One of the oldest regions in the world to make wooden toys (and also known for it's tromp d'oeil paintings and infamous passion plays) is Oberammergau, Germany, which is omnipresent everywhere in the town. The origin of Oberammergau's wood carvings date back to the middle ages where a manuscript from the year 1111 first mentioned Rottenbucher monks who brought, ...the Ammergau art of carving small household goods out of wood... to the area of Berchtesgaden. Furthermore, a Florentine's travel report dated 1520, praises the fineness of the Oberammergau carvings and, in 1563, the Ammergau carvers received a Handicrafts Code of their own from the Abbot of Ettal.
Early on, in Oberammergau (and the many surrounding regions where peasants lived), most carved objects were likely intended for utilitarian purposes. As it was an economic necessity, the local population was forced to take on this side project in order to support themselves. While in the beginning this avocation was practiced only in the evenings or during the long winter months, eventually it became the main occupation, which involved the whole family. During the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, wooden toys evolved from the workshops of small family enterprises and soon reached the all important markets of St. Petersburg, Kopenhagen, Gothenburg, and Drontheim, among others.
The Oberammergauers were able to remain relatively independent of outside merchants since many took their carvings on pack-boards all over Europe. For them, not only sacred carvings, but secular wood sculpture was equally important. Most of the production of these latter carvings went into making Jumping Jacks, considered typical for Oberammergau. The Oberammergau Jumping Jack was a creation of this area and became famous throughout the world. Among the townspeople, the Jumping Jack, usually a caricature of disliked people, became fashionable between 1750 and 1850. However, the strong competition from other toy manufacturers, especially tin toys, contributed to a decline in the production of these wonderful wooden toys. And just after 1880, wooden toys like these were no longer carved and could only be seen in museums and private collections.
Reprinted from Puccimanuli