What is Dept. 56?

For those who stumble onto this page and do not know what Dept.56 is, here is a brief outline of the company and it's products.

Department 56, often referred to as simply D56, is a company that produces many lines of gift ware and collectibles, and is located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. It originally started out as the wholesale gift importing department (yes, #56) of the Bachman's Floral company in Minnesota. They became an independent company in 1982, but still maintain a close relationship with Bachman's. In 1992, Dept. 56 was purchased by Forstman, Little Co. for $270 million dollars. Now, you may ask, what does this have to do with the contents of this web site? Well, probably not too much, except a little history is good for everyone.

Now, on to the real purpose of this web site. Most of us have, at one time or another, walked into a card shop or gift shop or department store, especially around the Christmas holidays, and seen displays of those beautiful lighted porcelain houses. You see a village full of houses, figures, trees, lots of snow and usually Santa. Most likely, the houses you have seen in he past have been produced by Dept. 56. It is this line of collectible houses, as well as other items made by Dept. 56, that we wi ll be discussing here.

The Original Snow Village, first introduced in 1977 to the public, started this line of collectibles. There were 6 houses in the original group of Snow Village houses. The Snow village houses were originally made of ceramic, not porcelain, and continue to be made of ceramic today. By the way, if you look at the bottom of any house created by Dept. 56, you will see the name of the piece and the year it was copyrighted. These dates are usually the year before actual introduction. So the original Snow Village houses are marked 1976, even though they were not sold until 1977. At the time of their introduction, they were not considered to be a collectible, but rather a Christmas decoration.

In 1984, Dept. 56 decided to introduce a new village. This was Dickens' Village, an English village based on the works of Charles Dickens. For the first time, the houses and accessories are made of porcelain, allowing for finer details to show. Over the next several years, other villages were added - New England, Alpine, Christmas in the City, and The North Pole. The entire collection of these villages (not including Snow Village) became know as the Heritage Village Collection. Disney Parks Village was introduced in 1994. This village was to be a collection of houses from the various Disney Parks around the world. In a surprise move, the entire Disney Parks collection was retired in May, 1996. This came as a real shock to m any collectors. Over the course of years, as the number of village houses grew, pieces were retired, creating a demand for them by collectors who wanted to have a complete collection. Limited editions and event pieces added to the demand of the pieces. The first limited edition, the Village Mill, for Dickens' Village, sold initially for $35.00 in 1985. Now, it commands a price as high as $5000.00 on the secondary market.

Since introducing the villages, Dept. 56 has also added many other collectible lines. Among the most popular are Snowbabies. These are based on old turn of the century Christmas ornaments called snow babies. These figures show the child-like Snowbabies frolicking in a wintry setting with penguins, polar bears and other arctic creatures. Most recently, the character of Jack Frost has been brought into the collection. Among the other collectibles are the Merry Maker Monks, All Thru The House, Upstairs/Downstairs Bears, Winter Silhouette and the Snowbunnies.

Dept.56 also continues to manufacture large lines of gift ware and everyday objects. Among these items are dinnerware, decorative items, gift bags and tins, and many other whimsical items such as designer pencils. They also continue to produce ma ny ornaments and decorations for Christmas.

Now, you may ask, why is it that we collect these villages? A fair question, with no simple answer. Some collect them because they remind them of villages they may have seen many years ago under someone's Christmas tree. Some collect them just to enjoy their beauty. Some collect them to remind themselves of a simpler time. A few collect them for investment - their prices continue to rise on the secondary market, so this is an added benefit to collecting. Whatever the reason was for starting the collection, there is one thing everyone admits to - they become addicted to these little buildings, and have to keep buying more and more of them. While no explanation for this phenomena has been proven, the most accepted reason is Porcelain Paint Poisoning. That's right - poisoning. There is something in the paint that makes you want to buy more and more of these houses. People have tried wearing gloves, even not handling the pieces, but the effect is the same. Maybe it's fumes from the paint that are at work also. Or maybe, just maybe, it is the simple enjoyment one receives that keeps them going back for more.

I hope that this overview of Dept. 56 Collectibles has given you some idea of what this site is about. Look around your home, check out some of the things you own. I bet that you find out you are a Dept. 56 collector already, and didn't even know it.

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