Lilliput Lane Cottages have been long regarded as one of our favourite collectables, along with Willow Tree, Border Fine Arts and Lladro figurines. Lilliput Lane was founded in the early 1980’s as a competitor to David Winter Cottages. David Winter had been around a year or two and had the market pretty much to themselves. The phenomenon of miniature cottages was in its infancy, but was booming fast. The difficulty we had was that the company was run in an eccentric fashion. The cottages were modelled by David Winter, but he wasn’t in any sense, a businessman.
The commercial side was run by a chap called John Hine, a great self-publicist, who took delight in flying in the face of convention. He didn’t believe in showing at trade fairs. Neither did he like employing agents, so getting information as to new launches and discontinuations wasn’t easy at the best of times. A further eccentricity was that the delivery man used to deposit the cartons of stock on our doorstep and then demand a cheque – not the best way to build relations with your customer. Furthermore, and most worryingly, the quality of David Winter Cottages wasn’t good enough. They were plaster based, and tended to chip easily.
So, the market was crying out for a competitor. And like a knight in shining armour, along came Lilliput Lane Cottages. What a refreshing change. The concept was evolved by David Tate. He saw the potential for the collectability of miniature cottages designed in the vernacular style. He was also, as he never tired of telling me, multi-talented. Not only did he develop the knack of modeling cottages, but he also was an engineer and was able to work out the best manufacturing technique that would, on the one hand, preserve the astounding attention to detail that characterize Lilliput Lane Cottages, but also make them harder wearing. He increased the polyresin content of the cottages and, as a result, came up with a far more successful formula.
David Tate also appreciated the importance of regular introductions and retirements, the idea that you have to keep the collectors on their toes. From day one, Lilliput Lane was always run in the most professional manner. We received regular visits from our rep, the product was always well presented and properly boxed. Trade fairs were attended and Lilliput Lane usually had the reputation of having one of the most innovative and attractive stands.
Over the years, Lilliput Lane grew in popularity and it didn’t take long for the range to soar past David Winter Cottages as the number one cottage collectible. As time went by, David Winter became more desperate and it seemed that corners were being cut. In some cases, sadly, it seemed as thought the collector wasn’t being treated seriously. In one infamous case, a range of castles was introduced in a fairly high edition number. Simultaneously, the same models were produced but on a resin base, but at a much lower edition number and at a much higher price. It was decisions such as these that really put the final nail in the David Winter coffin. Owners came and went, but try as they might, the slide continued unabated until the only real demand was in the USA, and that too was negligible. In the end, and ironically, the brand was taken over by Enesco, the distributors of Lilliput Lane cottages. They were able to focus on the tiny dwindling band of collectors, whilst concentrating their main efforts on their own excellent brand.