Nutcrackers at National Postal Museum

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Meet the real-life Herr Drosselmeyer. Glenn Crider of Mechanicsville, Virginia, like the famed godfather in The Nutcracker story, is a clockmaker turned toymaker, known especially for his custom-made nutcrackers (and, on special occasions, to rock festive suspenders from his lederhosen). Crider says he is one of four nutcracker craftsmen in the United States and "the only guy that will do it from A to Z," meaning that he does both the artistic and mechanical work involved—designing the figures from their hair color to accessories, cutting and fitting the wooden parts together and painting their eyes and other intricate details.

It was for his expertise that the United States Postal Service commissioned him to make four nutcrackers, which New Milford, Connecticut-based photographer Sally Andersen-Bruce shot for one of this year’s holiday stamp series.

The USPS first contacted Crider back in the spring of 2006 to see if he would be interested in the project. "I said, 'Oh yeah, I’m interested in about a nanosecond!'" says the artist.

He provided them some sketches by July and was working on the nutcrackers by August. Typically, it takes Crider about two or three days to make an original, and he enlists some help from his father and ten part-time elves who work for his toy company T.R.C. Designs. But he spent a month perfecting the foot-tall drummer boy, king, Santa and soldier nutcrackers for the USPS. A year went by before he received confirmation that they would definitely be released in stamp form. This past October he was in New York City to unveil them at the Mega Stamp Show (who knew there was such a thing?) for this holiday season.

Crider, who makes duplicates of all his nutcrackers for his personal collection, has amassed over 400 originals, ranging in size from one inch to four feet, since he fiddled with his clock-making tools and taught himself the old-style, German toy-making tradition in 1983. He has designed nutcrackers for several ballet companies around the country and even a John Smith commemorative figurine for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in May 2007 made from a scrap wood from the replica of the ship Susan Constant docked in the James River. " By far this is the most interesting," says Crider. "It’s a life-changing event."

The four nutcrackers, stamps and large graphic blowups of the stamps, on loan from the USPS, are on display in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s Franklin Foyer through January 7. Out-of-towners, keep your eyes peeled on incoming Christmas cards.

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