Business: Those Golden Gnomes

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One of the most enduring characters of European folklore is the gnome, a gnarled night creature who lives for centuries, stands only 6 in. when full grown but is seven times stronger than man. With exhilarating wit and tongue-in-cheek charm, Dutch Physician Wil Huygen and Illustrator Rien Poortvliet put together a mock sociological history of the gnome that is proving to be an astonishing money spinner. Ponderously titled leven en werken van de Kabouter (The Life and Work of the Gnomes) in The Netherlands, the book is a spoof that solemnly reports that, among other things, Mozart's gnome pal is still alive, gnomes always have twins, they use opium for digestive upsets and would rather be without pants than their conical red caps.

Harry N. Abrams Inc., the New York art-book publisher, bought the English-language rights, insured the risk by bringing in Bantam, the paperback house, as a partner and placed 40,000 copies on the market last fall under the simple title Gnomes. The book has sold 250,000 copies at a prepublication price of $14.95, and Abrams expects it to sell another 150,000 copies at the full price of $17.50. Abrams struck a crock of gold. Gnomes, says President Andrew Stewart, "will have a significant impact on our profits in 1978. We'd have a good year even without it. Now we'll have a terrific year."

Abrams also stands to make additional "millions," according to Stewart, by marketing many spin-offs of Gnomes. Among the ventures that are fairly well set: gnome dolls, calendars, Christmas decorations, jigsaw puzzles, stationery and a gnome home, designed by Artist Poortvliet, that can be punched out from heavy paper and assembled in a few hours. Licensing arrangements are being discussed with companies that are panting to sell gnome dishes, tote bags, pillows, egg cups and jewelry, including an enameled gnome with gleaming diamond eyes. Negotiations are under way for a TV special. While Abrams has resisted the temptation to cash in by carpentering a gnome book sequel, it will soon publish a historical examination of the ways and wiles of fairies.