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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.
Dont be afraid, my beard is long, my head is large, my look is grim but that matters not. I wont bite you. In spite of my big mouth and grim appearance, I look with my heart for your happiness.
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.
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 Tchaikovskys 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 Steinbach.
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 their families.
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 1950s. 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 nutcrackers 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 Tchaikovskys 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 1950s 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 Steinbachs vast choice of subjects and superb quality and craftsmanship helped strengthen the perception of the nutcracker as a treasured collectors piece.
The next step in Steinbachs 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: