Vintage View: The works of MI Hummel

Kya deLongchamps considers the cherubic cabinet cuties of MI Hummel, which despite their innocuous subject matter, threatened a Führer.

THE cavity-forming sweetness until recently, (possibly with the rearrangement of my hormones), would send Ms deLongchamps bursting through the wall to attempt escape.

As my 11-year-old sage would say — ‘creep-tosa’. MI Hummel figurines, those flamed-cheeked little butterballs with their knock knees, whipped cream hair, pinafores and lederhosen, populated mantelpieces in stiff little gangs for an entire generation of sentimental baby-boomers.

Swinging tiny ice picks, puppies, musical instruments and dusty little buckets, Hummel toddlers ascended teak shelving, neo-Georgian what-nots and Christmas trees, a rounded leather boot toe dug in the snow in a bashful show of jaw-paralysing cuteness.

Still, holding a Hummel in the hand like a fragile bird, you can only be struck by how beautifully made, nicely painted and perfectly observed they are as pieces of sculpture. Put this together with their marked political past, and I really am beginning to soften.

The Hummel childhood characters were created by the aptly named Sister Maria Innocentia, formerly Berta Hummel (b. 1909) who entered the convent of Siessen at Saulgua, near Ravensburg in south-west Germany, in 1931. Naturally talented, she was trained from girlhood by teachers who recognised Berta’s ability.

Her first venture was a series of postcards scintillating with sentiment which drew the attention of Franz Goebel of W Goebel &Co. The coloured sketches for Fink Verlag, had a marked artistic beauty and the undeniable appeal of the universal (if very German-fashioned), baby-child subject matter.

Starting with Little Fiddler, Bookworm, and Puppy Love, by 1935 the firm was producing a range of small porcelain statuettes, ideal for gifting and collecting. All designs had to be approved by the convent before going into manufacture, and they took a piece of the profits, of course.

Something in the endearing quality of the pieces transcended the possible taint of their wartime German manufacture. Adolf Hitler, despised the Hummel characters, referring scornfully to their ‘hydrocephalic heads’ as making his young Aryans look weak and like ‘sissies’.

The Führer banned the sale of Sister Innocentia’s work in Germany. In 1940, the Nazis took over the religious school and convent at Siessen, looting the order’s coffers including their profits from the designs for Goebel & Co.

Sr Innocentia’s health collapsed in 1944 and by 1946 she had passed away to the common scourge of TB. The Second World War far from destroying the Hummel, increased its popularity as American GIs brought figurines home to their loved ones, and the Allies encouraged the resumption of manufacture in 1946.

The most sought after Hummels come from the first period of 1935-1950, with later pieces losing considerable value since the days of exuberant collecting of new and second hand pieces in the 1970s and 1980s. Unusually tall Hummels are also worth looking out for if you’re into these kids for the money, (how cruel).

The factory continued to release Hummels right up to 2008 in tens of thousands of ‘limited editions’ in statues, bells, plates, and more. A Hummel is hardly a rare charity shop find, but that does allow considerably valuable characters to be blithely overlooked. 

Stylistic variations, production flaws and the identifying ‘Hum number’, even the number of buttons on a waistcoat can make a crucial difference to value.

When examining Hummel pieces, look for the incised mark of MI Hummel with a Crown-WG for Goebels. The mark of ‘Ars Sacra’ or ‘Herbert Dubler Inc’ identify American makers who made up a shortfall in Hummels when the firm were forced to temporarily shut down production in Germany.

Prices? Even an older Hummel child from a reputable online retailer will rarely demand more than €30, and you can find pieces for as little as €10 on Ebay from the 50s and 60s. The names remain heart-rending: Playmate with Rabbits, The Botanist, Spring Cheer — but don’t foster anything less than perfect. 

Many of these little wanderers have been flung unwrapped into ‘mixed lot’ boxes after deaths and clear-outs, and the bases, hats and digits often take an unfortunate knock.

Chalky painted finishes are not glazed in firing and can rub off and stain with rough handling, washing or by wrapping the pieces in newspaper for long periods.

There are at least eight Hummel trademarks, so your first stop before starting a collection is to read all you can in websites dedicated to Hummel collecting published online and to pick up a good price guide.

The Official M I Hummel Price Guide by Heidi von Recklinghausen (2nd edition, Kraus 2013), is €29.50 ordered through Easons.


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