by Dr. Lori Verderame
Precious Moments Figurines are the brainchild of an artist and his business partner. Precious Moments Inc. was formed in 1979 by illustrator, Samuel Butcher and his business associate Bill Biel. The partners sold cards at book fairs under the company name, Jonathan & David. Later the team partnered with Enesco Corp. to sell giftware including the famous circa 1980s-era painted ceramic Precious Moments figurines. The highly recognizable figurines along with their notable mark on the underside of the base of each early figurine reads: “Jonathan & David”, name and date of the figurine, and “Lic. Enesco Imports.” This information is important when trying to tell whether or not you have a real Precious Moments figurine. Remember the mark is not the only bit of information that impacts a Precious Moments figurine’s value. Many other things do too like the material, condition, artist, designer, sculptor, etc. The firm’s founders, Sam Butcher and Bill Biel were known to have signed Precious Moments figurines at public events, fairs, and other happenings. These signatures would impact collectability and value.
There is a wide variety of Precious Moments figurines that have been produced over the years ever since the firm was established in the late 1970s. If you have one of the original 21 Precious Moments figurines which are highly collectible and valuable, then you have a highly coveted figurine. The original 21 Precious Moments figurines are, for many reasons, more collectible, desirable and depending on many factors, more valuable than other Precious Moments figurines on the market. Like Beanie Babies and other collectibles, Precious Moments were widely bought, sold and traded by collectors in the 1980s and 1990s and have made a market revival now in the 2010s.
Some of the original 21 Precious Moments figurines are rare and difficult to find in good condition. Others are easy to find and widely traded online. Fakes are easy to find too. So when you see a price online, don’t assume that the price is actually an appraised value or that the price is the amount that someone currently paid for a Precious Moments figurine. Often these prices are not accurate and some are even ploys to attract buyers or excite sellers.
When it comes to the original 21 Precious Moments figurines, the firm made and later even reproduced the original figurines. One such figurine was called God Loveth a Cheerful Giver. This early figurine was made in the late 1970s, starting in 1977 under the Jonathan & David name and then, in 1981, the firm discontinued or retired the original figurine. The company, in the late 1970s and again in the early and late 1990s, brought back the figurine called God Loveth a Cheerful Giver. While the God Loveth a Cheerful Giver figurine is rare, reproduction of it are not rare. There are many reproductions of the figurine and of others so correct authentication of your Precious Moments figurines is crucial. Don’t be fooled by a later reproduction of an early Precious Moments subject.
What to Look For
When it comes to highly collectible and valuable Precious Moments figurines, look for the traditional subjects based on Christian values or Bible stories, early marks and other value determining factors. If you can find the early examples like those figurines with early marks on them which read Jonathan & David, you may have a valuable piece. Some early pieces are not marked Precious Moments on the base.
Other than marks, look for Precious Moments figurines that have more than one figure on the same base. For instance, the famous God Loveth a Cheerful Giver Precious Moments figurine has many figures on the base including the child, cart, and puppies which impacts the interest in the market to collectors and appraised value. A figurine group on one base typically commands higher prices in the antiques and vintage collectibles marketplace. This is one reason why you need to be careful when you accept information as accurate when you are searching online. You may think you have an authentic piece when you don’t and you may think the person identifying your piece knows his stuff when he really does not.
When it comes to collectibles, in addition to the firm’s name, also look for the date of production, the number of figures in the production run usually represented by a fraction, information about the artist, the artist’s signature, date of manufacture or production, quality materials, and very importantly condition. Other factors play a role when evaluating a Precious Moments figurine for quality, authenticity, and value.
The first Precious Moments ceramic figurine was called Love One Another and this name is synonymous with much of the information we have about the company that created some of the late 20th Century’s most popular collectibles.
Founded by an artist named Samuel J. Butcher, Precious Moments figurines feature repeating forms like teardrop shaped heads and eyes based on illustrations first found on greeting cards. Pug noses, sweet smiles, and characteristic eyes are only some of the attributes. These hand painted bisque porcelain collectible figurines featured children and the concept of deep love for each other and for the world around us.
Precious Moments and other Collectibles
Like many late 20th century collectibles—Ty Inc. Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch dolls, Byers Choice Ltd. carolers, Willow tree sculptures, Royal Doulton figurines, and others—the collecting of Precious Moments figurines was spearheaded by collecting groups around the world. The Collectors’ Club for Precious Moments started in 1981 and has nearly 500,000 members. The community shares information and events based on the Precious Moments brand. Production year marks found on the underside of each Precious Moments figurine that was produced after 1981 are a tip off to a piece’s value. The symbols found on the bottom of each Precious Moments figurine—flag, fish, triangle, chapel, and many others– help collectors learn when a specific figurine was made and are based on Butcher’s strong faith.
The brains behind Precious Moments, Samuel Butcher connected the porcelain figurines to his deep faith by opening the Precious Moments chapel in 1989 and inviting people to visit its famed Carthage, Missouri location. Inspired by the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, Butcher painted 5,000 square feet of murals in the chapel featuring Precious Moments characters. Chapel exclusive figurines are very desirable as they are only available for purchase at the chapel.
While inspirational messages are part of the appeal of Precious Moments figurines, finding ways to give back and to support many philanthropic causes is a common thread for the company and its collecting community. Such activities have been part of the Precious Moments collecting realm for decades. The company has given to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Easter Seals, Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Shriners Hospitals for Children, etc.
Precious moments figurines, while similar in their look, are diversely valuable. Figurines that are based on Bible stories, the four seasons, holidays, and special occasions remain the most valued Precious Moments collectibles. The collectibles range in value on the secondary resale marked into the hundreds to thousands of dollars and mainly the highest prices paid for a Precious Moments figurine comes from the dedicated collecting community members.
Retired Precious Moments figurines like many collectibles typically bring the most value. Each year, Precious Moments retires a group of figurines. As new designs are made, old designs are retired. Approximately 25-50 designs are introduced annually and about 15 designs are retired each year.
Most desirable Precious Moments figurines
God Loveth a Cheerful Giver featuring a little girl giving away puppies for free is one of the most sought-after figurine by Precious Moments. Like the original nine Beanie Babies stuffed toys that have significant value, when it comes to Precious Moments figurines, the Original 21 figurines are the first figurines produced and are very important to the collecting community. They are:
- Unto Us, A Child Is Born
- Jesus Is Born
- His Burden Is Light
- Come Let Us Adore Him
- Love Lifted Me
- Jesus Is The Answer
- Make A Joyful Noise
- Prayer Changes Things
- He Leadeth Me
- We Have Seen His Star
- Jesus Is The Light
- Jesus Loves Me (Boy)
- Jesus Loves Me (Girl)
- Love One Another
- God Understands
- Smile God Loves You
- God Loveth A Cheerful Giver
- Love Is Kind
- O, How I Love Jesus
- He Careth For You
- Praise The Lord Anyhow
Only one of these original 21 Precious Moments figurines are still available. It is called Love One Another and it is based on the first drawing for the figurines made by Sam Butcher. The piece was inspired by his young daughter Tammy.
While the Original 21 command high values from the hundreds to thousand dollars range, non-collectors often look to collecting the figurines for special occasions. For instance, wedding cakes are often topped with Precious Moments figurines of a bride and a groom for both seasoned collectors and others.
Like other figurines by firms like Royal Doulton or Hummel, Precious Moments figurines are based in the method of making figurines in limited editions. These limited-edition figurines are only for sale for a limited time and some are only available from the Precious Moments chapel or from the collectors’ club. These are the most expensive collectibles to add to your collection. Typically, Precious Moments will produce approximately 3,000 copies of a new figurine. And these new figurines cost approximately $200-$300 each.