Saturday 24 February 2018

Treasures: The humble Hummel

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

Hummel's the Merry Wanderer
Hummel's the Merry Wanderer
Poppy Meadow

Eleanor Flegg

The houses of the older generation are often filled with precious things, some which aren't nearly as financially valuable as their owners might like to think. So, if you're eyeing up the treasured family collection of Hummel figurines, don't get too excited. However, there are notable exceptions.

Even if you've no interest in porcelain ornaments, you'll know a Hummel when you see one. The cutesy little figurines of Bavarian children are still hugely popular. "People get nostalgic about them," says Linda Paine of Greystones Antiques. "I have to say that I don't personally like them, but people seem to love them."

Most vintage Hummel figurines sell for between €40 and €75, but some of the rarer ones are considerably more valuable. One of the most sought after, Adventure Bound (Hummel #347), is currently on eBay for US $2,400 (€2,046). The cheery little ceramic grouping of seven little boys heading off on an adventure is an intricate design and difficult to make, hence its rarity.

You'll pay anything between €50 and €250 for Hummel's most popular figurine, The Merry Wanderer (Hummel #7 and #11). It was first modelled by Arthur Moeller in 1935 and produced in many variations and sizes, hence the differences in price.

Hummel figurines get a rough ride in popular culture. In the animated TV series South Park (Episode 4, Season 9), Satan collects Hummel figurines. The web series, That Guy with the Glasses, implies that Hummel figurines are, if not actually satanic, at least possessed. In The Simpsons, Hummel figurines aren't evil - they're just uncool. Ned Flanders collects "Humble" figurines. Enough said.

So why all this Hummel-bashing? They're sentimental, kitsch, and extremely unfashionable. Some people just can't cope with their toe-curling cuteness but others find their innocence and positivity appealing. There's an interesting story behind them too. The porcelain figurines are based on the drawings of a remarkable Franciscan nun who once stood up to Hitler.

Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel (1909-1946) painted pictures of children which were published as postcards in the 1930s. Her artwork caught the eye of Franz Goebel, owner of a struggling porcelain company and she agreed to let him reproduce her designs as figurines. Their agreement allowed her to sign off on the sculpting and painting of the models. The range was launched in 1935 under the trademark "M I Hummel." The figurines were an instant success.

These were troubled times for Germany. In 1937, Hummel published a watercolour painting entitled The Volunteers. It showed two infant boys, goose-stepping in unison, and wearing long sleeved brown shirts reminiscent of the Sturmabteilung (SA) uniform. One carried a toy rifle, the other was beating a drum. Underneath, Hummel had written: "Dear Fatherland, let there be peace."

The Nazi publication Der SA-Mann denounced Hummel: "there is no place in the ranks of German artists for the likes of her." It described Hummel's drawings of children as "hydrocephalic, club-footed goblins".

The sale of Hummel's drawings and figurines was forbidden in Nazi Germany but allowed abroad. The Nazis took half the profits; the other half provided an income for her Franciscan community until Hummel's death from tuberculosis at the age of 37.

After the war, American soldiers purchased the figurines and sent them home as gifts. American people came to love the little Bavarian-costumed ornaments. In the 1970s, Goebel, producer of the Hummel brand, cashed in on this by making limited edition pieces for the collectors' market, often marketed as investment pieces. It didn't work out as planned. Elder Americans amassed huge collections only to find that tastes had changed and the younger generation wasn't interested.

Now, the most collectible Hummels are compositions of more than one figurine (like Adventure Bound) and pieces that are over 80 years old.

To find out how old a Hummel is, look on the underside. Every authentic Hummel figurine will have a Goebel stamp. Each Hummel also has a model number assigned by Goebel that can be used to identify the figurine. For example, Happy Traveller, modelled by Arthur Moeller in 1938, will carry the number 109. But, as this piece was produced in all trademark time periods, you'll have to check the date to determine its value.

Many of Hummel's more religious pieces have found a place on the Christmas tree. Heavenly Angel (Hummel #21), which shows a girl trying to guard her candle flame from the wind, is one of the most popular.

You'll also find a selection of Hummels at Greene's Antiques in Drogheda, Co Louth priced between €35 and €75.

See greystonesantiques.com and greenesantiques.ie. You can find a guide to identifying, dating, and calculating the value of Hummel figurines on antique-hq.com.

In the Salerooms

Fonsie Mealy

In Fonsie Mealy's Rare Book & Collectors' Sale, which took place on October 3, a 1911 All-Ireland 'Substitute Final' medal sold for €2,600. That year, the All-Ireland hurling championship was scheduled to play at the Cork Athletic grounds. The contenders were Limerick and Kilkenny. But, after days of heavy rain, the pitch was unplayable. The match was rearranged to be played at Thurles. Limerick refused to play anywhere but Cork and, as a result, Kilkenny got a walkover. A substitute match was arranged, and Kilkenny played (and beat) Tipperary. Other highlights included a rare first edition of Flann O'Brien's novel At Swim Two Birds (1939) which sold for €2,400. See fonsiemealy.ie.

Lev Mitchell

The contents of two local period houses will be up for auction at Milltown Country Auction Rooms, Dundalk, Co Louth, on Monday at 2pm. The sale is conducted by Lev Mitchell & Sons in conjunction with Joe Lennon of Milltown Country Auction Rooms. Items in the sale include a Regency mahogany dining table (est €1,200 to €1,500); a set of eight Victorian mahogany dining chairs (est €400 to €600); a 19th -century oak coffer (est €400 to €600) and a horn gramophone (est €300 to €400). Online bidding is on easyliveauction.com and milltownauctionrooms.com.

Antique & Vintage Fairs

The Northern Irish dealers Jim Magill and Peter Edwards will be coming to Dublin's RDS for the 50 Plus Expo/Back to our Past, which runs from today until Sunday. They'll be bringing a selection of vintage movie posters, collectable vinyl records, and vintage watches as well as a large collection of Irish silver and banknotes. They're also offering a free valuation service on the day. Up North, an AVA Antique & Collectors Fair will take place at the Leighinmohr Hotel, Ballymena, on Sunday. The fair runs from 11am to 6pm; entry is £2.

O'Reilly's

The next auction of fine jewellery, watches and silver at O'Reilly's Auction Rooms, Francis Street, Dublin, takes place on October 25 at 1pm. Alongside the usual array of diamonds, the sale includes some striking rings with coloured stones: an emerald and diamond cluster ring, mounted in platinum (est €15,000 to €17,000) and a pink sapphire and diamond cluster ring (est €4,000 to €4,500). See oreillysfineart.com.

Morgan O'Driscoll

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Poppy Meadow
 

Bidding at Morgan O'Driscoll's Irish Art Online Auction continues until Monday, ending between 6.30pm and 9.30pm. Highlights include paintings Geese in the Poppy Meadow by Kenneth Webb (pictured); Female Still Life Calender, April by John Shinnors (est €5,000 to €7,000); and Cecil Maguire's On the Beach II (est €2,000 to €4,000). There are also a number of sculptures in the sale, including Bearing Gifts (est €5,000 to €7,000), a small bronze bear by Patrick O'Reilly. See morganodriscoll.com.

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