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Nutcrackers: Cracking with character

Did you know wooden nutcrackers have been around since the 15th century? Plus, vintage and antique examples of these seasonal treasures are fetching hundreds of dollars at auction, as of late.

Sources say carved wood nutcracker figurines date back to at least the 15th century,

German nutcrackers

Lot of 19 nutcracker figures, mostly German, some with original boxes, including Santas, soldiers and Mouse Kings by makers such as E.M. Merke, Strawbburger and Steinbach; largest measures 14 inches high, $244. Courtesy Clars Auction Gallery

and that traditional German nutcrackers take the form of authority figures such as soldiers and kings.

According to nutcracker maker Steinbach GMBH (, “German legend states that a nutcracker represents power and strength, guarding families from evil spirits and danger.” German tradition also has St. Nicholas scattering nuts on his festival day, Dec. 6, making nutcrackers not only traditionally significant, but convenient, as well.
Nutcrackers weren’t only important in Germany, either. According to Old & Interesting (, “Scrambling for nuts on the ground was a tradition for centuries in various European countries.”

Shown here are a selection of nutcrackers of various forms that were sold recently at auction all across the United States. Quoted prices include buyer’s premiums.

— Compiled by Karen Knapstein

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