A traditional craft from Seiffen, a small German town in the south-east of Germany, is ring-turning, which we’ll describe in detail later.
Even today – just as in the 18th century – the visitor to Seiffen will find round the back of most of the houses a workshop where the ring-turner (often in his spare time) makes these world-famous toys by hand – a genuinely local folk tradition that’s almost unique in Europe.
The typical shapes and motifs of the toys have their origin partly in the area’s long history of tin-mining, partly in the actual shape of the lathe.
‘Ring-turned’ animals have been made by generations of Seiffen craftsmen on wooden lathes using a very special technique. There are perhaps a dozen people today who know it. It started to be used at the end of the eighteenth century, and flourished in the 1850s.
The ring-turner takes moist fir-wood in which he first of all cuts precise grooves and notches with a variety of nails. In this way the wooden ‘ring ‘ takes on the shape of the animal in question. The raw figures are then cut from the ring with the aid of a hammer and knife. The skilled toy-maker then carves them to shape with a knife and hand-paints them – the result is groups or herds of attractive animals that you can make a whole zoo out of, or a Noah’s ark.
Our animals come from Christian Werner’s workshop in Seiffen – he’s an undisputed master of his craft. The toys are packed up for protection in the wood-chips that are left over from the carving process.
11 animals, 1 mouse extra. Collector’s items – not toys. Height of: horse 7.5 cm, cow 5.6 cm, donkey 8 cm, goat 5.3 cm, sheep 4.4 cm, pig 3.8 cm, stork 11 cm, dog 4 cm, cat 2.8 cm, cock 2.8 cm, hen 3.2 cm, mouse 0.9 cm. Weight of figures 20 g (heaviest)-1 g (lightest).
5 animals, 1 snake extra. Collector’s items – not just toys. Height of: giraffe 12.2 cm, elephant 7.9 cm, lion 4.9 cm, rhinoceros 5.5 cm, zebra 6.6 cm, snake 1.9 cm. Weight of figures 37 g (heaviest) - 1 g (lightest).
These collector’s items appeal to several senses at once. First, optically: Christian Werner’s pull-along animals, with their narrow bases cut from the rings and showing the wood’s fibre, look exactly right with the other animals. The little moving wheels made of fired clay, and over 100 years old, add to their charm; acoustically, they make a pleasant squeaking sound when going along.
The animals are affixed to a 0.5 cm thick board with Terracotta wheels.