Nutcrackers for Collectors 



A Short History of Nutcrackers

Nutcrackers of one form or another have been used by man ever since he learnt to pick up a rock and used it to smash open a nut shell.
Some early documented references to nutcrackers are :
.  Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1343 - 1400) is reputed to refer to a nutcracker in the Canterbury Tales
.  1372 in France, Jeanne d'Evreux refers to 'a device in silver for breaking nuts worth nine Francs'
.  1548 in England, Sir Thomas Elyot uses the Latin term 'nucifrangibulum' for a nutcracking device
.  1650 in England, an entry in 'Discolliminium' says 'He was fain to make a nutcracker of it'
.  1664 in England, John Evelyn commented on the suitability of boxwood for the construction of nutcrackers in his work Sylva on trees and forests
.  1792 in England, Foote tells of 'a pair of nutcrackers presented by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn' in Nabob.III.Works;

These early nutcrackers are believed to have been of the lever type - usually a pair of nutcrackers, the screw-based nutcracker probably first appeared in the 17th Century.
Wood was the earliest material used and it is likely that pincers forged by local blacksmiths formed the basis for early wrought iron nutcrackers, these were then further developed in other metals such as bronze and brass.

Many early treen (made of wood) nutcrackers have not survived but those that have are often of figural form, representing humans, animals and a wide variety of other decorative subjects.

Nutcrackers were available from mail-order catalogues in the late 19th Century which is when the change from one-off hand-produced nutcrackers to commercial industrial production took place. Once a design was created (and sometimes registered), there were often many production runs so date of registration can't always be relied on as date of manufacture. It was also in the 19th Century that, largely due to the increase in tourism, souvenir nutcrackers started to be produced in large numbers, particularly in Germany, Switzerland and the Tyrol.

By examining Patent and Registration records it is possible to see what a wide variety of nutcrackers were designed in the 19th and 20th Centuries, lever, screw and percussion types dominate but other hybrids do exist.

The demand for nutcrackers has decreased in recent times due to the prevalence of pre-shelled and packaged snacks but new designs do appear from time-to-time so they'll surely be with us for some time yet.



These 17th century iron nutcrackers are in the Secq des Tournelles Museum in Rouen, France.

A page from a pattern book for eighteenth century brass English nutcrackers.