Eugene Freedman, the man who saw a possible marketing bonanza in figurines made from artist Sam Butcher's Precious Moments characters, died Tuesday at age 82:
Mr. Freedman was the longtime chief executive officer of the Enesco Group, now headquartered in Itasca. With the company since the late 1950s, Mr. Freedman would scout out new gift ideas from artists and craftsman and work out licensing deals.
"He'd walk street fairs looking for talent, take the intellectual property into three dimensions and enhance it with clever marketing ideas," Richard Freedman said.
Over the years, he developed a number of successful items, including the Cherished Teddies line of teddy bear figurines. But nothing rivaled the popularity of Precious Moments.
Butcher, who drew the tiny figures for a line of greeting cards, was initially reluctant to license his work, Richard Freedman said. But, according to the Precious Moments Web site, when Butcher saw a prototype figurine "he fell to his knees and wept."
Since then, some 1,500 versions of the figurine have been produced. Models are made for baptisms, birthdays and other life events. "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" model, a tiny bride and groom, has sat atop 2 million wedding cakes, Freedman told the Tribune in 1998.
"My father understood human emotion and he knew what made a product successful," Richard Freedman said. "My dad was just so delighted that these figurines brought such joy to people."
The Precious Members collector's club sponsored by Enesco at one time boasted a half-million members, said Shonnie Bilin, formerly the vice president of collectibles at Enesco. Mr. Freedman traveled widely to promote the line and would happily sign the figurines while mingling with collectors at conventions or on cruises.
"He was extremely customer- and consumer-friendly," said Basil Elliott, Enesco's CEO.
Precious Moments increased Enesco's annual sales from around $20 million a year to about $500 million annually, Elliott said.
The figurines for the last couple of years have been sold by Precious Moments Inc. in Carthage, Mo., where there is a park and chapel for fans.