Simply put, a nutcracker is a tool. For cracking open nuts. So you can eat them. Period. At their most basic, nutcrackers resemble a device along the lines of pliers, or a handheld vice, which might seem more at home in a garage toolbox than a kitchen utensil drawer.
The nutcracker is a simple machine with a very respectable mechanical advantage, and works according to basic principles of physics. It functions as a Class Two lever, like a wheelbarrow or bottle opener, with the fulcrum at one end, the force of one’s hand at the other, and the load – in this case, the nut – in the middle. Simple, indeed.
Not much is known about the origin of the humble nutcracker, though its early use in the English language dates back to the late fifteenth century. Versions of levers for various purposes go back as far as Classical Greece and beyond. Inspiration for its mechanical design may have come from observing the powerful beaks of parrots, so adept at getting to nutmeats. The pincer claws of lobsters and large crabs are equally compelling examples of natural design.
It wasn’t until 1913 that Henry Quackenbush, an enterprising American manufacturer, patented his 1878 invention of a spring-jointed, metal nutcracker, and began making and selling the tool as a set that included four picks. Estimates suggest roughly 200 million of the Quackenbush version have been sold worldwide. We can also thank Mr. Quackenbush for the extension ladder and the .22 caliber Safety Rifle, but the nutcracker superseded all other manufacturing concerns in his company.
Yet the nutcracker possesses a storied and somewhat politically rebellious history, particularly in Germany, where the tool took on anthropomorphic properties. Nutcrackers, typically carved from wood, were made to look grim and fierce, showing their bared teeth, and were considered a token of good luck to give and receive among friends and neighbors. Many considered nutcrackers as talismans against evil spirits and danger, and displayed them in windows and openly in the home.
The German nutcracker also took on metaphorical properties, in that many were carved into the shape of kings, princes, police officers, soldiers, church leaders, and other figures of authority. Working class people took great delight in forcing a symbol of authority to crack their nuts for them, and so, quietly, they expressed rebellion against oppression by mocking the ruling class.
Tchaikovsky immortalized the nutcracker with his original ballet of the same name. The nutcracker is likened to a fabulous prince in Clara’s dream, and he battles the evil rat to save her. Also worth mentioning is the Nussknacker Museum in Neuhausen, home of the world’s largest nutcracker, and featuring approximately 3,000 different nutcrackers from 30 countries around the world.
The German style Christmas nutcracker did not become truly popular in the United States until shortly after World War II, when American soldiers returned from abroad with the quaint, distinct, cultural symbols. Commercial production of Christmas nutcrackers began with Wilhelm Friedrich Füchtner of Seiffen, a town in the Erzgebirge known for its toymaking history.
Online you can find a generous selection of Christmas nutcrackers worthy of display and worthy of generations of collection. Merry Christmas, and a generous share of good luck to those who give and receive them!
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Collectible, carefully constructed and authentic, keepsakes of German craft heritage have charmed generations all over the globe. Revel in our selection of nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, Christmas pyramids and musicboxes. Global Home Accents proudly presents charm long associated with regional German identity.
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