Since the 1960s, Fontanini nativity sets have been sought after amongst collectors of Christmas memorabilia. Fontanini nativity sets include the familiar stable where the baby Jesus lay, as well as figurines such as angels, shepherds, sheep, the three wise men, and other characters in the beloved New Testament tale. Every year, new figures for the nativity are introduced, and older ones are retired.
What's the history of the Fontanini nativity sets?
The Fontanini family owns a factory in Bagni Di Lucca, which is located in Italy's Tuscan region. They've been manufacturing nativity sets at that factory since the beginning of the 20th century. These pieces are designed under the supervision of the Italian sculptor Elio Simonetti.
Once the figures in the nativity sets have been crafted, each figurine is hand-painted. Backdrops, buildings, and other accessories for the nativity are manufactured in China. A story card that describes every character's significance accompanies each figure in every nativity set manufactured by Fontanini. Collectors view these story cards as evidence that their Holy Family nativity sets are genuine Fontanini products.
Fontanini fever first began to sweep the United States in the early 1960s. To handle the demand for Christmas nativity scenes, the company began working with an American partner who's responsible for creating and printing the story cards, for packaging the nativity sets, and for distributing the nativity scenes for sale.
What are Fontanini figures made of?
When the family first began producing their Christmas pieces, they hand-molded them from papier mache. As the business began to prosper, they began to craft their nativity scenes from molds and plaster. For the most part, however, these materials could not stand up to the type of rugged use that would allow them to become Christmas heirlooms. So, in the 1960s, Fontanini nativity figures began to be made out of more durable polymer resins.
Polymer resins are virtually indestructible once they're cured properly. They can be cleaned using warm water and a mild dishwashing detergent on a damp cloth. By switching to polymer resin, the family was able to create figures of the Holy Family that could be handed down as keepsakes from generation to generation.
What are the different types of nativity sets?
- The two-and-a-half-inch nativity sets: The 2.5-inch nativity series includes a stable and a village with a complete set of buildings as well as a figure of Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, celebratory angels, rejoicing shepherds, and many stable animals. However, it was discontinued during the 1990s.
- The 5-inch nativity sets: The 5-inch nativity series contains more than 50 pieces, including angels, shepherds, the Holy Family, the Three Kings, and an assortment of villagers clustered in the stable.
- The 7.5-inch nativity sets: The 7.5-inch nativity series includes angels, the Holy Family, and more than 50 villagers as well as a number of whimsical landscape pieces such as the stable, a well, and a winemaker's shop.