There are rivalries in every industry – even the collectible porcelain building industry! In the Halloween arena, there are two main distributors: Department 56 Halloween and Lemax Spooky Town. Below is an overview of their strengths and weaknesses. Village collectors, please submit your comments below.
1. Design. Both produce similar themed buildings but Department 56 definitely has more sophisticated designs that are scarier and feature more realistic details. This is the biggest advantage over Lemax who has a more overdone and often silly aesthetic. There are so many accents, bats, webs, colors, signs, figures, etc. that the excess is just overwhelming.
2. Production. Department 56 has superior quality from construction to materials. Every small detail is carefully sculpted and painted (note the fingers on the reaper below). Lemax has less of an emphasis on quality with lackluster paint jobs, many plastic pieces, and often crooked decals. I've often resorted to repainting and fixing pieces.
3. Lighting - Hands down, Lemax outshines Department 56. They know these displays are meant for dark rooms and many pieces have timed lighting effects, spotlights that illuminate features, flashing lighting, and generally more interest. Department 56 generally sticks one bulb inside the building and calls it a day. The Halloween line has definitely improved but still nowhere near as dynamic as Lemax.
4. Price. Lemax again has the upper hand in pricing. Even the most intricate pieces rarely top $75. Combined with a Michaels sales & coupons (where new pieces are readily available in the fall) they're are a bargain. Most Department 56 items generally start at $75, with typical price points between $125-$150. Department 56 is also hard to find and almost impossible to see up close until after the purchase. Although shopping online offers the best selection of both lines.
5. Packaging. Okay, this may not be a deal breaker but every collector knows that they have to store these fragile things year after year, and those storage boxes take a beating. Department 56 packing is just a terrible. The buildings are packed in flimsy styrofoam and put in flimsy sleeves that always tear or slip off. Lemax really puts a lot of though into packaging with high-density foam (which rarely flakes), includes a velcro strap to easily pull out of a sturdy box, and even stamps useful things like "Top" so the contents don't accidentally spill out. Department 56 needs significant improvement in this area.
Overall, if you prefer substance over flash, Department 56 is the way to go provided you can afford it and can find it. Lemax seems more kid-oriented although their designs can be ghastlier. They've really stepped up the quality on the higher end pieces, so definitely consider those. As always choose pieces that speak to you, but consider that mixing pieces from both series many look a touch off.