German or Chinese?
How do I Know Where my Nutcracker was Made?

June 2021

Back to The Main Nutcracker Index

China 1Alright, maybe you're here because someone has given you an old nutcracker or you've found one in a yard sale or acquired it in some other way. When it becomes known that you have an interest, they tend to show up.

You examine it and find that there's no indication of its provenance. Maybe the label fell off before you got it. Even experienced collectors occasionally have difficulty telling where a nutcracker was made. So how can you tell?

Sometimes the answer is obvious sometimes it isn't so much.

In general but not absolute terms, Chinese nutcrackers, which were made more recently, are usually made from softwood.

The facial features have similar characteristics between models and the details are often not painted by hand. This is also not an absolute indication. There is at least one well established German manufacturer who has switched to using photo-lithography, or a process which looks similar, for all of the previously hand painted details on their nutcrackers.

A nutcracker with recessed eye sockets and added disk eyes is likely German. That doesn't mean that one with eyes just painted on the surface isn't.

The three nutcrackers on this page are all Chinese. I'll reveal their tells in turn.

The first one is easy. It was made within the last several years. It could and probably still can be purchased in Target department stores when the Christmas items are on the shelves. The telling features are a slender form, a lack of hand-painted details and lightweight softwood construction.

China 2The primary giveaway for recent Chinese nutcrackers almost always is; a jaw too narrow for anything bigger than an almond or pistachio. This is true for Chinese nutcrackers even if the other things don't apply. It prevents the owner from trying to use the nutcracker to crack a nut. The horror.

The second example is slightly more difficult to nail down. It's less recent and emulates the German characteristics more closely. However, I've never seen a German nutcracker with a nailed-on nose. The light weight is also a giveaway. The curator of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum will tell you that a red-painted base is also a possible clue. I can also point to German nutcrackers with red bases, especially some of the ones made in the West.

If this one didn't have a Made in China sticker on the bottom, I might have puzzled over it, at least briefly. The sticker also cautions that it's for decorative purposes only. The pine jaw would likely break if you tried to crack a nut.

China 3The third nutcracker is an attempt at a blatant deception. It came in a box with only German language printed on the outer, poor-quality card-stock sleeve. Inside the inner box was a hardwood nutcracker with a jaw that could hold a medium sized nut. From a distance, it looks pretty good.

On close inspection, the parts of this nutcracker have been crudely shaped. The final surface on some parts was left by a rough sanding belt. The paint has done nothing to smooth this, in fact it was painted right over sanding dust and grit.

Some of the parts have large amounts of white glue squeeze-out around the joints. The facial features have been spray stencilled. A star, made from thin gold-colored vinyl with a cloth backing, is pinned to the helmet.

Aside from the really shoddy craftsmanship, the final tell of this nutcracker is that it doesn't have the country of origin or a maker's name anywhere on it or the box.

If your unmarked nutcracker came with the original box and it doesn't say; Made in Germany, the GDR or der DDR, somewhere on it or the box, well, there you have it. It's likely Chinese.

Most newer Chinese nutcrackers have a warning to keep them away from children. This may not just be to keep small fingers out of the jaws. It may also be to prevent liability from possible lead poisoning from the paint used in some. If you have access to a way to test for lead, this could be another way to know the origin. I recommend against licking your nutcracker regardless of where it was made.

The Erzgebirge Palace has the most complete listing and stock of German nutcrackers currently manufactured. Many of these models were designed well prior to reunification. if your nutcracker is missing its label and you think it might be German, you might find a similar model there.

Another source of information about preowned nutcrackers is, of course, eBay. Just be aware that most sellers don't deal exclusively in nutcrackers and don't know much, if anything about them. A few sellers will call a Chinese nutcracker; German, not to deceive but because they don't know any better. Now you can educate them.


Back to The Main Nutcracker Index

Copyright © 2021 Hardy Menagh