It's Snowing Babies!
since I was a little girl, I’ve been fascinated by the little
white porcelain figurines called “snow babies.” My mother had a
number of them and would place them on the mantel above the
fireplace nestled in a bed of fresh pine and holly. I can still
remember handing them to her since I was too short to reach the
mantel. What can you tell me about snow babies? How long have
they been around? Are they collectible? If so, I’d like to start
my own collection.
it or not, snow babies have been around since the early 1890s. And, yes,
they are very collectible. However, over the decades a number of
different ones have been produced, not all of which are authentic. So
unfortunately, it’s buyer beware.
Snow babies are small figurines, usually of a child, depicting a
Christmas or winter sports activity. Like Hummel figurines, they
emphasize the nostalgia of childhood and days gone by. But unlike
Hummels, their manufacture wasn’t tightly controlled.
Since their introduction in the last decade of the 19th century, snow
babies have enchanted collectors all over the world, especially during
the holidays. They’re made of unglazed porcelain, also known as bisque,
and show a children dressed in one-piece, hooded snowsuits covered in
small pieces of hand-whipped crushed porcelain bisque, giving the
appearance of fallen snowflakes.
idea for snow babies evolved from early 19th-century German candy cake
toppers, called tannenbaumkanfekt, used to decorate the tops of
Christmas cakes and to decorate Christmas trees. Confectioners molded
flour, sugar and gum for firmness into little figures, then painted them
with vegetable dye. The best loved became known as zuckerpuppes or sugar
dolls, which people used, along with igloos and polar bears, to create
snow scenes under their Christmas trees. Later, confectioners began
making them of marzipan, a mixture of crushed almonds, egg whites and
sugar. They were especially popular with confectioners in Lubeck,
Germany. One of them, Johann Moll, commissioned Hertwig and Company to
re-create these adorable almond paste babies in porcelain bisque. The
oldest ones were typically either all white with a painted face or
painted in pastel colors.
and Company began operation in 1864 in Katzhutte, Thuringia, Germany,
making porcelain doll heads and bisque figures. However, the Hertwig
snow babies didn’t thrill German children, who naturally preferred the
candy version. But their mothers loved them and used them to adorn their
trees and homes during the Christmas season. Then they could pack them
up and save them safely for another year.
The first snow babies produced by Hertwig were one to two inches tall,
but the company also made some five to seven-inch ones. As production
increased, Hertwig began creating snow babies in a variety of winter
activities, such as sledding, skiing, and tumbling. Eventually, the
company’s artists made the figures’ hands and feet more clearly defined,
and even gave their little figures shoes. Although babies predominated,
Hertwig produced some older children as well.
Because of Hertwig’s success, many other German companies began to
produce snow babies, including Wagner and Appel, Galluba and Hoffman,
Bahr and Proeschild, Christian Frederick Klurg, and the Huebach
In 1893, Josephine Peary, wife of the famous arctic explorer Robert,
shocked the world by accompanying her husband to Greenland on his famous
expedition to the North Pole, even though she was expecting a child. On
September 8, 1893, Marie Ahnighito Peary, the first non-indigenous baby
to be born that far north. The native Intuit came for miles to see the
white-skinned baby they called her Ah-pooh-nick-ananny, Inuit for snow
1901 Mrs. Peary wrote a book showing a photograph of her daughter
wearing a white snow suit and called her a “snow baby.” Suddenly, the
German-made figures were in high demand. For many years the Nuremburg
firm of Craemer and Co. exclusively exported the figures from Germany.
In the U.S., Scholl and Company and Westphalia Imports, both of New
York, sold them, as well as confectionery and baking suppliers in the
German communities of New York, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They reached
their peak of export to the U.S. between 1906 and 1910 as women’s
magazines featured them as Christmas decorations.
1910, the R. Shackman Company of New York, an importer of fancy goods,
toys and novelties, advertised and distributed them at 20 cents each. In
1914, Sears and Roebuck and Marshall Field, who called them “Alaska
Tots,” sold them through their catalogs.
Prior to World War I, snow babies had highly detailed faces, with the
paint fired onto the porcelain so that the color would be longer
lasting. Some figurines had different pastel colors of ground bisque
decoration while others were left all white except for painted faces.
But then the Great War began and the export of snow babies came to a
When production resumed after the war, snow babies were smaller, usually
ranging from one to three inches tall. Although the paint used came in
vibrant primary colors, snow babies now had less facial detail than
previous models. The paint was also less durable and prone to flaking.
Models in more varied poses appeared, including children singing
Christmas carols, riding polar bears, and building snowmen.
the 1920s, Japanese manufacturers began to produce snow baby replicas,
though they were generally of a lesser quality than those made in
The early Depression years brought a final group of snow babies from
Germany. People once again used them to create Christmas scenes, as well
as for package tie-ons and table decorations. There were babies riding
airplanes, playing musical instruments, and riding polar bears. However,
these later pieces lacked the detail of early snow babies and were less
lovable, so their popularity declined during the 1930s and by the
outbreak of World War II, snow baby imports stopped. Here in America,
interest in snow babies declined from 1950 to the 1980s. In 1987, an
American company, Department 56, began producing replicas of the
original snow baby designs and had them made in Taiwan. This helped
generate a new interest in them as well as in the early pieces.
Obviously, the most collectible snow babies are those produced before
World War I. These generally sell for the highest prices. Any of the
German ones are also collectible, but as a beginning collector, you need
to be aware of cheaper versions made in Asia.
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