The German Erzgebirge Nutcracker - Nutcrackers at the Erzgebirge-Palace
Since the ancient times there have been devices to open all kind of nuts. The Greek Aristotle is most probably the inventor of the nutcracker, a pincer-like tool with two levers. But also decorative nutcrackers had already been crafted during ancient times. The fact that beautiful bronze nutcrackers were found in ancient graves shows that nutcrackers soon after their invention have been more than just a regular tool. Only valuable objects which had been of great importance in the persons past life or with possibly great importance in afterlife were placed into graves. In the 16th century was first recorded appearance of the decorative wooden nutcracker. King Henry VIII of England gave one to his second wife Anna Boleyn wife as a gift and Leonardo Da Vinci has constructed a machine for crafting wooden figurines and nutcrackers.
Wooden Nutcrackers made primarily for decorative purposes entered the avenue to fame in the 18th century. In Bavaria (Oberammergau) the skilled craftsmen carved nutcrackers with oriental motives while in South Tyrol, nowadays a German speaking northern province of Italy, funny nutcrackers simply to enjoy the people were crafted. In the German Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) the most famous nutcracker was born the Original German Erzgebirge Nutcracker. The most popular ones until today.
The Erzgebirge is a low mountain range in the east of Germany. Rich deposits of gold, silver and tin brought prosperity to the region during the 15th -17th century. In the 18th century many mines dried up and forced the jobless miners to find new ways to make a living. They turned to their long time hobby wood working and started to handcraft wooden items. The main technique has already been woodturning and woodcarving. These are the roots of all the wonderful nutcrackers, incense smokers, Christmas pyramids and Light Arches (Schwibbogen) from the German Erzgebirge.
The classical German Erzgebirge nutcracker has a grim look and a big angry mouth. The German author Jacob Grimm (1785-1865) described nutcrackers as idols that are made to exorcize evil spirits. Typical motifs are State Authorities like Kings, Soldiers and Policemen. By giving these authorities the character and look of a nutcracker the Erzgebirge craftsmen expressed some protest and criticism without risking their lives. The nutcracker also served as a caricature of rulers. When Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Germany the Erzgebirge craftsmen produced Napoleon nutcrackers and later on the famous German Chancellor Bismarck was portrait. During the 19th century the nutcrackers became more and more popular and were sold on the German Christmas fairs as a toy for children. The antitype of the typical German Erzgebirge nutcrackers was crafted in 1865 in the workshop of family Fuechtner. About 120 work procedures were necessary to complete the 'father' of all Erzgebirge nutcrackers more than 140 years ago. He had a crown that reminded of a traditional miner's hat and his uniform had little white dots and filigree ornaments. It was painted with bright colours (red, orange, blue and yellow). Some of the classical nutcrackers of today still have this typical look. Besides wood Fuechtner used rabbit skin for hair and beard and dough was used for feet and eyes.
The work procedure for nutcrackers is still very close to the original Fuechtner nutcracker.
Most Erzgebirge workshops use modern machines but pay great attention to traditional procedures.
Even in Art and Literature nutcrackers were used as a theme. The two most popular works are a fairy tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann called "Nutcracker and Mouseking" and the famous ballet by Tschaikowski "The Nutcracker". The ballet has contributed significantly to the popularity of the German Erzgebirge nutcrackers because it has spread the look of the nutcracker around the world. Now outside of Germany many people became lovers of the nutcrackers, too. In the USA more and more enthusiasts started to collect nutcrackers.
In this context the two Erzgebirge workshops Christian Ulbricht and Steinbach GmbH Marienberg deserve to be mentioned. They have started to produce nutcrackers for the international market earlier than any other workshop from the Erzgebirge. Ulbricht and Steinbach expanded their range of models from Kings, Soldiers and Policemen to more modern images of folklore and history. They started to craft nutcrackers not only with German characters but also with internationally known characters, focussing besides the German also on the US market.
- Steinbach nutcracker George Washington
- Steinbach nutcrackers of American Generals (Lee, Jackson and Stuart)
- Martin Luther, Albert Einstein, Pope Benedict XVI, Heidi & Peter, Phantom of the Opera and Sherlock Holmes
Ulbricht and Steinbach produced so many different models that everybody found one he liked and collectors enjoyed the large variety of handcrafted collectible items. By limiting the number of nutcrackers produced of a certain model the price of many models increased during the years. This made it even more attractive to collect German nutcrackers. Some enthusiasts today have collections of several thousand pieces.
An Original Erzgebirge nutcracker is a beautiful decorative item for all seasons. Many people think of the wonderful Christmas time when they see a nutcracker. Many stores in Germany put nutcrackers into their store (not for sale) and display windows to increase Christmas sales. The nutcracker has the reputation to inspire people to shop on Christmas time. The traditional German Christmas fairs offer many nutcrackers and other Erzgebirge items.
The cities Seiffen, Olbernhau and Marienberg are the center of the nutcracker production from the Erzgebirge. Particularly Seiffen is internationally famous for wooden Erzgebirge handcrafts. The Erzgebirge-Palace offer over 600 different nutcrackers by renown manufacturers from the Erzgebirge including Christian Ulbricht Nutcracker, Steinbach, KWO Olbernhau, Richard Glaesser, Mueller Kleinkunst and Seiffener Volkskunst.
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