Hummel figurines, a series of ceramic figurines, mostly of children and based on the illustrations of the German nun Maria Innocentia "Berta" Hummel, are prized collectibles and have been for many years. The first Hummel figurines were sold in 1935; the line was discontinued in 2008 but resumed under new ownership in 2009 to mark the 100th anniversary of Sister Hummel's birth.
Hummel figurines, plates and ornaments, particularly from the early years, are highly sought after by collectors and can sell for upward of $2,000 apiece. As a result, great care must be taken for proper Hummel figurine identification.
The First Mark of Authenticity
There are two marks of authenticity on all genuine Hummel figurines. The first is the signature of Sister Hummel on the base--a requirement in the nun's original contract with Franz Goebel, the manufacturer who discovered her after her artwork began appearing on postcards. From the time the first Hummel figurines were made in 1935, every piece has carried Sister Hummel's signature, except for those few pieces without bases.
The Second Mark of Authenticity
The second identifier is a Goebel or Manufaktur Rödental trademark on its underside. The actual look of the trademark has varied over the years. The earliest mark, used from 1935 through 1949, was a G superimposed over a W, underneath a crown. Then came various trademarks incorporating a bee, which, except for 11 years between 1979 and 1990, has been incorporated into the logo ever since. Pictures of each trademark are available on the official Hummel website.
Collecting Hummel Figurines
There are various organizations and resources for people who collect Hummel figurines. The M.I. Hummel Club is an international organization, created by Goebel, for collectors. Members get a club magazine as well as the right to buy figurines not available to the general public. They also may receive behind-the-scenes tours of the Goebel factory in Germany and attend club conventions.
There's also a reference book, The "No. 1 Price Guide To M.I. Hummel, 10th Edition," by Robert L. Miller. The book is a rich source of additional information and helps collectors keep tabs on the latest prices for discontinued figurines.
Buyer Beware: Hummel Fakes
As with any collectible, the rising prices of Hummel figurines, particularly the older ones from the 1950s and even earlier, has spawned a fair amount of fakes and forgeries. Some fake Hummels are made overseas, in Japan and China, and are popping up on Web sites, either characterized as "knockoffs" or masquerading as the real thing. That's why it is imperative that would-be buyers inspect each piece carefully and make sure both the signature and the trademark are present.
Thomas K. Arnold is publisher and editorial director of "Home Media Magazine" and a regular contributor to "Variety." He is a former editorial writer for U-T San Diego. He also has written for "San Diego Magazine," "USA Today" and the Copley News Service. Arnold attended San Diego State University.