One Christmas evening, a group of friends set off to enjoy a dinner of celebration at a small country inn nestled in a quiet river town. As they rounded a bend in the road, they saw the small, old-fashioned village decorated for the holidays. The lights, like fairies, glowed and sparkled amid the freshly fallen snow. All evening, the conversation was full of Christmas memories and the visions the tiny town had evoked. Amidst the jovial banter and magical memories, the idea for a lighted Christmas village was born. That spark of an idea became a reality when, in 1976, Department 56 introduced a series of six hand-painted, ceramic buildings. The rest is history.
Click here to view a 4 minute video about our company history.
The company behind the villages.
Over thirty years ago, Department 56 began as part of Bachman's, a premiere retail florist in Minneapolis. Bachman's used a numbering system to identify each of its departments. The number assigned to wholesale gift imports division was, you guessed it, 56.
Now headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Department 56 has become a leader in the giftware, collectibles and holiday decorating industry and is best known for our hand-crafted lighted villages, Snowbabies™ figurines and extensive lines of holiday and home decorative products.
The building of a village: An historic events calendar.
The foundation of Department 56 took shape with the introduction of six charming, lighted, ceramic buildings. These six premiere items were the beginnings of The Original Snow Village®.
The original Original Snow Village designs were retired in order to accommodate 12 new introductions as well as the appearance of the first Village accessories.
The concept of The Heritage Village Collection® was developed. The first release was The Dickens' Village Series®, a collection of seven nostalgic shops and a church. All designed to capture the spirit of Christmas in Victorian England.
The New England Village Series and The Alpine Village Series® were added to The Heritage Village Collection. That same year, the world of Snowbabies™ bisque figurines was introduced.
The Heritage Village collection continued to grow with the addition of the hustle and bustle of Christmas in the City® and the inspiring Little Town of Bethlehem™.
Department 56 reached $56 million in sales and found it necessary to expand into a new 150,000 sq. ft. distribution center.
The legend of Santa became a part of the Department 56 tradition with the addition of The North Pole Series™ to The Heritage Village Collection.
On June 25, we opened our new corporate headquarters at One Village Place in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Department 56 is bought by the New York investment firm, Forstmann Little.
In June of this year, Department 56 completed an initial offering and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "DFS".
This year brought the introduction of The Disney Parks Village Series™ and Snowbunnies®.
Our first successful marketing program, "Homes for the Holidays", encouraged new collectors to start a tradition for themselves.
With the growing popularity of coffee drinks, Department 56 was pleased to introduce an iconic "Starbucks" Coffee Shop into The Original Snow Village.
We introduced our website which still serves as a definitive source for product and retailer information.
The 10th anniversary of Snowbabies was celebrated with the creation of the Snowbabies Friendship Club™. The Classic Ornament Series was also introduced, giving collectors a new way to enjoy classic pieces long since retired.
Two popular licensed brands "McDonald's" and the "Hershey's Chocolate Shop" were added to the Main Street landscape for The Original Snow Village.
The first year-round village, Seasons Bay™, makes a splash onto the marketplace, representing a late 19th-century American resort town. Elf Land™, an extension of the North Pole Series™, was also introduced as a suburb where the elves lived and played after the holidays.
This year marked the first of an ongoing popular licensed series for The Original Snow Village when we introduced the "Harley-Davidson Manufacturing". We have added 25 more iconic Harley-Davidson lit pieces and accessories for The Original Snow Village, North Pole and Christmas In The City.
In May, the first-ever corporate retail store opened in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, a move that enhanced both brand and product profile. And for the first time, Department 56 introduced pieces that included exquisite interior detail.
Another big year for expansion. In October, we opened a second retail store in the new Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our first magazine insert, Tablescapes, also hit the newsstands. It featured new and imaginative ways to use Village pieces, Snowbabies and general giftware as a part of home décor.
The release of the popular first Harry Potter Movie based on the novel by J.K. Rowling prompted Department 56 to introduce several giftware items based on Harry, Ron, Hermione and other characters from the movie including a series of secret boxes with interactive clues found on a special internet site.
This year, Department 56 and The Original Snow Village® Collection both turned 25. To commemorate those twenty-five wonderful years, we invited all our friends and collectors from across the United States and Canada to a spectacular Silver Anniversary Celebration in St. Paul, Minnesota. Many special edition pieces and limited items were designed just for this momentous occasion. A grand time was had by all.
"Caribou," a Minnesota based coffee company was the perfect licensed name for a coffee shop in the North Pole Village Series. The elves enjoyed a perfectly brewed cup of coffee after a hard day's work in one of Santa's Workshops.
The next generation in lighting has arrived! Department 56 introduced eight lighted buildings that feature the new battery operated "long life cordless lighting" which eliminates the need for electrical cords in the lighted buildings. Now you can put up displays in places you never thought you could -- on a mantel, in a wreath or in the center of a table.
In 2005 we introduced a new mid-tier Village series, “A Christmas Story”. A humorous tale of a young boy named Ralphie with one thing on his Christmas list, a BB gun. Department 56 created “Higbee’s Department Store”, “Ralphie’s House” and the famous “Leg Lamp” for the series which was sold exclusively through Sears Department stores.
The popular Clothtique Possible Dream collection was added to an already strong line-up of outstanding giftware. Every figure is handmade by a team of skilled artisans. It has become the No. 1 Santa brand.
Appealing to the young and young at heart, “Tickle”, a line of luxurious collection of fashion and home accessories was introduced. This artistic inspired collection was the combined effort of many licensed and house designers. The offerings were as varied as the appeal. The Original Snow Village celebrated 30 years as the “gold standard” of lighted Villages and continues to attract new collectors, many are young families hoping to establish their own holiday traditions.
New York City may be the largest city in the United States but “Christmas In The City” is still our favorite. This metropolitan inspired collection of lighted buildings, porcelain accessories and animated pieces celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2007.
Did you know that Halloween is the second most celebrated holiday in the United States? This year we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Snow Village Halloween with a “Haunted Train Station” and an ongoing series of a train starting with “Haunted Rails Engine & Coal Car”.
A new licensing agreement with "Peanuts" is added with a variety of seasonal giftware and animated pieces. They are welcome additions to the Department 56 line of specialty giftware. "Peanuts" appeals to every generation and enduring icons like Charlie Brown and Snoopy have made an indelible mark on popular culture.
Department 56 becomes part of the ENESCO family of giftware brands. Enesco's International Headquarters is located in Itasca, Ill. ENESCO was founded in 1958 as the import division of N. Shure Company, one of the largest and oldest general merchandise catalog companies. Following N. Shure's sale to Butler Brothers, the import division reorganized as Enesco Corporation, formed from the phonic spellings of the prior parent company's name initials - N.S.Co. Enesco was sold four times, culminating in 2007 when substantially all of Enesco's assets were sold to Tinicum Capital Partners II, LLP, a private investment partnership. Enesco then became a privately-held company and changed its legal name to Enesco, LLC.
Our love of snowmen inspired artist Kristi Jensen Pierro to creative a new giftware line of chubby snowmen with a little sass and a lot of attitude. "Snowpinions" gives collectors and consumers the ability to have a little fun when selecting gifts that convey just what they'd like to say.
A new porcelain Village series "Williamsburg" delighted Village collectors and history buffs alike. This series was formally introduced at a collectors' event held in historic Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia in October with Village artist, Jeff Junkins present for the entire event.
A new Disney licensed Village, "Mickey's Merry Christmas Village" joined our Classic Brands line and has proven to be quite popular. All of the major characters are there enjoying the holidays in brightly colored ceramic pieces.
Department 56 moves its offices to a newly renovated facility in Eden Prairie, MN, where the creative team continues to design the Villages, Snowbabies and other beautiful giftware products.
A licensing agreement with contemporary artist Travis Louie, creator of mythical and unusual portraits of people with sometimes larger than life additions of insects, pets and accessories produced the first Snow Village Halloween lit piece featuring two of his characters is "Walter & Larry's Crypt".
The royal wedding of Prince William and Katherine Middleton inspired the addition of "Anglesey Cottage" with coordinating accessory, "A Fairytale Romance" for Dickens' Village.
"The Grinch" by Dr. Seuss became a new Village in the Classic Brands series and featured Cindy-Lou Who and all the Whos down in Whoville!
Our newest giftware line BEAD-IT! explodes at the Atlanta Giftmart in January. Brightly colored ceramic beads sold separately allow the buyer to build and create" a personal Christmas ornament. With the many pieces designed for the series, there are an infinite number of combinations possible.
2013 is an exciting year for Department 56. We are pleased to introduce several and highly desired licensed lit buildings into our collections. Christmas In The City series introduces The Chrysler Building. Designed by Village artist Tom Bates. This highly detailed New York building is destined to become a favorite.
Whoo hoo! With a worldwide viewing audience of over 190 million weekly, "The Simpsons" will celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2014 in grand style. Department 56 will join in the celebration with the introduction of a colorful ceramic Village series that will include the Simpsons' house, Springfield Elementary School and the Kwik-E-Mart. Several hand-painted accessory sets of the familiar Simpson characters will round out the scene. Additionally, a line of Christmas ornaments will feature Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa and Maggie.
Walk down "Christmas Lane" in The Original Snow Village to find "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" featuring the over-decorated Griswold House and Cousin Eddie's famous RV all decked out and ready for the season. A sure fire hit for fans of the 1980s classic Christmas movie.
Snowbabies artist, Kristi Jensen Pierro continues to thrill collectors with her new addition to Snowbabies "Christmas Memories". Inspired by winter time and the holidays when we reflect on love, family and home, this series brings home memories of vintage holiday cards and Currier & Ives sentimental scenes and incorporates the traditional colors of red and green with the classic bisque porcelain of the Snowbabies.
With a nostalgic look and feel, "56 Christmas™" a new holiday giftware line for the tree and table was inspired by both the soft colors and shiny look so popular in the 1950s. This classic and beautifully design retro line was designed by Department 56 artist Paul Lundberg.
Our giftware lines continue to grow and evolve with the introduction of "Go Dog™" along with fresh new additions for the popular "Snowpinions™", and other Christmas related lines. Our licensed products include the children's favorite "Elf On A Shelf®" and "Fisher Price™" nostalgic ornaments, while we continue to add pieces in the Peanuts, Grinch, Rudolph®, and Dr. Seuss collections.
The Department 56 Villages have maintained their place as number one in the gold standard of lighted Villages. We are very pleased to add "Downton Abbey®" which is sure to be a collector favorite this year.
Department 56 is a major force in the giftware and collectible industry. As we look to the future, we plan to actively explore new avenues for growth. Rest assured, our artists are constantly busy coming up with new and unique ways to pique your interest and also touch the collector's heart in everyone.