Figurines by Sam Butcher: History of Precious Moments
Born in Jackson, Michigan in 1939, Butcher grew up poor in Redding, California. His mother recognized an early talent for art and drawing. Following high school, he earned a scholarship to the College of Arts & Crafts, in Berkley. Over the next 15 years he worked a number of low paying jobs even including a janitor position. He continued to work on his artistry and his religious faith.
His big break came while working in Grand Rapids, Michigan for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) which produced children’s television programing. Butcher worked there 10 years including years as the on air personality and illustrator for “Tree Top House”. He was seen by millions but remained relatively unknown. The break came not from TV but from meeting fellow employee Bill Biel. Biel wanted to use Butcher’s artwork to sell a line of greeting cards and posters.
Biel and Butcher formed a company named Jonathan and David (J&D) after their children in 1974. The company did well based on Sam’s inspirational drawings of “precious moments”. While displaying at the Christian Booksellers Association Convention in Anaheim, California, J&D came to the attention of Enesco, a distributor and manufacturer of products to the gift store retail trade. Enesco wanted to produce a line of porcelain figurines based on Butcher’s ‘Love One Another” theme.
- Fountains and Angels
- Wedding Island
- The Gallery
- Gift Shop
- Precious Moments Chapel
The theme park at its peak drew over 400,000 visitors a year. Butcher was a deeply religious and family man. The park was a tribute to his god and his artistry. Butcher’s life, Precious Moments figurine business and theme park all were doing well until tragedy struck in 1991.
Phillip, the oldest son, died in 1991 of a terrible accident while Sam was in the Philippines. Butcher was devastated. He sunk into depression and anger. He took to alcohol and prescription medication. His health deteriorated during a series of strokes caused by the self medication. He was diagnosed as bipolar. He still continued to paint and design but his life has not been the same.
His sons took over day to day operation of the business and theme park. An aging Butcher spent considerable time in the Philippines with only rare unplanned visits back to Carthage.
Precious Moments did well over the years however, Enesco, its partner had a number of financial problems. Enesco was bought and sold 4 times between 2004 and 2008. Jonathan Butcher stepped down as CEO of Precious Moments in 2006. The theme park has since been scaled back to only a few exhibits.
Precious Moments has a devoted following of figurine collectors. The Precious Moments Club was formed in 1981 and still continues with over 300,000 members. It is one of the largest figurine clubs in the world.