In 2007 the world of Liberty Falls collectors was rocked by the surprise appearance of new Liberty Falls pieces at Dillards stores (click here for more information on the 2007 collection). What will 2008 bring? We don't know yet. Stay tuned for more information.
While I acquired some of the information on this page first-hand, most of it comes from other Liberty Falls collectors, from messages on various Internet message boards, or from other second-hand sources, whose veracity I cannot vouch for. Some of it clearly speculation, and whenever possible I have labelled it as such. If you have anything to add to this account, or would like to correct anything, please send me a message at email@example.com. Thanks for your understanding!
The Liberty Falls collection was started in 1991 by a man named Ralph Gadiel. Actually, there was a test market set in 1989, but 1991 was the first year of real production. It seems that one of Ralph's goals was to produce a nice product at a very affordable price. To this end, the pieces were made in China, and shipped to the U.S. in "containers" -- you know, those boxcar-sized things that you see on huge cargo freighters. To save distribution costs, stores that wanted to carry the pieces had to buy them in container-sized lots. That way the containers could be off-loaded from the ships and delivered directly to the customers -- Ralph didn't have to get involved in distribution, and, as I said, that saved money. It also meant that only large department store chains could afford to carry the collection, because they had to buy so many.
Each year after that there were ten new pieces, issued begining in October, and if you collected all ten and sent in the stickers that came in the boxes you could purchase the "bonus piece" for that year. Department stores sold these pieces, not to make a lot of money, but to get customers to come into the store, and then hopefully buy other stuff. So, for most of the collection's history, the pieces were offered one a week for ten weeks, each going on sale on the same day of the week -- depending on the store, it may have been every week on Saturday, or Sunday, or even in some cases Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday. At any rate, you had to visit the store ten times to get all the pieces. The pieces typically sold out quickly; in fact, collectors used to line up outside the doors before the stores opened to be sure they got one. I know -- I was one of those collectors.
However, to say there were "ten new pieces" each year is a little misleading. Ralph ran into problems with competing department stores that wanted slightly different product lines to differentiate themselves: If, say, Dillards and Carsens both had stores in the same city, and customers could get the same pieces at either, they wouldn't shop at both. So Dillards and Carsens would insist that Ralph send them slightly different sets, so customers who wanted a complete set would have to shop at both. Ralph accomplished this by manufacturing more than ten different buildings -- maybe twelve or fourteen -- each year, and then mixing them in different combinations. This is the origin of the terms "Set A" and "Set B" that you will often encounter when collecting Liberty Falls, though in many years there were way more than two sets -- sometimes they went up to "Set E" or "Set F". This hugely complicates the collecting of Liberty Falls and also explains why some pieces are very commonly available -- they were in most or all of the sets for their year -- and some are very hard to find -- they may have only been in one set that wasn't widely produced.
Besides the standard pieces produced for Christmas, and the bonus pieces, there were many other incidental pieces. For example, special pieces were produced for members of the Liberty Falls Collectors Club, and in a few years there there "Spring" and "Summer" issues that came out in the Spring or Summer, instead of at Christmas. This is another of the many factors that complicates the collecting of Liberty Falls. Another complicating factor is that some of the pieces were "reissued" -- meaning the same piece was produced again in a later year, but under a different AH number -- and others were "revised" -- meaning the same building was produced again in a later year but with a different design or paint scheme, also under a different AH number. And just to ice the cake, occasionally completely different items were issued under the same AH number, apparently by mistake.
Yet another complicating factor was that the same pieces were sometimes available in the same year as both boxed sets and as individual pieces -- these were the same pieces, but different bundling. Although sometimes the extra piece in a boxed set was only available in the boxed set, so that the main piece in the boxed set was available separately while the extra piece was not. And of the two official Liberty Falls books, The Life and Times of Liberty Falls, Volume 1 and Volume 2, volume 2 was only available as a bundle with the Reverend Muir's cottage in 1998.
The waters of the Liberty Falls Collection can seem very muddy sometimes.
There were also many, many accessory items, such as an afghan/tree skirt, a cookie jar, keychains, and even a dinnerware set. There were also larger, lighted versions of a few of the buildings, and four sets of miniature building Christmas tree ornaments. And two sheet-plastic "layouts," with roads and ponds.
As time went by, both the detail in the design and the quality of the painting on the buildings improved dramatically, so that some of the early pieces seems a little crude and drab, while some of the later pieces are so beautiful they take your breath away.
Ralph Gadiel was diagnosed with cancer, and died late in 1998. International Resources was sold to a man named Larry Stern. Larry introduced himself to the Liberty Falls world in Volume V, Number 4 of the Gazette -- the newsletter of the Liberty Falls Collectors Club:
"Ralph and I met about four months ago, and I was immediately captured by the pure genius of his story. It was at this point that Ralph knowing that he was sick, decided to sell. The end result is that right before he passed, Ralph signed a contract to sell his beloved business to me."
One of Larry's first steps, interestingly, was to move to set up a Web presence at http://libertyfalls.com -- a site which has since passed into other hands and become a crass commerical gateway.
I have not known either Ralph or Larry, but my impression -- purely my opinion -- is that Ralph was an artist who loved the Liberty Falls series. Larry was (and still is) a businessman who saw an investment opportunity and a chance to make a profit. Now, there's nothing wrong with making a profit, but it could possibly have led Larry to make some unfortunate decisions. Looking at the big picture, many in the Liberty Falls collecting community have speculated that Larry may have failed to recognize that the big department stores were moving away from the "loss leader" approach to getting people in the stores. As evidence of this trend, people cite the fact that the stores stopped offering the pieces one-a-week-for-ten-weeks, and instead made all ten available at the same time, so you only needed to visit the store once. Collectors have speculated that maybe Larry should have looked for a different distribution model that moved through smaller outlets, such as Hallmark stores. Maybe. But in one, very specific mistake, Larry got into a spat with Dillards. Dillards was by far the largest seller of Liberty Falls, and in 2000 they wanted a special "differentiated" set, as I described above, and as Ralph had always given them. Larry apparently considered the practice of differentiating sets too expensive and wanted to save money by having only one set. So Dillards refused to carry the Liberty Falls product line at all. Larry tried to compensate by selling sets directly to customers, by mail order, but it wasn't possible for him to reach most Liberty Falls collectors, as he only had the addresses of those who belonged to the official Collectors Club. And so, lost a lot of money and ended up stuck with a lot of unsellable inventory.
The next year, 2001, he gave Dillards the special set they requested, and things were back to normal, but the 2000 debacle had damaged the company financially, and after the 2003 series Larry stopped producing Liberty Falls.
The Liberty Falls collection did not come to a very graceful end: The 2003 collection came out as usual, and then on Febrary 1st, 2004, International Resources announced... well, it's kind of hard to say what they announced. It appeared to the collecting public that they were going bankrupt, and in fact many, many people who had sent them money for the 2003 bonus premium, or who had sent them money to order the 2003 set by mail, were stuck: International Resources didn't refund their money, and didn't send them their items. Also, the compnay went completely silent: Their Web site went off the air, along with their message boards, they ceased to send out mailings, they closed their offices near Chicago, and they even allowed the Web domain LibertyFalls.com to fall into the public domain and be auctioned off to someone else. It certainly appeared as though they went out of business. However, as time has gone by, it seems that the company did not go bankrupt, but merely went into hiding and reorganized or reincorporated. International Resources still exists, still produces a separate product line, and is still run by Larry Stern.
There is a theory -- and this is pure speculation, as far as I know -- that's discussed among the Liberty Falls collecting public, and that's that Larry Stern was simply tired of producing the Liberty Falls product line, wanted to focus on his other product line, and chose this way to get out of the Liberty Falls business. Myself, I heard this theory from another collector, who supposedly heard it from a former employee, but you can see it's complete heresay. Whether or not you believe it, you will have to decide for yourself.
And then, in 2007, there was exciting news for Liberty Falls collectors! For the first time since 2003, there were brand new Liberty Falls pieces in stores! Click here for more information on the 2007 collection.
The on-line Liberty Falls community has regathered in a Yahoo Group called VillageCollectors, which was started and is run by a man named Harold Schultz. A lot of news and information is available in this group. If you're interested in Liberty Falls, I strongly recommend that you join. You'll need to register for a Yahoo account, if you don't have one already, but it's free. Click here to go to the Liberty Falls Collectors Yahoo group.
© 2006 Cruizn4Sailz