According to German
folklore, nutcrackers were given as keepsakes to bring good luck to your family
and protect your home. The legend says that a nutcracker represents power and
strength and serves like a trusty watch dog guarding your family from evil
spirits and danger. A fierce protector, the nutcracker bares its teeth to the
evil spirits and serves as the traditional messenger of good luck and goodwill.
“Don’t be afraid, my
beard is long, my head is large, my look is grim but that matters not. I won’t
bite you. In spite of my big mouth and grim appearance, I look with my heart for
•Nutcrackers embody the ‘Cycle of Life', As
the seed of a nut falls to the ground, it grows into a strong tree, living over
hundreds of years nourishing the woodcutters and woodcrafters. The legends tell
of a feast celebrated just before harvesting the logs of the Elder trees, where
nuts and fruits were eaten as if to pass on the magic and mystery of this
eternal cycle . . . and so on to the collectors of these exquisite wooden
•Nutcrackers reflect ancestral dining customs
where amusing or unusual nutcrackers were part of the social setting adding a
whimsical conversation piece as guests lingered over the desert course which
included sweetmeats such as pecans and hazelnuts.
•Writers, composers and artists sang and
danced the praises of the legend of the Nutcracker beginning with the novel “The
Nutcracker and the King of Mice,” written sometime between 1776 and 1822, by
E.T. Amadeus Hoffman. This novel became the basis for Tchaikovsky’s
magnificent “Nutcracker Suite”, which debuted as a ballet in St. Petersburg
in 1892 and lives on as a holiday tradition throughout the world.
“If you sit down under one
of these trees you might hear the rush and rustle of the tops, telling you about
the German legends and the history witnessed by these trees,” says Herr
THE STEINBACH FAMILY OF ARTISANS
For most of two centuries
the Steinbach family has been producing fine wood products. Today, Herr
Christian Steinbach heads the family operation carrying on the tradition with
his daughter Karla. Karla Steinbach, who is Vice President is being groomed to
become the sixth generation to head the company, after her father retires.
Together they oversee product development and quality control at the factory now
located in Hohenhameln in the northern region of Germany.
Originally from Austria, the
family dates back to Erwin V. Steinbach, a famous architect and master builder
of the “Muenster” or Dome of Strasbourg in 1284. Through a series of wars,
the Steinbach family was forced to relocate several times. Being Lutheran
Protestants around the time of the Reformation they suffered religious
persecution. The family included architects, builders, merchants, judges,
politicians, and military men. The mettle of the family is evidenced in this
quote: “If one does not work hard to earn the heritage, one will perish in the
end or at best hold the stirrups for those who are on their way up.” That
fortitude was rewarded over the centuries.
The family settled around
the Erzgebirge, a mountainous mining area which at one time was. part of East
Germany. This region was rich in gold, silver, tin, cobalt, and uranium, as well
as timber which was needed to support the ceilings of the mines. As the metal
supply dwindled, many families were forced to turn to the trade of wood-working.
Wood carvings, used as souvenirs, gifts and for religious purposes, were popular
since the 11th century. The lathe became readily accepted by the people in this
forest area and furthered the development of the art. Thus a new trade of
wood-turning was established in the 15th and 16th century under the rule of
Elector August the Strong of Saxony. It became so popular that a decree was
published permitting wood-carving to only be performed by native craftsmen and
HOW NUTCRACKERS CAME TO AMERICA
Nutcrackers have always been
enjoyed for their whimsical expressions. authentic costumes, and enigmatic
charm. However, nutcrackers also possess a rich history that goes back about 300
years. Nutcrackers carry with them a sense of tradition as well as an abundance
of stories and legends of the past. Although nutcrackers have been around
forages, they were not always the collectible items as we know them today. In
fact, nutcrackers only became popular in the United States about 50 years ago.
The practice of collecting
nutcrackers in the United States began in the early 1950’s. Many of the GI's
who were in Germany during World War II visited “Kristkrinä!e Marktet”,
which were open air fairs or markets. It was there that they discovered a sturdy
and intriguing companion in the nutcracker. When the soldiers returned home
after the war, a new comrade accompanied them. Strengthened by the nutcracker’s
ability to ward off evil from its owners, the soldiers brought a figure of power
and protection to their families and loved ones. And so, the nutcrackers with
their rich heritage had arrived in the United States, and were here to stay.
When Tchaikovsky’s ballet,
The Nutcracker Suite premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892, the popularity of
nutcrackers spurted tremendously. The ballet became very popular in the United
States in the early 1950’s and ignited the passion for these fascinating
creatures. The magic and mystery of the ballet has intrigued and enchanted
audiences year after year. The strong following of this classic production
greatly increased the popularity of collecting nutcrackers in America.
The role of the Steinbach
family in contributing to the rising popularity of nutcrackers can not be
overemphasized. The first nutcrackers, created mainly in the Erzgebirge,
depicted images of kings, military officers, and other prominent members of the
upper classes. Herr Steinbach, in his own unique way, altered this tradition and
raised the nutcrackers to a different level. The subjects of the nutcrackers
were expanded to depict characters from German folklore and legend. Introducing
nutcrackers representing characters from different areas of the globe was
another Steinbach innovation. Herr Steinbach’s vast choice of subjects and
superb quality and craftsmanship helped strengthen the perception of the
nutcracker as a treasured collector’s piece.
The next step in Steinbach’s
quest for uniqueness came with the development of the limited edition
nutcracker. The first limited edition nutcracker piece was King Ludwig II, which
was limited to 3000 pieces. The idea of a limited nutcracker produced an
overwhelming response because it contributed to the collectability of the
nutcrackers and greatly increased their value.
When Herr Steinbach crossed
the Atlantic, he visited many collector shows and spoke to both existing
collectors and those who were interested in starting a collection. His animated
personality and sincere interest in each and every collector created instant
electricity between the two. His individual treatment of each nutcracker
collector combined with the superb quality of the pieces, helped create a
uniquely collectible product which has survived the test of time. The concept
took hold and has expanded with collectors clubs, more limited editions and you,
the collector who appreciates the beauty, quality and sense of exciting
tradition that accompanies each individual nutcracker.
For most of two centuries the Steinbach family has been producing fine wood
products. Today, Herr Christian Steinbach heads the family operation carrying on
the tradition with his daughter Karla.
Karla Steinbach, who is Vice President, is being groomed to become the sixth
generation to head the company after her father retires. Together they oversee
product development and quality control at the factory now located in
Hohenhameln in the northern region of Germany.
The mettle of the family is evidenced in the quote: "If one does not
work hard to earn the heritage, one will perish in the end or at best hold the
stirrups for those who are on their way up."
That fortitude was
rewarded over the centuries.
"To produce one nutcracker," explains Herr Steinbach, "can
involve up to 130 separate procedures. At one time the curing and natural drying
to the wood could take up to 3-4 years depending upon the piece."
The major processes are described below:
1. The Cutting.
First the wood is cut into specific sizes and shapes suitable for creating that special nutcracker.
2. The Shaping.
The wood is put on a high speed milling cutter where the shaped parts are produced and carpenters then glue the pieces together under pressure in vises for further processing.
This ancient craft involves the turn of a hand to create the smooth cleanly cut parts, freehand, from a wooden block.
4. Automatic Lathe.
The lathe revolutionized this art. With automation, it allowed mass output of turned parts which are readied for final finishing.
5. Polishing and Drilling.
Power drills and polishing wheels hum while the shaped pieces pass from hand to hand; here a hole is drilled and there a bevel is cut. All takes shape under the expert hands of trained polishers.
6. Priming and Spraying.
Old experienced craftsmen do this work, which produces a smooth surface by repeated dipping and spraying, alternated with drying.
No machine or technique can take the place of the simple knife. The art of the wood carver provides finishing touches.
All the painting is done freehand. Each color dries before the next can be applied. Steinbach artists patiently create the unique personalities of each design.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and soon after, all the Steinbachs were reunited in 1990. Another factory was then created in Eastern Germany in addition to the existing one in the West. The family now lives in Hohenhameln just north of the beautiful Harz Mountains. Herr Steinbach and daughter Karla, make many public appearances at special events and at collectible shows. Whether you meet the Steinbachs in person at such special events or collect these exquisite pieces for their beauty or secondary market values,
you will always feel their special warm, friendly and contagious old world charm.