Vintage Garden Gnomes History of Gnomes

German Garden Gnomes
Das Ist Gut Ja!

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Very loosely translated: "Yes, German garden gnomes are a good thing" - as anyone of German decent will be happy to tell you! Most of us are aware of the traditional legends about gnomes, which come to us from such disparate origins as the Scandinavian countries and Siberia, and we've touched on those here more than once. But no country has taken to gnomes the way Germany has, possibly because gnomic culture so well reflects their orderly souls. In fact, in nearly all cases the gnome figurines we gnomers love are based (at least loosely) on the German version of the gnome, though on occasion you might have to look twice and squint to get the connection.

The History of Gnomes

At least the artificial garden kind -- is a bit uncertain. The first terracotta gnomes were manufactured in a southern German town called Graeferoda in the 1800s; no one seems sure exactly when, but history records that the British first garden gnome appeared on an estate in 1840, so it had to be before then. In the 16 decades since, they've spread all over the world, and remain an especially popular item in Germany and Austria. It's estimated that there are 25 million garden gnomes in living rooms and flowerbeds in Germany alone, and who knows how many in the world? One thing's for sure -- if garden gnomes really are good luck, as legend has it, then the Germans must be lucky indeed these days.

Among the earliest of gnome creators was August Heissner, whose first gnomes came out of the mold in 1872. Antique Heissner German gnomes, especially those of the earliest vintages, remain popular collectors items -- though you can be sure that these old gnomes aren't left out in the garden, where they can be "freed" by radical groups like the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. Not only are they considered good luck, they're valued as true works of art. Other vintage gnomes, such as older Goebel Hummel figurines (more suitable for living room than garden) are also popular with collectors.

Generations of gnomers!

In some cases, antique garden gnomes have been passed down through families as heirlooms for generations. Kimmel Gnomes, the world's only remaining producer of ceramic gnomes (located in the USA, South Dakota no less), regularly buys vintage garden gnomes from individuals, and has some in its collection that had been in the same family for 150 years or more. Sadly, vintage gnomes such as these are rare -- they are, after all, easy to break if not treated with care. You've got to wonder -- if breaking a mirror causes seven years of bad luck, what happens when you break a gnome that's a good 150 years old? Does all the good luck drain away at once? We shudder at the thought!

Though Kimmel bewails the current glut of resin and plastic "caricatures" of gnomes (many of which are also made in Germany), these products have certainly made gnomes and gnoming more accessible to the world. After all, we need all the good luck we can get these days, and it won't be long until history turns these gnomes into vintage antiques as well. Just think -- maybe some day a century from now, mothers living on the Moon or Mars will be passing their antique gnomes down to their children. Hey! It could happen!




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