M.I. Hūmmel products are the result of a succesful partnership between W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik and a talented German artist, Sister Maria Innocentia Hūmmel. Her images of youthful innocence have been transformed by the Master Artists of Goebel into original M.I. Hūmmel works of art.
Berta Hūmmel was born in Bavaria in 1909 with a wonderful gift -- an instinct for observing her world and translating her observations into drawings, especially of children. In 1927, Berta enrolled in Munich's famed Academy of Applied Arts. There her talent matured and survived rigid training with its spontaneity intact.
Religion had always been important to Berta. She befriended two Franciscan Sisters from a teaching order that emphasized the arts. Berta decided to enter the Convent of Siessen upon graduation in 1931, and three years later, took the name Maria Innocentia.
The young Sister found herself in a setting that encouraged her talents. Soon, small German publishers began printing some of her artwork in the form of postcards. These charming cards came to the attention of Franz Goebel, the head of a porcelain company bearing his name. He was in search of a subject for a new line of figurines. And here it was!
Franz Goebel proposed to Sister Hūmmel the idea of transforming her drawings into figurines. An agreement was reached with the Convent granting Goebel the sole right to create three-dimensional works of art based on Sister Hūmmel's drawings.
The artist worked personally with Goebel Master sculptors and painters to create the new products. The first figurines were introduced in 1935 and were immediately successful.
Tragically, Sister Hūmmel died in 1946 at only 37 years of age. But her artistic legacy was carried on by Goebel. Even today, Goebel artists discuss each new M.I. Hūmmel work of art with an Artistic Board at the Convent of Siessen. Standards of craftsmanship established more than six decades ago have been strictly preserved. And M.I. Hūmmel figurines continue to charm the world.
My wife Donna and I began collecting M.I. Hūmmel figurines several years ago and today possess a respectable collection. Donna is a member of the M.I. Hūmmel Club, through which she can obtain pieces otherwise unavailable. Collecting has proven to be a challenge and forced us to make some hard decisions.
We have adopted a two-fold approach to buying Hūmmels. The prices asked in most antique and collectibles shops are often at or above "book" value, which places them out of our reach. Occasionally, we find a bargain and check our finances to see if we can afford it, but usually we end up passing unless the bargain is just too good to pass up. We do so because we have found we can find specimens for sale at about half "book" value, and once one discovers this, it changes everything. We can afford to pass on a figurine priced at 75-80% of "book" value because we know we can eventually find it for less. We think dealers who don't realize there is a bargain basement market out there are simply out of touch and deserve to lose sales. They attempt in every way to inflate the values of these little darlings, and we are doing everything we can to defeat their attempts.
The usual question asked when we say we can get them at half "book" is "Where?" Well, there are several sources. Foremost among them are large, organized "Hūmmel fairs" where dozens of dealers compete in close proximity and price becomes the determinent factor in moving stock. Another source are antique malls. Individual antique dealers are usually poor sources for bargains, but large antique "malls" with a hundred or more dealers are another matter, as competition tends to make bargaining possible. As my wife has proven to me time and time again, you just have to ignore the marked price and offer what you can afford. This also tends to work in other stores at the end of the month, when rent is approaching, and at the end of the tax quarter or year. Additionally, we belong to a very large consumer club where we can buy Hūmmels from a catalog for 57.5% of retail, plus tax and shipping. This works out to about 65-70% of retail, and that is affordable for new or special releases which won't appear in antique stores or at "Hūmmel fairs" for years to decades. Finally, there is the M.I. Hūmmel Club, to which my wife belongs, and it can be the source of bargains as well. There are annual membership renewal "gifts" which are "free" with the annual membership renewal, and there are special "members only" figurines which non-members cannot buy. There are other offers too which make the continued price of membership, which is reasonable, an investment worth making.
Finally, like so many others, we have discovered eBay.com, the online auction site where 600-800 Hūmmels are available at all times. We have found that we can buy most of the more popular pieces at 55-65% of their listed "book" values. To me, this simply means that the so-called "book" value is a myth, as the true value of anything is determined by the price at which it will sell. If an item consistently sells at auction for 55-60% of "book," then the real value is the auction price, not what the "book" says it is worth.
Finally, I have to be honest and admit we also collect Hūmmel "look-alikes" and what I call "Hūmmelesque" figurines. These are generally unauthorized Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and American copies or similarities to the real thing. All of these are poor substitutes to genuine Goebel figurines, but some are less poor than others. For these, too, there is a "book" value, but we've found that most dealers are unaware of it or, if aware, grossly overprice their pieces in the mistaken belief that a Hūmmel is a Hūmmel or that these will appreciate along with the real McCoys. We emphatically disagree with both of the latter beliefs and never tire of telling dealers they have grossly overpriced their merchandise. Most should be priced between $3 and $15, and only an exceptional piece deserves the $15 price. Only last weekend we found a very nice piece at a garage sale for 10 cents. At shops, we have found the same piece we purchased for $2 elsewhere priced for $35, and we purchased a pair of very fine immitations for $14.95 for the pair only to discover them elsewhere with an asking price of $75 each. Dealers who mark their merchandise like this deserve to go broke. Pieces made in occupied Japan (and so marked) do command a higher price, but to us they are not worth the outrageous premiums many dealers attach to them. After all, all we want is the figurine specimen itself, not the "Made in Occupied Japan" stamp on the bottom.
Collecting Hūmmels is a gentle hobby. Whether one collects older specimens or newer trademarks of the real thing, or simply collects the Hūmmelesque figurines, collecting is its own reward. The faces and expressions are often simply darling, and rarely does a design go to market which might disappoint anyone who loves children. I doubt we will ever tire of this hobby.
Exceptional photography by Walter Pfeiffer brings the beloved Goebel figurines to the page in amazing detail, while Joan N. Ostroff and Manfred Arras economize on words to convey the essence of the art so many of us collect. These are the best 320 pages you can own if you simply love looking at Sister Hūmmel's little children. This is not a price list or catalog, but rather a masterful presentation of the best ceramic figurines anyone could hope to own.
The third chapter alone, "The People Behind the Figurines," is worth every penny of the price of this book. The Goebel tradition of fine craftsmanship is articulated in photo essay form. Master sculptors, moldmakers, casters, assemblers, kilnsmen, glazers, and painters are captured like never before, and the complicated and many-stepped process of making the figurines is brought to your study for thoughtful appreciation. As many as forty molds are required to make some of the pieces, shedding light at last on why these beautiful little children can cost more than your new wide-screen TV.
If you collect Hūmmels, you owe it to yourself to buy this book. You'll love it as much as you love any of your figurines.
Enjoy the hobby, but never stop learning.