I love how the History of German Nutcrackers is tied up in a Fairy Tale….how perfectly German!
Once upon a time, a farmer offered a reward for anyone who could help him easily open the Walnuts from his tree. A Carpenter said he should saw them open. A Soldier told him he should SHOOT the nuts (I can’t imagine what he thought would be left of the nut…). Finally, a puppet maker brought him a brightly painted wooden doll with a strong jaw designed to crack the nuts. The Farmer was delighted! And rewarded the puppet maker with his own workshop.
And a cottage industry was born.
Quick Look at the Contents
History of German Nutcrackers
German Nutcrackers in the shape of Soldiers or Kings have been in use since the 15th century! The unsmiling figures are thought to be lucky, and provide protection for the household as they stand sentry on the mantle. The most famous Nutcrackers come out of Sonneberg in Thuringia, and from the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains). The Erzgebirge originally made money from mining… but as the mines played out, miners used their wood-working skills to create toys and Christmas figurines that were sold at Christmas Markets around Germany. A “good” Nutcracker could be made from up to 130 carefully assembled pieces! Originally, the jaws were strong enough to crack walnuts. Today’s Nutcrackers are more decorative, only good for peanuts. (And if the Nutcracker belongs to my mother… you better not DARE put any nuts in its mouth!)
The Steinbach family was instrumental in spreading the popularity of Nutcrackers. In the beginning, most looked fairly similar… soldier, knight, king. Herr Steinbach decided to create Nutcrackers based on German Folklore or famous leaders from around the world. Then came the brilliant idea of “limited edition” Nutcrackers…. the first was King Ludwig II, and only 3000 were made. This marketing plan of scarcity made collectors mad for acquiring these special pieces.
Nutcracker collecting became a huge hobby for many who appreciated the hand carved and hand painted Nutcrackers. In the 1950s, the hobby spread beyond Germany.
Nutcrackers in America
Today, Nutcrackers are a common Christmas decoration here in the US, but how did that happen? In the 1950s Soldiers stationed in Germany started visiting the Christmas Markets. They were captivated by these brightly painted wood “Soldier” Nutcrackers, and brought them home. Right around then Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker Suite was becoming a popular Christmas Event, and so demand for Nutcrackers skyrocketed! Sadly, the increased demand means the market is flooded with cheap knock-offs from China… and the Steinbach family company, after over 250 years of creating hand-crafted works of art, declared bankruptcy and shut its doors for good in 2016.
Today Nutcrackers come in a wide range of styles… from the classic Red Soldier to a Camophlage Soldier... from King Ludwig II to Green Bay Football Nutcrackers. Whatever you choose, you can be sure that this little work of art will give you much enjoyment as it watches over your family during the holidays.
Where to Buy German Nutcrackers
Christian Ulbricht Nutcrackers
In 1928, Christian Ulbricht’s father Otto founded the Ulbricht‘s Workshop for Fine Wooden Crafts and Toys in the small town Seiffen, in the heart of the Ore Mountains. Although the family moved to the west after the War, in 1990, his son Christian Ulbricht brought the company back to its original home in the Erzgebirge. Today, “the family and their team create traditional wooden art that brings joy to grown-ups and children alike. And in every single piece the spirit of Christmas is alive.”
Christian Ulbricht Nutcracker – Santa Claus NaturalChristian Ulbricht Santa with Sled and Birdhouse Staff NutcrackerGerman Christmas Nutcracker Skier – 43,5cm / 17 inch – Christian UlbrichtNutcracker Drummer – 40 cm / 16 inch – Christian UlbrichtGerman Christmas Nutcracker Lumberjack limited edition – 49,5cm / 19 inch – Christian Ulbricht
Kurt Adler Nutcrackers
The Kurt Adler company has been exporting German Christmas decorations to America for over 70 years. In the 1980’s, they introduced Nutcrackers to their line of goods… and added a twist! They sell “classic” Nutcrackers, as well as re-invented Nutcrackers like “Wizard Nutcracker” and “the Wine Grower Nutcracker.”
Kurt Adler Hollywood Ballet Nutcracker, 15-InchKurt Adler Hollywood Tree Hat Nutcracker, 15-Inch, Red and GreenKurt Adler 15Kurt Adler 16-Inch Wooden and Polyresin Gingerbread NutcrackerKurt Adler Hollywood Owl Hat Woodsman Nutcracker, 16-InchKurt Adler Hollywood Nutcracker with Sea Turtle Hat, 11-InchKurt Adler 18Peanuts/Hollywood Nutcrackers Kurt Adler Snoopy Hollywood Nutcracker, 12-Inch
The Steinbach Company is no longer producing new Nutcrackers, but there are still older models on the market.
Steinbach Tchaikovsky German Nutcracker-Limited EditionRetired 1996 Signed Karla Steinbach Wooden 1st in the Biblical Series *Noah and His Ark* NutcrackerSteinbach Wine Grower German NutcrackerSteinbach Kurt Adler Gingerbread Baker Nutcracker, 14-InchSteinbach Nutcracker Gourmet Chef2015 Signed Karla Steinbach *Viking* Nutcracker 1st in Kurt Adler Limited Edition Warriors Series
There are lots of beautiful Vintage Nutcrackers on Etsy… but once they are gone, they are gone.
Original Steinbach Dairy Farmer Nutcracker, Handmade in Western Germany with COA, TagsNutcracker Germany highly collectible Ino SchallerGerman Nutcracker Hunter/ Woodsman Vintage HirschmannVintage Original Bavarian German Hand Made Wine Merchant NutcrackerVintage German Three Musketeer Nutcrackervintage 1970s East Germany GDR Erzgebirge wooden nutcracker / GDR Volkskunst
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