Gnome History

The First Garden Gnome

Garden statuary has been common in Europe at least since the Renaissance.  Among the figures depicted were gobbi (Italian for dwarfs or hunchbacks).  In particular, Jacques Callot produced 21 designs for gobbi, engraved and printed in 1616. By the late 18th century, porcelain “House Dwarfs” had begun to be produced, and they remained popular ornaments throughout the 19th Century.  In addition, wooden statues of gnomes had been made in Switzerland, around the town of Brienz.  Even so, the claim to be the manufacturer of the first garden gnome is hotly contested, but it is possible that Baehr and Maresch of Dresden produced the first ceramic gnomes, having them in stock as early as 1841.  

The very first German garden gnome (Gartenzwerg) was made of clay in Graeferoda, Thuringia, Germany in the 1800's by potter Philip Griebel who was a sculptor of terracotta animals.  These first garden gnomes were moulded from terracotta clay, dried, fired in a kiln and finally painted.

The first recorded appearance of a garden gnome in England was around 1840 at the estate of Sir Charles Isham, the 10th Baronet of Lamport Hall when he brought twenty one terracotta gnomes back from his travels in Germany.  Only one of these twenty one original gnomes survives today, known as "Lampy" this gnome is still kept on display and is insured for one million pounds.

The first two individuals to produce gnomes in quantity were Philip Griebel and August Heissner around 1872, with Heissner Gnomes being the most well know throughout the world.

Gnomes first appeared in New Zealand in the early 1930s, and they were far from the comical creatures seen today.

These were expensive, highly valued items, made out of terracotta and imported from German craftsmen. They graced the gardens of the movers and shakers of society; there were articles in the papers of charity events where the gardens were written about, and the gnomes were an attraction. They were objects to be admired and all out of the reach of the ordinary New Zealand gardener.

Not long after they appeared, they began to get stolen.

The first mention of gnomes in New Zealand papers was in early 1931 and the first time one was reported stolen was in 1935.

The very first German garden gnome (Gartenzwerg) was made of clay in Graeferoda, Thuringia, Germany in the 1800's by potter Philip Griebel who was a sculptor of terracotta animals.  These first garden gnomes were moulded from terracotta clay, dried, fired in a kiln and finally painted.

The first recorded appearance of a garden gnome in England was around 1840 at the estate of Sir Charles Isham, the 10th Baronet of Lamport Hall when he brought twenty one terracotta gnomes back from his travels in Germany.  Only one of these twenty one original gnomes survives today, known as "Lampy" this gnome is still kept on display and is insured for one million pounds.

The first two individuals to produce gnomes in quantity were Philip Griebel and August Heissner around 1872, with Heissner Gnomes being the most well know throughout the world.

Gnomes first appeared in New Zealand in the early 1930s, and they were far from the comical creatures seen today.

These were expensive, highly valued items, made out of terracotta and imported from German craftsmen. They graced the gardens of the movers and shakers of society; there were articles in the papers of charity events where the gardens were written about, and the gnomes were an attraction. They were objects to be admired and all out of the reach of the ordinary New Zealand gardener.

Not long after they appeared, they began to get stolen.

The first mention of gnomes in New Zealand papers was in early 1931 and the first time one was reported stolen was in 1935.
 

Gnome Legends

Garden gnomes have become a popular accessory in many gardens. They are often the target of pranks, known collectively as gnoming: people have been known to return garden gnomes “to the wild”, most notably Frances's Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardins and Italy’s MALAG (Garden Gnome Liberation Front). Some “kidnapped” garden gnomes have been sent on trips around the world (the travelling gnome prank; this later became the basis for Travelocity‘s “Where is my Gnome” series of advertisements). In 2008, a 53-year-old French man in Brittany was arrested on suspicion of stealing upwards of 170 garden gnomes.

Some scholars have suggested that the garden gnome is a descendant of the Greco-Roman fertility god Priapus, whose statue was often found in ancient gardens.

Modern garden gnomes are based on the ledgenary "Gnomes" of myth, mysticism and fairy tales.  Gnomes have historically been described as small stout beings who live in nature, usually underground and guard buried treasure.  Gnomes were said to wear conical hats and to be able to move through the earth itself, although if any of these underground dwellers were caught out in the daylight, it was said that the rays of the sun would turn them to stone.

These little guys were (and still are) regarded as good luck charms in one's house and garden.  In rural areas one would often find gnomes "living" in the rafters of barns where they would be keeping a watchfull eye on the owner's animals, crops and garden produce.  Even in modern times gnomes are said to be involved in the hidden process of plant life.  With exceptional vision and heightened human sensitivities, their task is to provide assistance to all living things.  Gnomes symbolize integrity, honesty and hard work.

Traditionally the gnome had a red pointed hat with bright solid coloured clothes and a long white beard, although gnomes today can be any number of colours.  Female gnomes are rare. 
 

Gnome

Gnomes are known by different names.  They are called "barbegazi" in Switzerland and France, "kaukis" in Prussia, "leprechauns" and "clurichauns" in Ireland.  In Finland "saunatonttu", "nisse" or "tomte" in Scandanavia, and "voettir" in Iceland.  In Japan magicalk beings such as "hakemono", "yokai" and even "tengu" are comparable to gnomes.  

Gnomes are often confused with goblins, dwarves and even elves. and today gnomes continue to feature in a variety of literature and media (Harry Potter to South Park) and even used as the name of computer systems and aircraft engines.