HOME > MUSEUMS - LOGO Erzgebirgisches Spielzeugmuseum Seiffen mit Freilichtmuseum


open air museum

With extensive support from the technical school for toymaking, the
Spielzeug-Werbe-Schau Seiffen was turned over to the public on the twenty-third of May, 1936. The Spielzeug-Werbe Schau, a special display of local arts, crafts, and manufactured products representative of the area, was to be housed and exhibited in a former hosiery factory. Those participating in this dedication probably could not have predicted that they were laying the groundwork for an important special museum, the Erzgebirgisches Spielzeugmuseum Seiffen. Certainly the original exhibit and today's museum are entirely different. Both, however, were founded for the purpose of creating an awareness and understanding of the uniqueness of the area's history and craft traditions. This Erzgebirge village, first mentioned in written records around 1324 in connection with cynsifen  (sieves for washing the tin ore), has been producing toys for more than 300 years. It is these toys, known early as "Seifener Waare", that have made this small mountain town world famous.

Since the founding of the museum in 1953, researchers have systematically studied the interrelationship of the toys, their makers, and the area's history. The exhibition of 5,000 of the over 25,000 objects in the museum's collection provides an opportunity to explore these connections through texts, photographs, and graphic overviews. It is an exhibit of the social, technical, and economic history of the middle range of the Erzgebirge mountains, as well as a museum of folklore and folk art. The toys themselves - the skittles, musical toys, carousels, farms, Noah's arks, building sets, doll rooms, horses and wagons - speak their own language. But they also speak of the centuries-old unbroken promise of creativity, of the wishes and dreams of the miners, farmers and toymakers, of a landscape that is both harsh and charming, and of a people and their still living traditions.

The Seiffen area owes its settlement in the fourteenth century to the discovery of tin ore. The varying yield of tin and the ultimate exhaustion of the resource forced the miners as early as the seventeenth century to seek side-line work. The rich local supply of wood and the miners' experience with this raw material led to the production of wooden utensils. For economic reasons, wood turning developed into the predominate method of production, decisively shaping the function and form of the area's products. In 1849 the Seiffen mining office closed and the right to mine expired. A 370 year old tradition was finished.

The art of turning was known in the Seiffen area in the seventeenth century. With knowledge of this craft, the efficient production of wooden wares in a series could be introduced quite early. By 1699 the Seiffen craftsmen were already selling their products at the Leipzig fair. More and more of the woodworkers, accustomed to the turning of plates, spindles, needle holders, and buttons, became toymakers in response to the growing market demand for toys in the eighteenth century.

An exchange of letters from around 1800 between the Seiffener wholesaler Hiemann and Son with wholesalers in Nurenberg shows that by the endinging of the eighteenth century the process of change was in full swing. Boxes with sewing kits, yellow and red wooden apples and pears filled with pretty miniature household utensils, feeding geese in a stall, and also riders and soldiers on scissors (known today as a "scissors toy") were found increasingly alongside the the pipe cases, needle holders, and large containers for smoking  tobacco. Documents confirm that many of the motifs of the early Erzgebirge toymakers were developed in response to the current forms demanded by firms in Nuremberg and Sonneberg and closely followed the current patterns coming from these areas.

The development of a unique method of ring turning in and around Seiffen at the beginning of the nineteenth century had a particularly favorable economic influence on the region's toy manufacturing. This special form of wood turning, appropriate for making animals, houses, and small accessories in a series, resulted in efficient and cheap production. The turner forms a ring out of a section of tree trunk, working a profile with different depths into the surface of the section. He then slices apart the completed ring, revealing the profile of the intented animal and up to sixty single examples. This process is demonstrated today at the Erzgebirge Open-air Museum of Seiffen. These ring-turned products were used in the Füll and Schachtelware (fill and box wares) characteristic of the Seiffen area. An incredibly wide assortment of toys, including houses, fences, animals, figures, vehicles, and trees filled oval or wooden boxes, bags, and cartons. Today these toys show a world in miniature that is a mirror of its time.

Another expression of the inventiveness and technical mastery of the toymaker are the movable toys developed around the turn of the century. In these toys the combination of acoustic, optic, and spatial components of play resulted in a naivet that offered excellent creative play possibilities.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century miniature toys have been a speciality of Seiffen. These typical Erzgebirge products developed in response to economic changes in the market place. A change in customs duties around 1890 in important customer lands  - from calculation by value to calculation by weight -  made it more difficult to export the bulky, more material-intensive toys. The change in customs regulations and an increase in the price of wood just after the turn of the century were especially burdensome to the small, regional wholesalers. Wholesaler and toymaker Heinrich Emil Langer, responding to these factors, was the first to bring a large number of miniature toys into the marketplace. In order to survive, toymakers were forced to make a name for themselves by creating miniatures with the most exacting details. The figures of Louis Heinrich Hiemann and Auguste and Karl Müller are counted among the finest examples of the Seiffen miniatures.

H. E. Langer was also a pioneer in the development of miniatures housed in matchboxes. Beginning with the farm room with stove and stove bench ordered by Langer in 1905, the motifs developed in these early years continued to be produced and influence production even today. These motifs (over 100 are known) include all types of rooms and scenes as well as building sets. 

Since 1850 the Seiffen area has also been the home of a quality building set manufacturer, the Oberseiffenbach firm of S. F. Fischer, probably the first industrial toy manufacturer in the Erzgebirge. This company was one of the first in Germany to offer toys that reflected the theories of pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel. Through the  products of this firm, the ideas of Fröbel were transferred into an industrially produced series that made a practical and important contribution to the spreading of Fröbel's ideas.

The church of Seiffen, consecrated in 1779, has been made famous throughout the world especially through the work of the toymakers. Eight columns make up the symmetrical eight corners and carry the cupola and the tower with its two-meter high cross. At Advent the church becomes a church of light as the many lanterns, candles, and the Moravian star light up the church and the tower. The church can hardly hold the many people that come to experience the Seiffen Advent music presented by the Kurrende, the church choir, and the trombone choir.

The production of toys in the Erzgebirge has always been dominated by economics, the market, and technology. The approximately forty Christmas chandeliers and pyramids exhibited in the museum tell a different story. These objects were originally created to meet the decorative needs of the local families. Created without outside pressures, these examples of folk art brought together different forms, colors and materials to become a backdrop or centerpiece for the Christmas festival. But they were also probably more than just a symbol for religious festivity. They were and are an experimental field
for the technical ability and knowledge of the toymaker and an expression of regional and historical feelings deeply rooted in mining traditions and customs. 

Light plays the important roll, as it did for the miners. During the long days in the mines, light served not only as an essential component in the miner's  equipment, but also as a symbol of his religious beliefs, longings, and hope.

The central Christmas figures are the miner himself as the carrier of light and the angel of light, standing often at the miner's side. Splendid Knappenfiguren (journeymen miners) were already known in the seventeenth century as carriers of the altar candles in the Erzgebirge churches. The Christmas festival developed into a festival of lights only with the introduction of the cheap stearin and parafin in the middle of the last century, moving the homemade lightbearing miner into almost every house. The angel of light in it's turned wooden form can be traced to 1830, with her attire changing with the fashions. 

Traceable to mining origins are, for example, the artistically turned candlesticks of the 19th century, which go back to the simple, common mining lamps and also show a certain relationship to the glass candlesticks of the baroque period. The wooden light bearers and the splendid candle holders and pyramids arose exclusively out of the miners need to decorate for the holiday in a personal and creative way.

The nineteenth century also brought forth the Seiffen nutcrackers in the grim form of a soldier, policeman, king, or forester, each caricaturing a contemporary authority figure. In contrast, the "Räuchermann" (smoking man) represented the easygoing and sympathetic folk type, a reflection of the fact that pipe smoking had, by this time, almost become a folk custom. The origin of the candle arch (Schwibbogen) is closely tied to the Christmas gathering of the miners for Mettenschicht. Presumably the miners hung their burning lights around the arch of the entrance to the mine during their Christmas Eve service in the mine. This arch of lights may have been a reason for the ceation of swinging, blacksmith-made iron candle holders or later wooden candle holders made with mining themes. The wooden Swibboggen were produced only after 1930.

Seiffen keeps a feeling for the old woodworking traditions alive today without denying the past or avoiding the new and modern. The typical wooden toys of the area and the festive Christmas decorations are still masterfully made by over a hundred independent handworker families and in middle-sized factories.

In an exhibit space of 1000 square meters on three floors in our toy museum the visitor can see all the typical regional products so treasured by collectors today. A special display of rings in different stages of production and an abundant assortment of ring turned animals help to explain this unique technique. The design of the museum itself reflects the basic relationship between wood and the work of the woodworker. Through the division of space, the display cases, the total graphic representation, and the turned figures and other design elements built into the space, the visitor has a sense that the museum itself is a gigantic Seiffen toybox. More than 60,000 visitors are expected each year.

The Erzgebirge Toy Museum of Seiffen is a modern museum offering a variety of teaching materials, including a museum guide, various pamphlets, special exhibits, a video introduction, special tours for children, and provisions for the handicapped. Large models of selected toys make it possible for children to experience, understand, and enjoy the tactile, acoustic, and kinetic properties of the toys they see in the exhibit cases. Every year between December and January the museum invites visitors to a special Christmas exhibit that thematically displays objects particularly related to the season.

The museum is considered a center for the documentation and research of the area's toy production. A small library and an archive of historical texts, photographs, and pictures are available for scholarly research. The museum cooperates with museums in Germany and in other countries in the preparation of special exhibits.

Daily from 10:00-5:00
Tours can be booked in advance

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