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Hobbyists Hope to Cut Fine Figures at Collectibles Show

April 28, 2001|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thousands are expected to turn out, cooing over tiny figurines and telling tales of how they got this or that one. They'll buy, trade and just enjoy being with birds of the same collective feather.

Today and Sunday, the 27th annual International Collectible Exposition will hit the Anaheim Convention Center. Though Trekkers might go on about Spock's infuriating logic or Captain Kirk's array of space babes, the gab here will be over how cute the little boy is in that Precious Moments figurine or whether the latest Mickey Mouse is as appealing as last year's model.

Theresa Ferrari-Charity will be there. The Tustin resident has gathered Precious Moments pieces since 1994 and now has about 400, with a value she estimates at $28,000.

She has a few Winnie the Pooh-related figurines, but it's really the Precious Moments that grab her. And she's not alone. These porcelain figurines created by Samuel J. Butcher have become something of a phenomenon, with more than 600,000 collectors said to be worldwide.

The figurines are made by Enesco Corp., an Illinois-based gift-ware company, and known for their sentimental tableaux, some religious, of pudgy children with tear-drop shaped eyes. One popular Precious Moments shows a baby boy flying an airplane in a pillow of clouds, another a girl petting an Easter bunny.

They may seem thickly maudlin to many of us, but fans remain avid. Ferrari-Charity said each carries a memory.

"They hold a special meaning to events in my life I want to remember," she said. "Like having my children, loving my husband and family, loving others. I have figurines [that represent] being a mom, a wife and a friend. Some represent the trying times of raising a family and [help me to] keep my spirits high."

Many collectors have similar personal attachments, said Claude Chmiel, the show's producer. And if they don't, they at least share Ferrari-Charity's enthusiasm. Chmiel predicts at least 12,000 collectors will attend this weekend, some coming as far as New York.

Besides Precious Moments and Disney items, he said, other convention collectibles are decorative boxes and Christmas ornaments, especially those by Christopher Radko. There are also smaller markets for picture frames, candlesticks and home decor items, including crystal and art prints.

Chmiel and Mary Seiber, editor of Collector's Mart magazine, have put together a profile of the average collectors. They tend to be women from 35 to 55 ("although research indicates more men and more younger people are developing an interest," Seiber said) and they spend about $1,800 a year on their hobby.

They're usually devoted to "an artist" (say, Radko ornaments or Butcher's Precious Moments) but can also get hooked by a theme. Christmas items are the most popular, home decor is second and Halloween is third, they said.

Ferrari-Charity was introduced to Precious Moments in 1984 when she received one as a gift.

"A friend in elementary school gave me a figurine for my birthday, then some family friends gave me some for eighth-grade graduation in '88," she recalled. "I was too young to start collecting on my own, so I had to rely on family members to give me one on special occasions.

"Once I was older and working, I was able to buy my own. That's when the craze began."

That was about a decade later. The earnest collecting started when she was pregnant with son Chase, and she found the child-oriented figurines reflected her feelings about babies and family.

Soon, it became a mother and daughter experience. Ferrari-Charity's mother, Donna Ferrari, who also lives in Tustin, got the jump on her daughter, first collecting bird figurines in the late '60s. These days, Ferrari appreciates Precious Moments, but her focus is Beanie Babies (150 so far), Disney memorabilia and dolls.

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Ferrari isn't sure of her collection's worth, but she said one of her Disney pieces, the Sorcerer from "Fantasia," cost $285. "The face value [for the Beanies] is about $800, but I have some that are worth much more than face value," she added.

This isn't the first time Ferrari-Charity has attended a collectibles convention. She went to one last year in Chicago, which gave her a chance "to put a face with the name" of other collectors she has met online through chat rooms devoted to the hobby. Apparently, the shows can lighten up once the deal-making is done.

"I had people coming up and introducing themselves. It was so nice," she said. "The night before, we were up until about 2 a.m., room-hopping in our costumes from the dress-up [Halloween] party earlier. We were a cowgirl, a firefighter and a half-devil, half-angel walking around with arms full of our purchases trying to make it back to our rooms in time to pack. It was just a great time, [and] I've been waiting for this one [in Anaheim] ever since."

SHOW TIMES

The 27th annual International Collectible Exposition runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday at the Anaheim Convention Center, 800 N. Katella Ave., Anaheim. $10 per day; $13 for both days. (877) 746-9757.

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