Who can resist an adorable child?
Most people can’t.
They can’t even resist a figurine of a child.
Some figurines out there are so darn cute you just have to buy them. Luckily, they double as collectibles that will go up in value the longer you hold on to them.
At least that’s how they’re sold — making it easier to justify splashing out hundreds or even thousands for a small statuette of a kid that makes you say, “Awwwwww.”
From In-Demand to Out of Style
You know the story… When a new piece touted as a limited edition comes on the market and everybody decides they want it, the price goes up as supply goes down.
Then demand is satisfied, interest drops off and next thing you know, your prized figurine isn’t worth even what you bought it for.
Three types in particular — Lladró, Hummel and Precious Moments — started their lives well enough. They all commanded top prices because of high demand upon release.
Then their popularity tanked and the manufacturers’ fortunes faded like a winter sunset.
Here’s a look at what happened in each case.
Lladró is a family business located in Spain. In the 1940s, the eldest child, Juan, took an apprenticeship with a local tilemaker and learned to paint on the tiles.
He signed up for art school classes to improve his skills, and his brothers soon followed suit. They bought their own kiln in 1950 and in 1953 started their company.
By the late ’50s, their work had found an audience and in 1965 they began exporting to the United States.
Lladró figurines, vases and other items done in their specially designed porcelain grew steadily in popularity — and price — until around 2005. At that point, the market became saturated and demand started to fall off.
Despite a campaign to drop lower-priced works, clamp down on numbers of “limited editions” and a focus on creating higher-end pieces for higher-end venues, Lladró’s days of commanding top dollar seem to be over.
A few select pieces still command high prices at auction, but the secondary market buyers are no longer willing to stump up big money to get their hands on a pre-owned figurine.
Don’t get me wrong — Lladrós are well-crafted, beautiful works of art, and a brand-new Lladró can run you into the thousands of dollars in today’s market. Personally, I appreciate them and own several that I bought 10-plus years ago.
The thing is you just can’t buy them these days expecting to sell and make a profit later.
The Lladró family is still running the business. If you ever get to Valencia, Spain, you can arrange a tour of the factory and visit the showroom.
Hummel also started out well… A German nun named Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel made drawings of these irresistible figures. In 1935, W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik began making them commercially as figurines.
They found their way across the Atlantic as gifts for sweethearts and children in the bags of American soldiers coming home from World War II. That created demand, and soon Goebel was exporting them directly to the United States.
Back then you could buy a Hummel at Woolworth’s for $4–5 apiece. They sold out fast and the older models became more valuable. This continued throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
However, as the company kept churning them out, they became too common. Everyone had them. The “special edition” ploy no longer worked.
And along the way, the people who were avid collectors aged and stopped buying. As those generations of collectors passed away, supply started growing again and value dropped accordingly.
Goebel shut its doors for good in 2008. Another German company bought the brand and has begun producing more “limited editions,” but it’s generally accepted by collectors that the glory days are gone, never to return.
Like the German nun who started Hummel with drawings, Samuel Butcher also drew pictures of sweet little children doing endearing things. In the mid-’70s, he and a business partner launched a greeting-card company to sell his work, dubbed Precious Moments.
In 1978, a larger company, Enesco Corp., got into the act and teamed up with Precious Moments Inc. (PMI) to create a line of porcelain figurines.
They became wildly popular and sold well. Then — same old story — the company overproduced, people became less interested and value plunged. Enesco ended its relationship with PMI in 2004 due to low sales.
But unlike Hummel and Lladró, these figurines very rarely command more than $50 on the secondary market. And that’s the very top end. An eBay search reveals that listings over $50 are almost always for multiple figurines.
The moral of the story is cuteness overload in porcelain doesn’t pay.
Buy yourself a Hummel, Lladró or Precious Moments if you like it. Just don’t expect it to gain value by holding it.
To your wealth,
Editor-at-large, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Do you have any figurines you plan to pass down through the generations? Ever auction any off and realize a profit? Do you think of figurines as purely sentimental, or is there money to be made? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steffi Baker is the editor-at-large of Unconventional Wealth. For the past 10 years, she worked with a small strategy consulting firm that dealt exclusively with wealth-management companies, helping them market themselves to ultra-high-net-worth clients.
Through this line of work, Steffi attended events in London and New York and hobnobbed with household names and international...