If you have one of these figurines in a box in the attic, you may want to get it out and dust it off. You see, it turns out that some of these cute ornaments are worth more today than you may assume. But what exactly are these figurines, and why have they become so valuable?
Well, the tale begins on New Year’s Day, 1939, when future creator of the figurines Samuel John Butcher entered the world. Born in Jackson – a city in Michigan renowned as the place where the Republican Party first got its start – he was the middle child of five. And it seems that Butcher’s family didn’t have two cents to rub together during his youth.
Not too long after Butcher’s birth, though, he and his loved ones resettled in Redding, California. There the boy subsequently spent a lot of his time on art, as he hid under the table in the dining room in order to sketch and draw. But Butcher didn’t hide his ability forever; in fact, it soon became apparent to everyone around him.
And although it was difficult for Butcher’s folks to find the money for drawing pads, that didn’t deter the young man from pursuing his passion. Instead, he put his thinking cap on to find a way to equip himself, and consequently he discovered paper that a local factory had discarded in a garbage dump.
But art wasn’t Butcher’s only driving force. He also had faith, you see; in fact, he ultimately became convinced that he should dedicate his drawing ability solely to the Lord. And those skills were good enough to land Butcher a place at art college after he had graduated from high school.
Butcher actually won himself a scholarship to study at the College of Arts and Crafts – even if that meant moving away from home to Berkeley. While pursuing his education, though, he met his future wife. Then after completing his studies, Butcher set out on his vocation, sharing gospel stories through pictures. He also made ends meet by working as a janitor.
Subsequently, Butcher decided to take up a position at the Child Evangelism Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Michigan – in what became the start of a ten-year commitment. And after a spell in shipping, he would finally achieve his break as an artist when the fellowship gave him a place in its art department.
At some point, meanwhile, Butcher started to draw distinctive pictures of cute kids with teardrop eyes. He named these sketches “Precious Moments” and gave them to friends and family as presents. The same drawings would find yet another use, too, as Butcher revisited the concept of using art to spread Christianity – this time via a popular kids’ TV show.
And while at the fellowship, Butcher encountered Bill Biel, who would become both a friend and business partner. The two subsequently set up the company Jonathan & David, which featured Butcher’s Precious Moments creations on posters and cards. However, in 1975 an invitation to a Christian booksellers’ convention in Anaheim, California, ultimately led to the pair’s business break. At the event, Biel and Butcher had a stand to themselves to show off what they could do – an opportunity that would end up changing both men’s lives.
Retailers flocked to the duo, in fact, as they tried to get their names down in order to carry the friends’ products. Other vendors even had to help Biel and Butcher take orders as they became swamped by eager booksellers. That great start didn’t mean that they had it made, though; they still had to take on other work to keep food on the table.
It’s probably fair to say, then, that Butcher and Biel weren’t slick businessmen. And when Biel had the idea of embodying the Precious Moments sketches in porcelain bisque, the duo realized their lack of experience. But while the buddies had neither the nous nor the money needed to make their concept real, in 1978 they would meet a firm that had both.
That year, you see, Enesco Corporation offered to turn a piece of Butcher’s art into a figurine. He had drawn the piece “Love One Another” upon glimpsing his daughter Tammy having a chat with an uncle. And it’s fair to say that the outcome delighted Butcher, as apparently he wept with joy after seeing the sample. The artist was seemingly not alone in loving the work, either, since the piece is still being produced to this day.
Another daughter, Debbie, provided the inspiration for a further figurine: “God Loveth a Cheerful Giver.” When she had been younger, she had used every cent she had to adopt pets from the local vet’s before rehoming the animals. And perhaps the enduring popularity of the piece pays testament to Butcher’s ability to capture Debbie’s spirit.
By the end of 1978, moreover, 21 figurines based on Butcher’s sketches had been produced – later to be known as the “Original 21.” And they met a welcome that floored Butcher. People even wrote emotional letters to the artist to let him know that his work had resonated with them.
And just a glance at a Precious Moments figurine goes some way towards explaining its appeal. There are those trademark teardrop eyes, of course, which sit in adorably angelic faces. The tableaux each portray their own tales, too, which makes them intriguing on more than just a surface level. In all, the figurines would therefore be ideal for a nursery, and they may even be something that a child would keep even after they’ve grown up.
Ultimately, then, the Precious Moments range grew to more than 2,500 figurines. And people all around the world started to collect the ornaments – even teaming up with others who pursued the hobby. The official club, meanwhile, had half a million members at its peak; tens of thousands of people are still part of it today.
Butcher didn’t just stick to drawings and figurines, though. In 1989, you see, he made the bold move of opening an attraction in Carthage, Missouri, that takes inspiration from his popular artworks. And since then, about 400,000 people have visited Precious Moments Park each year. Some may also find themselves drawn in by the park’s centerpiece – a stunning sanctuary that is partly based on Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel.
Yes, Butcher aimed big for his creation, which he designed himself. The chapel features thousands of feet of murals that depict Bible stories from both testaments as well as a celebration of inspiring children whose lives were cut short. Visitors can also enjoy beautiful windows of stained glass fashioned in hundreds of colors.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the chapel provides the setting for hundreds of marriages a year. And this connection between Precious Moments and weddings is not at all a recent one. In 1998 Enesco boss Eugene Freedman told the Chicago Tribune that the range’s “The Lord Bless and Keep You” figurine, which represents a newlywed couple, had already crowned more than two million wedding cakes.
And as that astonishing total suggests, Precious Moments once did huge business, with the collection bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. But there were to be bumps in the road. The figurines started to sell a little less well, meaning Enesco ultimately stopped making them. Following that bombshell, Butcher’s own company, Precious Moments, Incorporated (PMI), therefore had to change tack.
Yes, within three months, PMI had to grow to the capacity of being able to step in for Enesco. That meant very quickly becoming a manufacturer and shipper of products; on top of that, the firm needed to have the infrastructure to support the design and production of Precious Moments figurines.
And this was not to be the only hurdle for PMI, as in 2008 the company would face legal action from country singer Shannon Clemmons. She claimed that the business had taken her idea for a line of Christian characters and provided no credit for it; fortunately for PMI, though, Clemmons’ lawsuit proved unsuccessful.
Still, it appears that these issues didn’t put a permanent halt to PMI’s work. According to the company’s official website, you see, it still delivers up to 40 new statuettes four times a year. This all means that the Precious Moments collection has grown – and as we noted, thousands of designs have now been produced. That said, some types of figurines are no longer being made.
And when PMI ceases to sell a figurine, it sometimes literally breaks the mold. On other occasions, the company may suspend a particular model by stopping its production for a certain amount of time. Both these processes have an interesting outcome, however: they make a number of figurines scarce, thus increasing their value to Precious Moments collectors.
With that said, it’s probably not too surprising that a busy Precious Moments marketplace exists on the internet. And the prices for specific pieces can easily run into the hundreds of dollars, too. In one case, a figurine that you could buy back in the day for $15 may be worth as much as four figures now.
The statuette in question is among the “Original 21”: the previously mentioned “God Loveth a Cheerful Giver.” That figurine is no longer made today, meaning it can only be bought second hand. And although the model usually sells in the low hundreds, you may just hit the jackpot if you’re lucky.
In 2017 Paul Burton, speaking for Woolvey Fine Antiques & Collectibles, told Today that he’d seen “valuations placed on [“God Loveth a Cheerful Giver”]… in excess of $2,000.” Burton was slightly skeptical, however, that any one figurine would ultimately fetch such a sum. He added, “I don’t believe I have seen [any ornament] actually sell for more than half of that, although they are still occasionally listed for sale in that price range.”
Nevertheless, if you want a shot at the big bucks, your figurine will need to be in tip-top condition. That may be easier said than done, too, as the porcelain bisque that is used to create Precious Moments items is prone to chipping or cracking. Even a tiny flaw may cost you three-quarters of the value of the piece; anything bigger and nearly all the gains will likely be lost.
Luckily, a dirty figurine is easier to fix than a chipped one, and a thorough cleaning may in turn make your piece more attractive to potential buyers. You can dust the work with a makeup brush and give it a wash with mild soap so long as you don’t get water into the statuette. And while this may prove a tricky job, it could nevertheless prove well worthwhile – especially if the model you possess is typically prone to breakage.
In addition, it may help to have the figurine’s original packaging, as Woolvey has suggested that up to a fifth of the value of a well-kept statuette may reside in its box. One piece that was still in the packet it was shipped in went for $409 online; and this was part of a limited edition of 1,500 copies of “Make a Joyful Noise.”
On that note, it’s certainly worth seeing if your own figurine was made as part of a short run. And if you have a Collector’s Club edition in your possession, check the model number of your item. Anything that has a number starting in “PM” or “C” is special and may be a bit more valuable than most.
Plus, if you were a member of the Collector’s Club, you may once have had a figurine signed, and this too may boost its value to an online collector. The most in-demand scrawl is naturally that of Sam Butcher, but you can also lure buyers in with the scribbles of former Enesco boss Eugene Freedman or Yasuhei Fujioka-San, who made sculptures from Butcher’s art.
And it turns out that examples of the short-run editions can be very valuable indeed. One Disney special issue, which only saw 1,500 pieces made, went for $1,500 on eBay in February 2019. Collaborations between Precious Moments and Disney are common, and as you may imagine they can prove attractive to collectors.
However, that’s not the only joint effort in which Precious Moments has been involved. In 2012, you see, the company helped to create a memorial to a teen from Shelby, Missouri, who had passed away in 2010. And while Christy Maubach had lost her life in a car crash, she had certainly not been forgotten by her friends and community.
The Precious Moments team didn’t need to be asked twice to help commemorate Maubach, either, as sales director Patsy Larsen pointed out to the Herald-Whig in 2012. She said, “Each figure has a title – almost a story behind it – and this fell right into that.” In this case, the name of the piece was “I Believe,” which appeared in the creed of the South Shelby FFA – an organization Maubach had loved.
Made in both boy and girl versions, “I Believe” was then only made available through one store in Shelbina. And, amazingly, owner Jo Kampschmidt found herself inundated with orders from across the U.S. and Canada. In 30 years of selling Precious Moments, Kampschmidt had never needed more than a hundred figurines in stock at a time; on this occasion, however, she’d had to order in more than a thousand of each kind of the memorial model.
And this is not the only example of Precious Moments figurines being involved in remembering someone’s life after they’ve passed. In 2013 Missouri man Jon Stouffer gave mom Shirley’s collection to the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks. She had received a breast cancer diagnosis in 1992 and died of heart problems in 2007.
The donation was a particularly generous one, too, as Shirley’s 25 years of collecting had seen her amass a gathering of at least 2,000 figurines. And, incredibly, the lot was therefore deemed to be worth at least $100,000. Jon told The Joplin Globe in 2013, “[The pieces are] going to a good cause. She would be pleased that they’re going to help somebody.”
In fact, collections of Precious Moments figurines can be quite valuable, with one big batch having sold on eBay in 2017 for $5,000. So, it may well be worth digging around in those boxes to find those old, nearly forgotten sculptures. In fact, the exercise could prove profitable even if you don’t own a thousand-dollar statuette.
On the other hand, if you do sell a dusty Precious Moments figurine for a cool grand, you may be wondering what to do with the proceeds. Well, you could spend nearly the whole amount on a new sculpture. Only a thousand copies of “The Power of Your Love Astounds Me” are available, you see. And while just one would currently cost you $974.99, who knows what it may be worth in a couple of decades?