A Short History of Nutcrackers
European artisans have been carving nutcrackers since the 15th century. Some of the most popular come from eastern Germany. The village of Seiffen in Saxony’s Erzgebirge (the Ore Mountains) remains the capital of production. More than 75 percent of all nutcrackers made there end up in the hands of American collectors.
Traditionally, villagers in Seiffen who worked in silver and tin mines spent their winters crafting toys. When the ore ran out, they turned to wood carving full time. Early versions of nutcrackers depicted authority figures like kings and soldiers, which represented oppression and hardship — these unpleasant people in the villagers’ lives now had to work for them, cracking nuts.
In 1872, Wilhelm Füchtner started commercial production of nutcrackers using a lathe, making the local crafts more available outside the region. The Steinbach and Ulbricht families followed suit.
Today, nutcrackers come in many characters, from bakers to witches to sports figures. Expect to pay around $149 for Füchtner’s traditional king and $210 for an Ulbricht Santa with toys. On the higher end, a Steinbach-signed 1992 limited edition Herr Drosselmeyer (from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker) could fetch $3,000.