A Mystery
German? Dutch? Chinese?

Scroll down if you're just here for the images. There are 11 altogether.

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March - September 2021

The nutcrackers on this page have little to no indication of their origin. After acquiring and examining a nutcracker marketed in West Germany by Heinrich C. Preis, My best guess is that the nutcrackers on this page might have come from him. Whether he made them, imported them or had nothing to do with them, I can't definitively say.

Like the known Preis example, there are identical instances of paint pigment and the application thereof, spackle used to smooth rough areas and style of detail and decoration. I believe that the lack of identification and green material under the bases might place these nutcrackers early in Preis' history of operations, if it's true that he had something to do with them.

The tallest is 14 5/8 inches. The smallest, just 5 inches. They're obviously not made in a large production facility. They all appear to be hand turned. They have much in common but each is slightly different from the others. I came across them separately, in some cases, while searching for unrelated things. They were inexpensive compared to nutcrackers with verifiable German provenance.

The first one on the left came with a group of other damaged, bonafide East German nutcrackers. It was missing its feet. It has green felt glued under the base. I later saw pictures of the second one and made feet like those for the first one. Then, I felt compelled to purchase the second one.

The second one had a body that was turned from green (freshly felled) wood. If you have ever turned green wood on a lathe with a skew chisel, you know how much easier it is than turning dry seasoned wood. Unfortunately, a split developed in the lever channel as the body dried. Cloth was glued into the crack and it was painted over. This is definitely not a production technique. Instead of felt, this nutcracker had green flocked paper glued under the base. The spike on its helmet was a different color of yellow from the other paint on this example.

The compulsion to collect these continued when I stumbled across the third one. It was missing the spike from its helmet and I turned a replacement based on the others. Like the second one, it too had green flocked paper glued under the base. All of these nutcrackers had mustaches made from a natural plant fiber of some kind. The hair and beards of all examples shown, are synthetic fur.

The fourth one is a small version, very similar to the large ones. It has a painted mustache and the same green flocked paper glued under the base. It would have taken almost as much time to make this one as the large ones but probably was intended to sell for less.

PreisThe fifth and smallest one, is a simplification of the others. I believe it's also more recent. It has the same green paint and fiber mustache as the large ones but a single foot and no green felt or flocked paper under the base. The stars on the coat and helmet appear to have been stenciled. It would have taken much less time to make this one. It came with a hand-written label under the base, which said, "EUROPE 1995 HOLLAND". I could see another label underneath. When I pealed the first label back, I found the original price in Deutsche Marks. This might also point to a Preis origin.

As I write this, there are two small incense smokers on eBay. One has the same helmet and green paint as the nutcrackers but is decorated somewhat differently. It lacks the synthetic fur, perhaps to eliminate a fire hazard. Like the smallest nutcracker, the star on the helmet appears to be stenciled. This smoker was listed as German but the seller informed me she didn't know if it really was. A relative of hers thought it looked German based on travels in Germany. The second has the identical form but is decorated quite differently. The spike helmet has perhaps become a knitted cap.

I sent pictures of all of these items to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum and asked if they had seen anything like them. The founder/curator replied that she believed them to be Chinese due to the red bases on most. I can't argue with an expert but I have seen red bases on verifiable German nutcrackers, notably Steinbach and Erzgebirgische Volkskunst, to name a couple of makers.

Heinrich C. Preis, sold some examples with round red bases and identical artificial fur hair and beards. The Preis nutcrackers vary greatly but do share a few things in common with these nutcrackers, however, I haven't seen any labeled Preis examples with green material applied to the bases.

I am inclined to believe that these nutcrackers came from a small scale operation, hand making wood craft items somewhere, possibly in West Germany. The only evidence for this is one price tag in Deutsche Marks. I think the added Holland label is a red herring. Maybe that nutcracker was given as a gift to someone on vacation in Holland. While I'm inclined to doubt that German merchants were importing Chinese cottage-industry nutcrackers to sell, Stranger things have happened. That would be a remarkable story if it proves to be true in the end.


Update:

Shortly after launching this site, I found an additional small, 5 1/4-inch, nutcracker by this maker. It appears to be a transition between the other two small ones. It has the details of the larger nutcrackers including the design on the back of the jaw lever, but it has a pedestal foot like the plainer 5-inch version. It has green woven cloth glued under the base. I plan to ignore any more of these that I find.


Image 1 of 11 Front.
Front


Image 2 of 11 Side.
side


Image 3 of 11 Back.
back


Image 4 of 11 Detail of small ones.
Small Ones


Images 5 & 6 of 11 The Holland label hiding the price in Deutsche Marks.
Holland LabelDM Label


Image 7 & 8 of 11 eBay Smokers, similar to the smallest nutcracker.
eBay Smoker 1eBay Smoker 2


Image 9 of 11 Front. As per the update.
Front


Image 10 of 11 Side.
Side


Image 11 of 11 Back.
Back


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