Kitsch and capitalism: The rise and fall of Hummel figurines

Your grandmother just passed away, and you're combing through her attic deciding what to keep, what to toss, and what to sell. And suddenly you spot it: a box of Hummels, the collectible figurines that debuted in 1935 based on the illustrations of one Maria Innocentia Hummel, a German nun.

According to renowned antiques expert Terry Kovel of Kovels.com, the figurines initially gained popularity in the United States because soldiers during World War II bought them in Europe for their wives, girlfriends, and parents, who "thought they were cute".

A hot secondary market soon developed and for a while, the values of Hummels rose, although Kovel notes that inflation was a major driver of that price run-up. Wanting to take advantage of the boost in values, Goebel, the German parent company of the Hummel brand, sought to cash in. According to Kovel, "Back in the 70s and 80s they started all this limited editions stuff: they had plates and bells, and you name it. They thought they could fool the public."


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