Skittles (1900)
Skittles (1900)

The most collectable wooden toys are those made in Germany, particularly in the Erzgebirge region, from about 1830 until the Second World War. European wooden toys differ from most American ones in that European toys are fully carved or turned and then painted directly on the wood. American wooden toys usually have lithographed paper applied to flat surfaces and cut to shape.

Popular toys from the Erzgebirge region include Noah’s Arks. These were often decoratively painted and came in various sizes with a range of animal and human figures. Early arks had a boat-hull base; later examples had a flat base. In Briatin, Chad Valley made Arks from about 1900. 

Wooden hobby horses have been popular since the 16th century. Wooden rocking horses were first produced in about 1650. They were immensely popular in the 19th century. The velocipede (a carved wooden horse on a tricycle base) was popular in the middle of the 19th century.

The Nutcracker

Nutcracker from Erzgebirge
Nutcracker from Erzgebirge

One of the earliest wooden products of the Erzegibirge wooden toy manufacturing region was the wooden nutcracker shaped like a man, which was made famous in the children’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”.

Decorated figures of “nut biters” are known to have been made as early as the 16th century. They became popular as gifts and were particularly associated with Christmas.

In 1816, E.T.A. Hoffman wrote “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, a Christmas story for children in which the hero, an enchanted nutcracker, leads an army of toys against the army of the evil Mouse King. In 1891, Tchaikovsky turned the story into one of the world’s most popular ballets

In Ergebirge, Wilhelm Friedrich Fuchtner is regarded as the father of the nutcracker. His descendants still produce nutcrackers on his original model.