This Erzgebirge Chinese acrobat toy, called Treppenpurzler by German collectors, is a hard to find piece to find, and was made in several variations in the mid 19th century, but always with Chinese acrobats. Mercury inside the body allows the acrobat to flip head over heels from the top level to the bottom. It comes neatly packaged in its own paper-covered box which, when opened and set up, becomes the steps on which the acrobat performs. The bright colors of the acrobat and the wooden stand on the top level make the toy very appealing. The acrobat's vest is of paper, the head of papier-mache, body of wood and clothing of silk. It must have been a very expensive toy in its day and still commands very high prices.
This fierce lion has fascinated all my grandchildren as toddlers. These German toys were made in many sizes, most commonly with roosters in cages the size of one's hand. This lion is housed in a wooden cage measuring 16 inches tall, probably the largest size made of these mechanical caged animals. He stands on a platform facing to the left with cage doors closed. When a wooden lever on the outside of the cage is pushed, the platform is released and pops forward pushing open the gate while the lion's head nods and the mouth opens to reveal his teeth. The lion is covered in soft hide with a beautiful fur mane. Thin paper simulating stacked rocks covers the wooden box on the bottom of the cage which houses the mechanics. A great kids' toy we enjoy even today!
This time an Erzgebirge crank toy (Klimperkaestchen) for girls! Another ca. 1850 piece with a mother in a dress of beautiful polychrome colors shielding the baby carriage from sun or rain. When the primitive crank is turned, the right arm goes up and down, also raising and lowering the umbrella. These Klimperkaestchen are extremely hard to find, although thousands and thousands of them were made. Hard play by boys and girls alike make them highly sought after today by Erzgebirge collectors.
An early (ca. 1850) crank toy, probably a favorite of little boys because of the soldiers on horseback. This was made in the Erzgebirge region of Germany. This area produces pieces similar to this even to this day, but the age on this is evident in its original old paper covering the base and the polychrome paint. As I always say, these early Erzgebirge pieces are folk art at its best and are treasured today by early toy collectors.
Yet another solider for a little boy! This rather large papier-mache piece (9 inches high) is three-dimensional and was made out of one mold. The brown paint on the horse was beginning to flake off, so it has been treated to stop any further flaking, but all other colors remain in good original condition. The helmet with German eagle and, more particularly, the clothing worn by the little boy date the piece to the 1880s. There is a little hole in the fist held in front of the boy, but what it once held remains a mystery, as we've never seen another piece like this. Maybe a whip or a wooden pole with a flag? We will probably never know.
Children loved to play with Erzgebirge boats and cars in the early 1900s. My mother would display the Erzgebirge toys sent to her as a child by relatives from Germany under our Christmas tree when I was growing up. This tradition has now become wildly popular by collectors of Christmas. Here is a corner of my toy shelf displaying Erzgebirge boats, cars and busses . . . a few pieces from my mother's collection included.
This large German carousel music box is sure to have appealed to boys and girls alike. Patterned paper covers the base, with a canopy of silk and lace, and four large glass balls hanging above. The children are of hand painted papier-mache sitting atop horses of papier-mache over metal. Center turned wooden post is painted red with Dresden trim. The music box plays a song typically heard on the carousels at amusement parks, clear and strong, when the porcelain crank is turned.
This early, ca. 1840-1850, soldier on rocking horse shows the effects of time, but nonetheless still in very good condition for its age. Many German figures from this time period were fashioned from a mix made up of bread dough (Brotteig), as was this soldier and also the body of the horse, so any damage to the soldier appears to be because of the age of the piece and not because it was roughly played with. It is a wonderful early example and rare because toys of this kind were meant to be played with, and were, by little boys. I can imagine they didn't last more than a year or two, if that long, and were thrown away because of rough play.
A favorite of collectors of early German Christmas are these hard paper houses they now use to decorate their displays at Christmastime. This set comes complete in its original wooden crate with a label on the side identifying it as a "Schweizerdorf" (Swiss village), obviously never played with. German toys from the early to mid 1800s came packaged in Spanschachteln, which is what we generally refer to as bentwood boxes. Sometime around the 1880s or 1890s the bentwood boxes were replaced by these wooden pine boxes with flat lids, pictured above, and then when that type of packaging became too expensive cardboard boxes took over. Holzwolle (literally wood wool), or thin wooden shavings, were used before the advent of tissue paper to cushion the toys inside the boxes.
Welcome to Living Tastefully’s “Antique of the Week” page. Our love of antiques is reflected in every aspect of our everyday lives. We are passionate about collecting and also love functional antiques that can actually be used and not only admired. Hopefully we can inspire you to incorporate antiques in your home and your life to add charm and beauty to your surroundings.