Who would’ve thought that a Bavarian nun’s charming illustrations of children from the early 1930’s would create a collectible craze in the U.S. in the 1970s?
The famous Hummel figurines – those small porcelain statuettes starring adorable children – were initially created by Berta Hummel, a German woman who, after attending an art academy, entered the religious life and became a Franciscan nun known as Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel. With a love and talent for art, her paintings and drawings were admired by her fellow sisters. In fact, they were so impressed that they sent Hummel’s work to a religious card publishing house; equally impressed, the company decided to publish and sell Hummel’s charming illustrations in postcard form.
In 1934, these postcards eventually caught the eye of the Goebel company, a German manufacturer of porcelain figurines and dinnerware. The owner, Franz Goebel, thought Hummel’s theme of happy, playful children would work brilliantly in the figurine form. He bought the rights to Hummel’s drawings and soon began transforming the illustrations into figurines. In 1935, forty-six pieces were designed, based on Hummel’s original illustrations, and sold at the Leipzig Trade Fair and they were an immediate hit!
Hummels were particularly popular in the U.S., becoming a collectible obsession by the 1970s. This popularity may be due to the nostalgia associated with World War II, when U.S. soldiers, who were stationed in West Germany during the war, sent these cute tikes home as gifts.
Huh? A Hummel…what is it?
Hummels are small (ranging from 3 to 12 inches), painted, porcelain figurines featuring “happy children” engaging in “kid” activities, such as playing with animals (puppies, sheep, ducks, pigs, and bunnies); playing musical instruments; reading; “outdoorsy” activities (gardening, picking flowers, climbing trees); and going to school.
The key to understanding Hummel figurines, and their appraisal values, is becoming familiar with the important information printed or stamped on the base or bottom of each piece. This information consists of symbols (trademarks) and numbers (Hummel piece identification).
- Each distinct piece (once it was approved) was given a name (such as “Goose Girl” or “Bath Time”) and a Hummel number (or “Hum number”). This Hummel number also refers to its mold number. The first piece is Hum 1: “Puppy Love” and there have been over 2,000 others produced since.
- A set of figurines will have the same Hum number followed by a letter, beginning with “A.” So, for example, the “Angel Trio” is referred to as the following pieces:
- Hum 238/A: Angel with Lute;
- Hum 238/B: Angel with Accordion; and
- Hum 238/C: Angel with Trumpet.
- While there are over 2,000 distinct figurines, most have modest values between $50-$200. (Although, according to “Antiques Roadshow” appraisers, there are only a handful nowadays that can garner more than $50.)
- For pieces that are sized between 3 inches to 6 inches, the prices range in the lower hundreds. Larger sized-pieces obviously value for more – from the high hundreds ($700) to, perhaps, above $1,000. Rarer versions can capture values of over $1,000 to $4,000.
- While the larger sizes fetch greater values compared with the smaller sizes, these values are usually in the hundreds, no matter the size. The price range among the trademarks is also slight, if not entirely negligible.
- There is a curious occurrence for Hummel figurines from about Hum numbers 300-400. It appears that early samples were produced in the 1950s, but their “official” release dates were actually decades later. So for Hummel pieces 300-360, the earlier trademarked versions of TMK-2 and TMK-3 have much higher values than later produced versions (TMK-4,5, etc). For Hummel pieces 370-415, the TMK-4 and TMK-5 versions have much higher values than the later produced versions. **With this in mind, if you’re ever at an estate sale, collector show, auction, or garage sale, you might be able to discern if a Hummel figurine numbered 300-415 might be a potentially valuable one, based on the trademark.
This brings us to trademark designs and production years!
- Each piece had an official “release” year (which is the first year that a distinct piece became available for sale). Any pieces sold during that first year are identified as “first issue.” Each piece also has a last year of production (identified as “final issue”), after which some pieces are “retired” while others may just be “put on hold” for some indefinite time. There is no “standard” production-run for Hummel pieces in general (some may have been produced for 10 years; others may have been produced for over 20 years).
- However, each piece’s “production run” (years it was produced) accounts for a variety of slightly nuanced figurines. The coloring may be slightly different (a face may be paler; a puppy may be brown one year and then switch to black a few years later; gloves may become mittens, etc).
- The same piece could, therefore, bear several different trademark designs, depending on the year it was manufactured.
The Hummel figurines have had many trademark evolutions. So far, according to Hummel historian and avid collector Heidi Ann von Reckinghausen, the trademarks have been grouped into nine categories (from TMK-1 to TMK-9).
TMK-1 (934-1950): the “Crown Mark” features a crown.
*TMK-2 (1940-1959): known as the “Full Bee Mark.” It features a bee inside the letter “V” (the bee is a reference to Maria Hummel’s childhood nickname of “bumblebee”).
*TMK-3 (1958-1972): known as the “Stylized Bee Mark.”
TMK-4 (1964-1972): known as the “Three Line Mark” due to three lines of text. It also features the “bee and V” symbol (here the “V” is much larger than the previous ones).
TMK-5 (1972-1979): known as the “Last Bee Mark.” It features the name “Goebel” (with W. Germany underneath); the “bee and V” is placed over the Goebel name.
TMK-6 (1979-1991): known as the “Missing Bee Mark” – the “bee and V” had been removed to just leave the “Goebel W. Germany” text.
TMK-7 (1991-1999): known as the “Hummel Mark.” A text-only design featuring “Goebel” and “Germany.”
TMK-8 (2000-2008): known as the “Millenium Bee.” It features the “re-introduced” bee hovering over the “Goebel” name.
TMK-9 (2009-present): Goebel was bought out by Manufaktur Rodental in 2009. This trademark features a cursive-like “M.I. Hummel” printed inside a circle with a yellow bee in the corner and “Manufaktur Rodental” underneath the circle’s outer edge.
*There are 12 variations of the bee, btu the TMK-2 bee is more equal in size with the letter “V,” whereas the TMK-3 bee is smaller with a larger “V.”
Be wary of:
Restored pieces are worth less than ones unbroken in “mint” condition.
Imitations: usually produced in Japan or Hong Kong; much lighter in weight; difference in color/shine.
- The “Merry Wanderer” (Hum 7) – a little boy carrying a luggage case and umbrella while “merrily” humming a tune – is the favorite piece among collectors! The official club name for Hummel aficionados, the M.I. Hummel Club, incorporated the “Merry Wanderer” into its logo. Also, a 32-inch version was created as a promotional piece of showrooms – this size is thought to be valued at $25,000!
- There is a curiously collectible case of Hummel “copycats.” Known as “The English Pieces” or “The Beswick Pieces,” nine pieces (#903-914) were produced by Beswick, an older English porcelain manufacturer. Beswick was acquired by Royal Doulton, but no records were ever discovered about the origin of these nine pieces. They have become, strangely enough, very sought after by Hummel collectors!