Hummel figurines were a result of a collaboration between ceramicist Franz Goebel and Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, whose holiday cards featuring small children caught Goebel's eye in a Munich religious art shop. They made their first appearance at the March 1935 Leipzig Trade Fair and were a success with American businessmen. During World War II, Goebel turned to making insulators and mess-hall dinnerware, but in the '50s the figurines once again found their way into cabinets around the world.
Figurines are identified by an incised HUM number on the base. This refers to their listing in the factory's design journal. They also have individual titles. HUM 1, modeled by Arthur Moller in 1935, is called “Puppy Love” and shows two young street musicians either side of an attentive little dog.
Notable early figurines include “Little Fiddler” HUM 2, “Merry Wanderer” HUM 7, and “Book Worm” HUM 3, which is a large bookend in the shape of girl with a picture book on her lap. Many of these figurines were restyled in the '60s. The original versions usually have rectangular bases, while the bases of the restyled models are somewhat rounded.
Some Hummel figurines are exceedingly rare. An example of a very scarce table lamp, “Volunteers” HUM 102, was snapped up by one collector in a Washington thrift store in the 1970s. Only 50 or so copies were made of “Little Velma,” HUM 219, most of which are believed to have been shipped to Canada. If you come across a figurine of a little girl with pigtails gazing at a frog, be sure to look at it very closely--it might be worth a king's ransom.
Marks - First Period
Because many of the most popular figurines stayed in production for decades, an understanding of the company's marks is essential for purposes of dating. For pieces made between 1935 and 1949, look for a “WG” logo and the “M. I. Hummel” signature. The word “Germany” appears before the war, then from 1946 to 1948 the phrase “Made in the U.S. Zone Germany."
Marks - Second Period
In 1950, Goebel introduced its new “bee in a V” trademark. (The bee is a visual pun upon Hummel, which means “bumblebee” in German.) Until 1957, the bee was naturalistic in appearance and flying in profile, then it was replaced with a stylized bee facing head on. In 1972, the V was poised over a printed “Goebel,” and then in 1979 was dropped altogether.
- “M. I. Hummel: The Golden Anniversary Album,” Robert L. Miller, 1984
Based in the United Kingdom, Graham Rix has been writing on the arts, antiquing and other enthusiasms since 1987. He has been published in “The Observer” and “Cosmopolitan.” Rix holds a Master of Arts degree in English from Magdalen College, Oxford.