Nutcracker dolls are on display in many American homes every Christmas, and then they are packed.
But Hayden resident C.J. It’s a holiday wonderland year-round at Davis’ home, where he permanently keeps his large-scale Nutcrackers in an attic. There is a lot of history in the figures, neatly tucked away on the shelves, gathering dust.
“There are 2,000 to 3,000 nuts; I would say 2,800 would be about right,” Davis said. He believes he has the second largest collection in the world.
Davis has some evidence to back up that claim. He served on the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum board for about 18 years and continues as a director. The Leavenworth facility has the world’s largest collection of Nutcrackers, with 7,000 to 9,000 pieces, he said.
Davis has ties to the Nutcracker Collectors Club, and its members know who has what, he said.
“There is the largest museum in the world; It entered the Guinness Book of Records last year. There is another Nutcracker collector in Germany. He’s got a new set, but they’re mostly duplicates. Copies cannot be counted.
His dad, Hal Davis, started it all in the 1950s. After his death in 1989, he carried on the collecting tradition, although today Davis is no longer looking for additional pieces.
“This collection is eventually going to join that (Leavenworth) collection; That is my father’s will.”
Most of the nutcrackers in his collection are of European origin – designed in Austria, Italy and mainly Germany, with all his signatories including the world famous Christian Steinbach.
Initially, more functional nutcrackers were made of stone, metal, and wood. Often placed in kitchens with bowls of nuts or hung on fences in orchards, Davis has several antique hand tools with the heads of figures such as cats, monkeys and gnomes.
Davis attributes the Nutcracker’s holiday popularity in America to the success of “The Nutcracker” ballet and music by Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The ballet centers around a family’s Christmas Eve celebration and a young woman’s doll Nutcracker.
By the 1960s, several American dance companies performed the show, and it grew into an established holiday tradition in cities across the country.
Most people today think that the standing wooden nutcracker was first made in the Ore Mountains of East Germany in the early 19th century. Beyond the simple function of opening the shells of pecans and walnuts, decorative wooden nutcrackers were elaborately painted, costumed, and often whiskered to represent soldiers, noble kings, and other characters.
Davis’ collection includes pieces by Wilhelm Fuchtner, considered the father of Nutcracker toys. In 1870, Fuchtner made the first commercial production using a lathe. Davies owns some from another famous German producer, Christian Ulbricht, and joins a family company first established in the Erzgebirge region of Germany. His father, Otto, started the craft.
Most of Davis’ pieces range from small to regular-sized, but she has three towering nutcrackers, including a 6-foot-tall soldier made for her father by sculptor Karl Rappel of Oberammergau, Germany.
Nutcrackers first became popular in America when American soldiers returned home from Germany and brought them back as souvenirs, Davis said. He thinks the tradition began before World War I and continued when American soldiers returned to the region at the end of World War II.
“American soldiers would buy these from World War I and bring them back, and then German artists started to find that the American people wanted them,” he said. “Some of them were doing our American presidents, Disney characters; they had our number.
“They made Nutcrackers to appease the American buyer. All the American presidents are here,” Davis said on a tour of his collector’s room. “They carried our fairy tales, Merlin, all the biblical characters, anything that the American people would buy. On this page, we have the ‘Wizard of Oz’ series.
Nutcrackers have been shaped into other forms — also seen in Davis’ home: Santas, snowmen, book and movie representations, historical figures and characters from “The Nutcracker.”
Davies can show an ancient nutting stone that is 2,000 years old. The oldest known metal nutcracker dates to the third or fourth century BC and is on display at a museum in Italy, according to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum website. In this museum B.C. 200 and AD. A bronze Roman nutcracker dating to the mid-200s is on display.
Before COVID-19, Davis made several presentations a day at schools and assisted-living facilities around Christmas time. Even if it’s slow, she’s happy to share her history.
“At the shows, I bring a Nutcracker from each maker, like a Steinbach, an Ulbricht, and one of the handhelds. I’ll bring one with a music box. I try to bring one of each producer.
Her favorite maker is Steinbach, whose works cover an entire wall in her Nutcracker room.
“You can see the way they make them with the clothes and everything. They’re so put together, so well made,” she said of her creations. We have since lost him.
Any beginning collector should start with four pieces, including a king to keep track of everything and a pawn to guard the king, Davis said. The third should be a chimney sweep, which is lucky in German culture, and the fourth collection is a musician like a drummer to attract attention.
While enjoying the stories each piece tells, Davis shares Christmas trivia — the difference between American-made Nutcrackers and German ones.
“American artists don’t show their teeth in Nutcrackers, and German artists always do, because they’re like an old reliable dog,” he explained. “They come out at night to protect their owner and say, ‘Bless you.'” This is German folklore specific to the Nutcracker.
However, the story may have its flaws.
“It’s really loud here in the middle of the night,” Davis said.