Department 56 is best known for it’s lines of bisque porcelain collectibles, but also produces a wide variety of giftware for all holidays.Some twenty-five years ago, Department 56 began as part of Bachman’s, a premiere retail florist in Minneapolis. I found two stories about the origin of the first porcelain pieces.
Story #1: On the official website the story is told that one Christmas evening, a group of friends and Ed Bazinet 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.
Story #2: In 1971 Ed Bazinet, a giftware buyer for Bachmann’s, a large Minneapolis florist and gift shop, was visited by an elderly St. Louis-based potter who made and sold ceramic items he made in his garage. One of the things he showed Bazinet was a cookie jar shaped like a little Victorian house. Bazinet asked the potter to modify the cookie jar by cutting out windows and inserting a light so it would glow like a real house and function as a nightlight. Additional lighted houses soon followed. The original 6 houses sold for $150 to $200 each and were extremely popular. Because the potter who designed the original cookie jar/nightlight was unable to produce in large quantities, Bazinet had the designs produced in Taiwan and soon imported 6 ceramic houses that formed the Original Snow Village. He named the line Department 56, the number assigned to the wholesale gift imports division at Bachmann’s.
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.
To ensure that all the collectible product lines maintain their integrity, quality and affordable price points, Dept 56 retires and introduces several new products and product lines each year. The hand-crafting of the product lines involves many important production steps, but it is the combination of all the processes-a great idea, design, sculpting, hand-painting, detailing and packaging-that distinguishes Department 56 products from all others. One of the things that has distinguished Dept. 56 pieces is their fitted styrofoam containers and printed cardboard sleeves, which protect them from damage.
Dept 56 separated from Bachman’s in 1992 and became an independent company. It was acquired by Enesco in 2005.