The Liberty Falls Collection was a collectible holiday village popular in the 1990s. The product was produced in China and sold in the United States in large department stores. It was on the market from 1991 to 2008.
The Liberty Falls Collection is a bit obscure today, but it isn’t especially rare. Purchasers frequently packed the items away in the original boxes every year, so when they turn up, they often turn up in like-new condition.
What the Liberty Falls Collection was
Ralph Gadiel was an entrepreneur who wanted to produce a nice-looking product at an affordable price and sell it at mass merchants.
Liberty Falls was what he came up with. Set in a fictitious mining town, Liberty Falls, Colorado, in the 1870s, he drew on the romantic notion of the American West and holiday nostalgia. And when I say “holiday village,” I’m not attacking Christmas. Not all of the pieces were set at Christmas time. Some of the pieces are clearly set in the spring or summer, so you can set it up for Easter or Independence Day. International Resources didn’t release spring and summer collections every year, but they left the option open.
The collection consists of pewter figures, miniature buildings, and other scenic details, including plastic sheets that served as a base for a layout, with molded-in details like roads and ponds to provide a scenic setting.
Liberty Falls village scale
The scale of holiday villages is never a straightforward question to answer, and the Liberty Falls Americana Collection is no different.
The figures are approximately 1:64 scale and stamped “IRS” along with the year of issue on the bottom. “IRS” stands for International Resourcing Services, Inc., the company Gadiel founded. The company later changed its name to International Resources LLC. Some of the figures were painted, and some are raw metal.
Like many holiday villages, the figures are oversized for the buildings. The buildings of Liberty Falls stand about three and a half inches tall. A two-story building works out to about 1:87 scale, or HO scale in model railroading, but buildings like churches, city hall, and the post office work out to closer to 1:160 scale, or N scale. Then there’s the problem of the three-story buildings, which fall in between, somewhere around 1:100-1:120 scale.
Some people set up trains with their villages because trains evoke a lot of nostalgia. Either an HO or N scale train will work. I’d concern myself more with time period than scale. The key word to look for is 4-4-0, which was a common wheel arrangement for steam locomotives in the 1800s. You should be able to find either an HO scale 4-4-0 or N scale 4-4-0 train set fairly inexpensively.
Tips for setting up the Liberty Falls Americana Collection
You can use the scale disparity to your advantage to make the village look bigger than it is. Model railroaders call this forced perspective, and they use this trick all the time.
Your figures are the largest item, from a scale perspective. Place them right up front. your figures up front where you can see them. Place houses behind them. Then place tall buildings, like churches and city hall, in the back row and elevated a bit. This increases the illusion of distance, and also gives the perspective of being in a mountainous area. I’ve written more about forced perspective in the past.
The key to setting these up is to try to tell a story, and since every piece came with a slip of paper containing a backstory, that makes it a little bit easier to come up with ideas for setting things up. Of course, you can come up with your own story if you want.
And you can always use the Liberty Falls figures with other brands of villages. Scale-wise, their buildings match the Liberty Falls figures rather well. It’s mostly a matter of getting the season and the setting you want.
Repurposing Liberty Falls
I use the pewter Liberty Falls figures on my O27 train layout. The scale is about what I look for, and they’re just about the least expensive metal figures out there. The era isn’t quite what I would like but Americans dressed in that style for many decades, so it works. I picked some up at a train show sometime around 2008 or 2009, and it took a while for me to figure out what they were, but I was glad I did.
Even though you won’t find Liberty Falls in retail stores anymore, secondhand items are plentiful on Ebay. What I tend to do is just look for large assorted lots of the figures when I decide I want more. I rarely pay more than $2 per figure, including shipping.
If you need inexpensive civilian figures for 28mm wargaming, Liberty Falls figures would work well for that. They mix in with a variety of eras and are much less expensive than the figures in hobby shops.
What happened to Liberty Falls
Ralph Gadiel died of cancer in 1998. Before he passed, he sold International Resources to another businessman named Larry Stern. Stern didn’t have the success Gadiel had, partly because Stern tried to cut costs in 2000 by producing just one line, where Gadiel had been willing to give retailers exclusives. The department store Dillards stopped carrying the line when they couldn’t get an exclusive. Stern tried to compensate by selling direct, but this wasn’t very successful. In 2001, he had to give Dillards an exclusive to get back into the stores.
Stern put Liberty Falls on hiatus after 2003. He attempted a comeback in 2007, but the revival only lasted a year.