About one-fifth of households reported buying a figurine or sculpture in 2003, about the same as in 2001. A popular gift item for collectors, figurines often carry a greeting or social expression that makes them perfectly suited to gifting or as a remembrance. Figurines have been popular collectibles in the past, with lines such as Precious Moments and Hummel passed from generation to generation. But today, figurine collectibles are looked upon with disdain by many as something that one's grandmother liked, but not something for me.
Figurines were at once the largest category within the contemporary or manufactured collectibles market, yet their sales are falling the fastest. In 2000, figurine sales at retail were $2.4 billion, but they dropped 35 percent to $1.6 billion in 2002. Traditionally, figurines have been made from porcelain or china and fired in ovens, thus making them a craft of skilled artisans and expensive to produce. The history of the invention of porcelain and the founding of the Meissen Porcelain Manufacture in Dresden, Germany, in the eighteenth century is fascinating reading in a book called The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson.
Compared to porcelain figurines, cold-cast figurines are not even a branch on the same family tree. Once inexpensive cold-cast molding became widely available in factories in the far east, so named because coldcast figurines are made of material that cures without firing in an oven, the cost of entry into the figurine market was so low—too low—that many companies that never should have gotten into the business did so. The result was too much boring product that looked just like everybody else's. Whereas the porcelain figurine business kept its artistic traditions and higher price tag, cold-cast was just a little too common and often times too cute. Today, the companies that have held fast to their porcelain and china crafting, like Lladro, Goebel, Lenox, Royal Doulton, and Herend, are staying the course, while the cold-cast folks are falling by the wayside.
For consumers this is a category that was generally associated only with collectors and not appropriate to give to anyone but a collector. One respondent in a focus group coined the term dustible to describe figurines. This term caught fire with the rest of the group. This name indicates that figurines are more trouble than they are worth, requiring that they be dusted and kept up. Figurines today are considered irrelevant by the vast majority of consumers, and only of interest to those who already have a collecting interest, as one person said: "Figurines are more of a collectible thing. You have to know what they like and what they're collecting." When asked about buying a figurine as a gift, one consumer said: "I wouldn't buy one for someone because they'd probably just put it in their closet and never see it again."
This is a gender-neutral category with about the same percentage of women and men buying them. Figurine purchasing spans all ages, with the exception of consumers older than age 65. Black American households have a higher purchase incidence of figurines than do white or Hispanic. That may be partly due to some very nicely rendered product lines by artists like Thomas Blackshear from Willitts Design that celebrate African-American heritage and ancestry. Purchase incidence of figurines crosses all income levels, while households with children and two or more individuals tend to purchase at a higher rate.
This is a gender-neutral category.
All income households purchase evenly.
Black Americans purchase more.
All ages, except 65 and older, purchase evenly.