I Collect Fontanini Nativity Figurines
With me, a collection (and sometimes an obsession) can be started with something as simple as a chance remark. That's really what happened ten days before Christmas in 2001. We were having an Open House to display our Christmas ornament collection which has been growing for over 37 years. Some years I just do less decorating and sometimes I just do more....in 2001 I pretty much DID IT ALL.
Since it was all in place and looking mighty festive, we decided to invite family and friends to drop in and see what was what. On the raised hearth, I had placed the Nativity Set that we displayed every year. Regardless of what else goes up (or doesn't on minimalist years) the Nativity gets set out. The one that I had on the hearth is a porcelain set that I got for being a hostess at one of those Christmas Around the World parties about 15 years ago. It was nice enough and we just took it for granted. I'd pretty much stopped really "looking" at it with a critical eye. It's major drawback for me is that, since it is breakable, the younger grandkids have to keep hands off or look at it only with supervision.
When I was a kid, we had a set that was made of plastic. It was a very pretty little set, nicely painted and the Baby Jesus even is a separate piece from his manger bed. I really enjoyed moving the pieces around and have some fond memories of doing so, even after all these years. My brother still has and uses the set every Christmas. During the afternoon of our open house, my sister commented on our Nativity display and asked something about it which led to our talking about the old set from our childhood. I said that I had looked on and off during our kid's younger years for an unbreakable set so they could play with it as we kids had done, but had never found one that suited me. The best I came up with was a small wooden set that was too light weight to stand up very well. So our two young daughters were just instructed to use care with the plaster set we had during those years. It was an old plaster set that John's Mom gave us many years ago, and has become so beat up that it had been retired to storage. A couple of days after the party, I was hanging out on the net and just thought I'd look to see what kinds of Nativities were being offered for sale. In the back of my mind, I was still looking for a set that little hands could move around without worry of breaking or chipping the figures. (Ah, the power of those childhood memories....)
Let me tell you, there are a world of choices and styles available, but the one that caught my eye right away was the lovely Fontanini Nativity sets. Before Christmas Eve, I already had my first six "new" old pieces from the era of the "Halo Holy Family", purchased through eBay auctions from a Missouri collector who graciously answered all the questions I had about Fontanini and even gave me some hints on hunting for bargains in the after Christmas store sales. The lovely Holy Family, itself, shows it's age through some minimal paint loss and a brighter color palette than more recent pieces and it is just so endearing. From the same source I also acquired a wonderful reclining gray donkey, a reclining brown oxen and a standing camel. Most of the pieces are marked in pencil with a "price" that must be quite a few years old --- 49 cents!
It is thus that a "Collector" is bitten by the collecting bug! From that rather modest beginning, I have added a plentiful number of other characters in the past six months. Fontanini has such incredible attention to detail in their pieces that it is hard to stop and say "Now the Nativity is complete." I doubt I shall ever utter that phrase. (Much to the consternation of my husband!)
How does a collector learn more about.....
Fontanini is not too difficult to find. In the United States, Roman, Inc. is the sole distributor and they supply retailers which vary from small independent shops to large nationwide department and Christmas specialty stores. There are also many retailers that sell through the internet. For all the retired or discontinued figures, there is always eBay (just to name one) that generally has over 400 items and a few older treasures for auction at any one time.
I love the Internet. It is an invaluable tool for collectors now days. There are sites devoted to whatever subject (or object) you find interesting. There are Clubs/Groups of people from every corner of the globe that can come together in chat rooms and message boards to share knowledge. A good search engine like Google will have your head spinning with information and sites to explore.
I am going to list a few sites at the bottom of this page that have helped me (a neophyte collector) to learn more about the world of Fontanini. I don't pretend that this is a complete list or that I am any kind of authority on this subject. But you don't have to know anything much to appreciate the beauty and detail of these lovely figurines. That is what caught my attention to begin with and the driving force that keeps me collecting.
I don't expect to ever have the "complete" collection. Besides the scarcity of many of the earlier pieces, they come in several standard sizes and so to have complete Nativity's, I would have to have numerous pieces--in many cases well over 100 of each size-- in 2.5", 4.5", 5", 6.5", 7.5", 12" (and those are the sizes that would fit into the average sized private home. They also have 20" and 27" sets and a life-sized set which is beautiful beyond belief and priced for very well to do church congregations!)
There are also (just to complicate matters and intrigue and tantalize collectors) whole sets which have been retired, several different finishes and coloration for pieces in the current and the retired sets. The international market, centered in Italy where they are conceptualized, manufactured and hand painted by hundreds of individually trained artisans, offers further choices, styles and editions that are never marketed in the United States.
One major reason that my collecting must remain limited is space. I am unwilling to put away my collection for a part of the year. That means finding the space to display it on a year around basis. So this collection must co-exist with my other passions. Let's just say that no one is ever going to give me the Least Cluttered House Award!! But I spend a little block of time most days sitting in my special chair near the hearth (for the present, it is devoted to my Nativity village) and I try to make this a time of quiet contemplation in my frequently too busy life. Almost every day I find a little variation in the arrangement, as every family member or visitor who pauses at the village is encouraged or inspired to adjust the setting to suit themselves. I only wish I could figure out how to make the hearth bigger. I love the buildings and accessory pieces that really help to bring the scene to life. The grandchildren are finally able to experience a little bit of the fun I had envisioned over 30 years ago. I am pleased that I discovered Fontanini. Just sorry it wasn't sooner! ~smile~
These will get you started on the Information Trail.
They really helped me.
Fontanini Fanatics Website
Fontanini Fanatics Group/Club
Roman, Inc. Site
HERE are Pictures of MY NATIVITY
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