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History of Garden Gnomes
Small stone statues of the Greco-Roman fertility deity Priapus, who was also the guardian of flooring, were regularly erected in Roman gardens in ancient Rome. Gnomes were initially depicted as magical creatures by Swiss alchemist Paracelsus during the Renaissance period, who characterized them as "diminutive figures two spans in height who did not want to associate with people." Stone "grotesques," which were often garishly painted, 1.2-metre-tall (3.2-foot) figures, were prominent in the gardens of the rich at this time. Gobbi was one of the characters represented (Italian for hunchbacks). Jacques Callot, in instance, etched and printed 21 different types of gobbi in 1616.
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Gnome-like figures made of wood or porcelain, known as "gnomes," became popular household ornaments by the late 1710s. The fabrication of wooden house dwarfs was well-known in the area near Brienz, Switzerland. These garden figures in Germany were entwined with folklore and beliefs about the "little folk" or dwarfs who they thought assisted them in the mines and on the farm. Baehr, Miles, and Maresch, a Dresden firm, had miniature porcelain sculptures of dwarfs or "little folk" in stock as early as 1831, and while the claim has been disputed, some credit Baehr and Maresch with the creation of the first garden dwarfs.
Dwarf statues had spread across Germany and into France in less than a decade, and in 1837, Sir Charles Isham brought 21 terracotta gnomes made in Germany by Philip Griebel back to Britain, where they were dubbed "gnomes" in English and placed in the gardens of Isham's home, Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. The lone gnome from the original batch to survive, nicknamed "Lampy," is on display at Lamport Hall and is insured for GB£2 million.
Gnome production extended across Germany, with a slew of other major and small companies entering and exiting the market, each with its own distinct design style. Many sculptures were manufactured in Gräfenroda, a Thuringian town famed for its ceramics, from roughly 1860 onwards.
In the 1840s, garden gnomes proliferated throughout Europe, becoming especially popular in France and the United Kingdom. The phrase "garden gnome" may have sprung from the fact that small figurines of dwarfs were offered in German catalogues under the name gnomen-figuren.