Incense smokers from the Erzgebirge have many names. Smoker or smoking man are just a couple of examples of these.
There is a long tradition of producing them in Seiffen. They come in many different variations, some of which have very little to do with traditional incense smokers. But we cannot now imagine Christmas in the Erzgebirge without them.
The history of incense smokers in the Erzgebirge
The first incense smokers to be turned on a lathe in the Seiffen region are thought to have been produced around 1850. The toymakers used as their first motifs a chimney sweep, a night-watchman and a postman.
Characters, therefore, from the local working population. With pipes in their mouths they are an embodiment of good humour. Smoking a pipe after work was a daily ritual in many households.
The original demand for wooden products quickly declined when plastic toys arrived on the market. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that incense smokers found themselves once again in demand. During the time of the GDR they were produced in state-owned enterprises (VEB) or cooperatives. They were an export success, not only abroad but also in West Germany. In the GDR itself these highly coveted little men were very hard to come by as practically nothing was available on the open market.
All this changed with the reunification of Germany. Toymakers were no longer told what they had to manufacture and could finally give their creativity free rein. This led to a great number of new characters and forms.
How do incense smokers work?
Incense smokers are usually comprised of two parts. The hollow upper body can be lifted off revealing a small metal plate inside. First take an incense cone and light it. Then place the incense cone on the metal plate and replace the upper body of the smoker. The smoke coming out of the figure’s mouth gives it the appearance of smoking.
The first incense smokers in the Erzgebirge depicted working characters. Chimney sweeps, miners, foresters and night-watchmen. Another popular character was the smoking Turk, in traditional Turkish costume.
Later other occupations were included. There is now a whole range of different incense-smoking designs. Smoking houses, smoking mushrooms, smoking owls and smoking snails to name just a few. Smoking women have even joined the band. And no longer just as witches and women holding dumplings.
There is also no longer a standard size. You can get mini incense smokers as well as very large characters.
The first incense cones always smelled of frankincense. This arose from its use in church and the Christmas story with the Three Wise Men. Incense cones are usually made from charcoal, potato flour, sandalwood and red beech flour. Fragrance is then added to this standard mixture. Today there are countless fragrances to choose from, some of which have nothing to do with Christmas.
The best known manufacturers of incense cones include:
Incense cones come in three sizes:
- Mini incense cones up to 20mm
- Standard incense cones 20 - 30mm
- Large incense cones from 30mm