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Nutcrackers - the famous Steinbach nutcracker and Ulbricht nutcracker

Today they are known worldwide - not only since the Nutcracker were marching over the stage in Tschaikowskis musical "Nutcracker-Suite". The subject we are talking about is the Nutcracker - the wrathful and bulky but still friendly looking wooden companion. Since the 17th century the different designs, which have their origin in the folk art of the Erzgebirge, are known through all social classes. Typical are the stern looking king, policeman, the soldier, the hussar, the miner, the forester and the monk, even a Bavarian Oktoberfest-Visitor is available. But all designs were inherent either the majestic power, the fine irony or the silent protest to reflect so the feelings of people.
But now a days the meaning of the nutcracker is widely fallen into oblivion. But like many customs also the story of the nutcracker have a real and true background. In the beginning most toy- or nutcracker craftsmen produced characters of higher social ranks like kings or persons of political jurisdictions. They did so because, as they were poor craftsmen without any rights, they were at the mercy of those men nearly every day. "So for their private satisfaction, they just switched the rolls and now kings have to crack the nuts, the craftsmen wanted to eat" stated the Steinbach nutcracker factory owner, Christian Steinbach..
nutcracker with nut

nutcracker guard

Older pieces also show that the Nutcrackers were often used as toys for children with painted clothes of harlequins or soldiers. Later they were offered at Christmas Markets in bigger cities, where the craftsmen tried to sell them.
But today the wooden companion nearly lost all of his historical content, "it is still like the Christmas tree and the wooden light pryamids, one of the main symbols of the folk art of the Erzgebirge." so Christian Steinbach from the Steinbach nutcracker factory.
Still remaining of the traditional nutcracker story is the difficult and extensive manufacture in small and medium sized companies ( like Steinbach and Ulbricht ) around their countries of origin like the Erzgebirge, the region where the Steinbach nutcracker and the Ulbricht nutcracker come from..

Among all the companies two achieved really world wide reputation with their nutcracker productions: Steinbach and Christian Ulbrich with their nutcrackers and smokers.
Over 100 different steps in the working process are required to finish a new model. Formerly all parts are done by hand, now some of these steps are done by machine, but still a large portion of the whole process is handwork. Think about the the detailed paintings in the face or on the body or the fragile accessories. Those details are also determining the price, e.g. just think about the hair of your nutcracker.

Small nutcracker
nutcracker side view

The hair can be out of synthetic materials or a real pelt. And the biggest price difference lies for sure in the circumstance, if the nutcracker comes either from Germany or Austria or from Taiwan.
Nevertheless, today the collector can choose between nearly 400 different characters, which were produced over the last years, not counted the many different variations in size, colour and details. Regarding the possibility, that a collector can have 1000 pieces, the statements of nutcracker museums having over 10.000 different nutcrackers are not far-fetched.
Collectors from all over the world are chasing after Limited Edition Steinbach nutcrackers like the Merlin, the King Arthur or the Drosselmeyer.

Collecters pay more than 1000USD for a mint in box Steinbach Limited Edition Merlin nutcracker.

Here we have gathered some more info on the two most important nutcracker producers these days:

The Steinbach nutcracker company and the Ulbricht nutcracker company


Our visit to the Steinbach factory in Hohenhammeln

We visteted the Steinbach family in March 2004 in their location in Hohenhammeln ( from left: Mrs. Mustach, Mr.Steinbach, Mr. Fux, Mrs. Karla Steinbach )

The Christian Steinbach, GmbH is the leading producer of collectible nutcrackers and smokers today. Products are created with exacting attention to detail from the finest of European woods. Highly skilled artisans, who have trained many years in the fine art of woodcarving, painstakingly handcraft the Steinbach nutcrackers, smokers, taranellas, ornaments and much more.

Christian Steinbach is the current President and overseas product development and the manufacturing process. His daughter Karla Steinbach assists him with management and is very involved with design and product supervision as well. The main factory is in Hohenhameln - near Hannover - in the northernpart of Germany, and was begun just after World War II. After the reunification of Germany, Mr. Steinbach regained the families Erzgebirge factory, and production is now carried on in both factories.
Although Mr. Steinbach has celebrated his 80th birthday, he attracts hundreds of collectors at his signing events all over the world, and his autograph automatically increases the value of a nutcracker or smoker. He is renowned for his funny anecdotes and legendary stories, and always greets his collectors with gladness!

THE HISTORY OF Steinbach Nutcrackers:
According to German folklore, steinbach 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 guard for your family from danger and evil spirits. A fierce protector, the nutcracker bares its teeth to the evil spirits and serves as the traditional messenger of good luck and good will.
"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 your happiness."
oSteinbach 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.
oSteinbach 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.
oWriters, 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 Mr. Steinbach.

Steinbach 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. Steinbach 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 "Kristkindl Markt", 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.
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.

Ulbricht Company

Christian Ulbricht was born in Seiffen in 1933. His father, Otto, was a wood turner who had a factory which made nutcrackers, smokers and other wooden collectibles. After World War II, private industry was taken out of the hands of the individual, and controlled by the Communist regime. At that time, Otto moved his family across the border to West Germany and settled in Lauingen where he continued his nutcracker business

Mr. Ulbricht took over the family business in 1968, and in 1978 developed a new company named Holzkunst Christian Ulbricht. After Germany was re-united, Mr. Ulbricht was able to purchase the family factory in the Erzgebirge, which is now called Seiffen Nussknackerhaus. Now Ulbricht products are produced in both locations. While son Gunther remained in Lauingen, daughter Enis moved to Seiffen to manage the factory there.

Christian himself will create samples on the lathe, and this becomes the pattern for the workers who handcraft the finished pieces. Gunther, an artist in his own right, has created many of the new designs. And Ines and mother Inge are also involved in the design of nutcrackers, smokers, music boxes, pyramids, and ornaments that are produced in both factories.

Now well into the third generation, the Ulbricht family continues to produce wood turned products of the highest quality. With each piece, you can be assured you have a collectible made in the traditions of excellence for which the Ulbricht family is known in both locations.

As with the Steinbach nutcrackers , the Ulbricht nucracker gain in value, the older they get, with the signature they have and the lowest possible limited Edition number they have.

Happy collecting !


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