The History of the Garden Gnome
What Is a Garden Gnome?
A garden gnome (also known as a lawn gnome) is a figurine of a small humanoid creature usually seen wearing a tall, pointy (red) hat. Garden gnomes are produced to be used for the purpose of decorating one garden and/or lawns. These gnomes are thought and believed to protect whomever uses them from evil. These figurines originated in Germany in the 19th century and were called Gartenzwerg, which literally translates to “garden dwarf.” It wasn't until the 1930s that the English term “gnome” came to be.
Garden Gnome Typology
There are many different types of garden gnomes, seen in many different positions and even made from different types of materials. Typically they are male dwarfs with a long, bushy white beard wearing a tall, pointy red hat. They are also typically known to smoke a pipe (or are usually seen holding a pipe). They are seen in various positions, such as, standing, lying down, sitting, etc. and depicted to be engaging in various activities (fishing, napping, etc.). Garden gnomes can be made from wood, porcelain, ceramic, or terra cotta.
The History of the Garden Gnome
Garden gnomes have always had a unique history in Europe, and they have even wedged their way into American pop-culture, becoming quite the craze. Now, they are seen everywhere, from the lawn next door to the lawn across the world.
Garden decorations, especially statuary, have been common throughout Europe since the Renaissance. It was believed that these small human-like beings would rid evil from the lives of those whom own the gnome. In 1616, the statues only depicted Gobbi (an Italian hunchback). By the late 18th century, porcelain “house dwarfs” were created and produced on a wide scale (at this time, Switzerland was also producing wooden statues of dwarfs and gnomes, as well). Soon enough, gnomes became a very popular house, lawn, and garden ornament and this popularity steadily grew throughout the 19th century.
They have been manufactured, produced, and distributed for centuries, but the “title of manufacturer of the first garden gnome is hotly contested,” according to Wikipedia. It is possible that their first manufacturer was in 1841, when these early gnomes were being produced by Baehr and Maresch of Dresden. However, there is evidence suggesting that they were being produced by many other countries as early as 1860, as well.
“Philip Griebel made terra cotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes' willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby.” (Wikipedia)
Ever since gnomes came onto the hobby scene in the 19th century, small manufacturers have popped up all over Germany. Their manufacturing has spread all across Germany, and each manufacturer had their own style and design.
Germany was the first (or one of the first) countries to manufacture and produce gnomes for collectors since before the 19th century. They became very popular in Germany (there are an estimated 25 million gnomes spread across German lawns).
Gnomes are also considered to be a huge part of eastern and western European culture, and were even seen in the tales written by the Grimm brothers.
"The Brothers Grimm featured gnomes in 'The Gnome', a series of short stories detailing the lives of gnomes. These stories depict gnomes in benevolent and malevolent lights, but the first one is perhaps the most important: in it clothing is given to two helpful gnomes and they decide to serve a cobbler and his wife for the rest of their days. Other stories exist of gnomes’ helpfulness in the oral tradition and relate the willingness of gnomes to assist in gardens." (Gnomefrenzy).
Garden gnomes were first introduced into the United Kingdom when Sir Charles Isham came home from his vacation in Germany and brought 21 of the terra cotta figurines with him, displaying them in his home and lawn in 1847.
In recent history, they have made a resurgence in the United States and Western Europe. They have popped up in films, television shows, commercials, books, advertising, etc.
Today, garden gnomes are seen across the lawns and garden of many all over the world. Their popularity continues to grow and the production of garden gnomes continues.
Pranks have even been created around the stealing of garden gnomes (most commonly referred to as gnoming). Some have even begun to travel all over the world collecting (stealing) gnomes from gardens in different countries.
Garden gnomes even have their own holiday; International Gnome Day was instituted in 2002 and is celebrated on June 21st by over a dozen countries.
The history of garden gnomes is unique, long, interesting, and even comical. They may always be popular and will likely survive and live in peoples' gardens for centuries to come.
The traveling gnome prank later became the basis for Travelocity's “Roaming Gnome.”
In 2008, a 53-year-old French man was arrested on suspicion of stealing upwards of 170 garden gnomes.
How to Make Your Own Garden Gnome