Nutcrackers in the form of wooden carvings of a soldier, knight, king, or other profession have existed since at least the 15th century. These nutcrackers portray a person with a large mouth which the operator opens by lifting a lever in the back of the figurine. Originally one could insert a nut in the big-toothed mouth, press down and thereby crack the nut. Modern nutcrackers in this style serve mostly for decoration, mainly at Christmastime.
The carving of nutcrackers — as well as of religious figures and of cribs —developed as a cottage industry in forested rural areas of Germany. The most famous nutcracker carvings come from Sonneberg in Thuringia (also a center of dollmaking) and from the Ore Mountains. Wood-carving usually provided the only income for the people living there. Today the travel industry supplements their income by bringing visitors to the remote areas.
Nutcrackers have become popular in the United States as well, and a recreated "Bavarian village" of Leavenworth, Washington even features a Nutcracker Museum. Many other materials also serve to make decorated nutcrackers, such as porcelain, silver, and brass; the museum displays samples.
Carvings by famous names like Junghanel, Klaus Mertens, Karl, Olaf Kolbe, Petersen, Christian Ulbricht and especially the Steinbach nutcrackers have become collectors' items. Herr Christian Steinbach, also known as the "King of Nutcrackers", started the tradition of hand-carving nutcrackers and is being continued by his daughter, Karla Steinbach. Steinbach Nutcrackers vary greatly in price, anywhere from $200 to over $1000, depending on the collectibility factor and availability.
Manufacturers produce modern nutcrackers — designed solely to crack nuts — usually somewhat resembling pliers, but with the pivot point at the end beyond the nut, rather than in the middle. End-users also utilise them for cracking the shells of crab and lobster in order to make the meat inside available for eating.
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Image:Nußknacker aus Seiffen.jpg
Nutcracker made in Seiffen (Germany)
Nutcracker from Erzgebirge (East Germany)