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Collectors seek gnomes on the roam

Where they came from, and where to find them.

Antiques & Collectibles — Sandy Erdman column sig

We see these little folks in gardens, popping up in antique malls, gift shops, craft and vendor shows, flea markets, thrift shops, travel ads, and more. They're known as gnomes!

The word "gnome" is said to come from the Latin word "gnomus," which is thought to possibly come from the Greek word "gnosis," meaning knowledge of hidden treasures. But it's more likely rooted in the word "genomos," meaning "earth dweller."

The garden gnome as we know it first appeared in the mid-19th century in the Thuringia region of Germany and eventually spread to France, Great Britain and America. Phillip Griebel, a maker of terra-cotta animals, is often given credit for producing some of the earliest figures of small, bearded men with pointy red hats.

By World War I, the fad had crested, and with the release of Walt Disney’s "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937, interest was renewed. The fad came roaring back at the tail end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Now they're mass-produced, and it looks like they're here to stay.

Where they might pop up

Cindy Habermann, of Rochester, enjoys making gnomes, which she calls "whimsical folk art."

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"The one I made out of papier-mâché has a pine-cone body and real sheep’s wool for his beard," she said. "In my collection, one of my favorite are those from the 'Wee Forest Folk,' which is a whole series of gnomes ... Little mice that look like gnomes.”

Cindy Habermann gnome made with papier mache, pine cone body and real sheep's wool for his beard.jpg
Cindy Habermann made this gnome out of papier-mâché, with a pine-cone body and real sheep's wool for his beard. (Contributed photo)

Joan Thilges, of New Generations of Harmony: “There are always gnome collectors, but the huge popularity of fabric gnomes has slowed down somewhat. We still have some cute fabric gnomes selling for around $10 or $11. The ever-popular garden gnomes sell quite well for under $20. But for true collectors, we have Klaus Wick and Tom Clark gnomes ranging from $12 to $30.”

Linda Gorman Schulte, owner of Sweet Valley Artisans, a new shopping mall in Coon Valley, Wis.: “We have general fabric gnomes from Go Packer to bees and daisy and more, ranging in price from $10-$20.”

Go Packer Gnome found at Sweet Valley Artisans, Coon Valley, Wis..jpg
This gnome for Packer fans can be found at Sweet Valley Artisans in Coon Valley, Wis. (Contributed photo)

Shayna Dais, Rusty Bucket, Winona: “We only have two. One is $8, and one is $9. One has a pink beard, and one has a creamy beard, with small gold fibers in it. They continue to be big sellers for us. We had some Minnesota Twins gnomes at our first June sale and sold out! We will have more as soon as we can get some made."

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Cindy Rigotti, The Yellow Monkey, Rochester: “We have gnomes, and people of all ages love them! Most that we have are on consignment. We do make our own, but now we are making gnomes for fall.”

Carol Loshek, The Cottage Cupboard, Winona: “Our artisans still make gnomes, and they do sell. We've had 4-foot wood gnomes, as well as other fabric gnome items, at our last sale.”

Bobbi Schlesselman, The Cat-Tail, Fountain City, Wis.: “We have a few gnomes, and of course, they are cat gnomes.”

Judy Ratz, Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona: "I have a couple of gnome planters in my CMS booth, and I’ve sold a few outdoor garden gnomes also this summer, priced from $15-$20.”

Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at life@postbulletin.com .

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Klaus Wick and Tom Clark gnomes and some garden gnomes found at New Generations of Harmony.jpg
A collection of Klaus Wick, Tom Clark and garden gnomes at New Generations of Harmony. (Contributed photo)

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDENSANDY ERDMAN
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