimmel Gnomes claims to be the world's only remaining producer of ceramic gnomes. Owner Candice Kimmel buys vintage garden gnomes and has some in its collection that had been in the same family for 150 years or more.Kimmel casts her garden gnomes from rare 18th and 19th Century antiques along with her own designs and is highly regarded in the world of gnome collectors. Each Kimmel gnome is fired in English stoneware pottery and takes 1 to 2 weeks to complete because of the handmade and hand-glazing process.
  • Maresch
    Maresch is a big name in the land of gnomes, and one of the most collectible. At age 20, German-born Johann Maresch partnered with Adolph Baehr, the owner of a ceramics factory in Usti nad Labem (Czech Republic). Baehr died in 1849, but Maresch continued the business, producing fine quality porcelain and ceramic animals, fairytale characters, and gnomes. The business prospered and Maresch figures were exported throughout Europe.Johann's son, Ferdinand, took over in 1890 and continued to produce quality ceramics that were popular in Europe and North America. The factory was bombed during World War II, and postwar production declined because not enough skilled workers remained in the region. The factory closed in 1948.
  • Plachy & Materne
    Advertised as Gartenfiguren, the gnomes made by Plachy & Materne of Wirges, Westerwald, Germany, during the 1960s were very popular with Europeans. Under the name of Puma Plastics, these gnomes, animals, and toadstools were made of hard plastic in two-part molds, then handpainted. Their "heyday" was about 1965 to 1968.
  • Poortvliet and Huygen
    The 1976 book, Gnomes (Harry Abrams) sent the funny little men to superstar status, thanks to the whimsical illustrations of Dutch artist Rien Poortvliet (1932-1995) and stories by Wil Huygen (1924-2010). The book sold more than a million copies and spent 56 weeks on The New York Times hardcover list. Their books, characters, and illustrations inspired countless copies (figurines and other gnome collectibles), a TV series (David the Gnome), and brought gnomes once again into pop culture.
  • Zeho
    Zeho Plastics Company produced the first plastic garden gnome manufactured in Germany. Zeho gnomes were inspired by Disney characters, including the dwarfs from the popular 1937 animated film, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs.

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