Sunday, March 17, 2019

It's Sofa, So Good When It Comes To Steiff's Unusual Prewar Couch Animals

Steiffgal promises today's blog will be as laid back as possible. That's because we're going to put our feet up and look at a very cool Steiff rabbit who would want it no other way. Check out this lovely honey bunny and see what makes her so interesting from the historical and product development perspectives.

It's sofa, so good when it comes to this Steiff "Couch Rabbit." Rabbit is 11 cm tall and 20 cm wide. She is head jointed, made from white mohair, and solidly stuffed with excelsior. Her ears are lined in tan velvet. She has wonderful, well designed, long, skinny legs and feet; each padless foot has three hand embroidered claws on it. Her oversized head and face come to life with pink and red glass albino eyes, a pink nose, light pink mouth, and traces of her original monofilament whiskers. She left the Steiff factory wearing a silk ribbon and brass bell, and lying on an oval shaped felt mat finished with a ruffled ribbon edge. Couch Rabbit was made in 11 and 13 cm from 1928 through 1930.

The truth is - as far as Steiffgal can tell - is that Steiff made very few versions of these lying pets. It is possible that this design concept emerged as the company was actively pursuing all sorts of "novelty" patterns in the mid-1920s; these included a series of pull and clockwork toys on wheels. The only other documented sofa animal she can find is the company's "Couch Cat." This chill-axing cat was also made in two sizes (10 and 12 cm) and during the 1928 through 1930 time frame. Their names, body positions, and accessories suggest that the company's "couch animals" were designed as decorative items to display on living room furniture like sofas. After all, that's where you find household pets resting comfortably in real life, right? The page from the company's 1929 catalog advertising these sweet treats is here on the left, the photo is from Carsten Esser's Steiff Katalog 1920-1929.

Despite its relative rarity, Couch Rabbit has many details that are typical to the company's rabbits of the period. For example, her childlike appearance, with an oversized head and eyes, exactly mirrors the company's design aesthetic of the late 1920s. Her long, skinny, padless feet and chunky thighs are almost identical in shape and proportion to the company's beloved Record Hase. And her nose and mouth stitching, consisting of a solid triangular outlined nose and a simple cross-style mouth, is also seen on many rabbits of her era. You can see these design elements here on the Record Hase (made in 25 cm from 1926 through 1943) pictured here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's Couch Rabbit has been a restful experience for you.

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Prettier Than A Picture!

Picture the next great Steiff mystery! It might involve an unusual shape, size, or color of one of the company's beloved antique rarities. Or, it just might be about... a photograph. Check out this note from Kathryn from New York about this antique family image of her Grandfather and his Teddy bear. How would you frame your response? She shares:

"I’m sending you this beautiful photo of my grandfather who raised me. Unfortunately we do not have the bear anymore. I’m doing an oil painting of this photo and I want to do justice to the Teddy bear in the picture. I think it looks like a Steiff.

The mystery is why is the tag on the right ear instead of the left? It seems to have all the other features of a Steiff. I was hoping for your thoughts on this if you don’t mind.

My grandpa Henry is of German decent and was born in Jersey City in 1899. The photo was taken by a photographer in New York City. I think he is under the age of 10 in the photo so that would give us an idea of the bears age. I would also like to know the color you think it is for the painting. I started to paint it in a beige color with dark brown nose and lips and black eyes which are hard to see from the angle. This is the clearest copy I can get.

I just think this is such a beautiful photo of a child with his beloved Teddy bear.

I’m anxiously looking forward to hearing what you think. Is it some kind of rare thing? Or is it an imitation?

Thank you for your time and knowledge.
Sincerely, Kathryn" 

Ok, let's first focus our attention on the actual photograph. It is Steiffgal's best thinking that the picture was actually "flipped" at some point. This might have happened years ago, during the printing from the negative, or sometime more recent, via an "electronic" step. If you take the mirror image of the photo, the button is clearly in the right place and in the correct ear. And, if you look really, really closely, Steiffgal thinks you can even make out some part of an ear tag, too. You can see both versions of the photograph in the image here - both the "original" and "mirror" image. 

Now for a little color commentary. Given the hue contrasts, appearance, and scale of the bear in the photograph, it is Steiffgal's best thinking that he is most likely a white Steiff bear in the roughly c. 25 to 35 cm range from the c. 1906-1909 timeframe. And why is that?  

(For reference, here on the left we have two white Steiff cubs from about the same era as Henry's; the big boy is 40 cm tall and the little guy is 22 cm tall.) 

1. First, the date is pretty clear given the information provided by Kathryn. The photo is from about 1909. The bear could have been made a few years earlier than that - as early as about 1906, given its presentation. The Schwarz brothers started carrying Steiff in their stores here in America in 1906, and were the first stores to do so. 

2. Now the size. This has to be estimated purely through "back of the envelope" techniques. Today, an "average" 10 year old boy is 55 inches tall or about 140 cm. Henry could have been much taller, or shorter, than this - there is is no way of knowing. But given he was "average," his bear appears to be roughly about 20 to 25% of his height, putting his bear in at c. 28 to 35 cm tall. And although it's impossible to tell with certainty from the antique picture, it appears that Henry's bear may have a horizontally stitched nose - given there is no "prominent" vertical center stitch visible. This also hints that the bear is less than 40 cm tall. 

3.  And last but not least, his color. The bear is pretty much the "lightest" object in the shot. And his nose is not very dark - like Henry's hair or eyes. This suggests the nose is brown - and in turn, that the bear was white. 

Steiffgal hopes this photograph has given you a delightful snapshot of Steiff's enduring quality and appeal.

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Taking A Leap Of Faith On This Teeny Tiny Steiff Rabbit

Ok, here's a puzzler for you. How can something so small be such a huge mystery? Well, check out this bitty Steiff bunny pictured here on the left. Do you recognize her? Her origins and purpose are not clear at first glance. It's time to spring down a rabbit hole and see what we can unearth about her.

Size defies when it comes to this petite princess. She measures about 5 cm tall (without ears) and 8 cm wide. She is unjointed, lying, and made of mohair. Her back end and the backs of her ears are silvery-grey, while her front end, face, and tail are white. These fabrics are patched, not airbrushed or colored. Her tiny face comes to life with black button eyes and a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. She
 is solidly stuffed with excelsior. Her Steiff IDs include a long trailing "f" button and traces of her red ear tag. 

Now it's time for a little leap - of faith - in terms of rabbit's identification. Given her appearance, construction, and IDs, it is Steiffgal's best guess that she is the smallest (or almost smallest) version of a lying rabbit simply called "Hase." Hase is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment. Hase was officially produced in 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 cm from 1923-1928 overall in white and brown or white and black. With Steiff, it has been Steiffgal's experience that measurements are seldom "absolute" and can range sometimes as much as +/- 20%. The smaller sized versions of any given Steiff pattern sometimes look a little "simpler" than their larger sized relatives. And vintage brown mohair can oxidize or fade to a silvery color. So those "facts" may explain the coloring and presentation differences between the bitty bunny under discussion today from the "reference" Hase rabbits pictured in the Sortiment book.

But its possible to spin her tail a bit more. In the 1920s, Steiff focused on producing a great number of playful novelties as pull toys on wheels. These included pairs of animals on see-sawing "wiwag" carts, pairs of forward and backward moving animals on "galop" carts, and pairs of spinning animals on "roly droly" carts, among others. The animals featured on these carts for the most part were the smallest versions of standard line animals, like bears, monkeys, and dogs. In 1924 through 1934, Steiff produced a roly droly featuring a chick and a rabbit. And in 1926 through 1934, they made a roly droly featuring two tiny rabbits. If you look at these two photos - pictured here on the left - you can see that the rabbits look almost identical to the rabbit under discussion. Both photos are from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment. For reference, the chick pictured is 8 cm. It is quite possible that this tiny rabbit at one time was a passenger on a spring-themed Steiff roly droly! 

Steiffgal hopes that today's discussion on this tiny rabbit has brought a big smile to your face.

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Having A Ball With This Charming and Early Steiff Woolen Miniature Rooster

Top of the 'morning to you! A rooster's call welcomes the new day. And this little rooster under discussion here is certain to MAKE your day! Check out this happy pre-war handful and see what makes him so delightful from the design and product development perspectives.

Bird's the word with this well-rounded woolen miniature rooster. He is head jointed and measures about 3.75 inches (or 9.5 cm) tall, including his comb, and about 4 inches (or about 10 cm) wide, including his tail. His body is made from green, yellow, tan, brown, blue, and yellow Nomotta wool threads. His two front pom pom "legs" are made from yellow Nomotta wool threads. His tail is made from green felt, while his comb is made from red felt. His happy, smiling beak is made from yellow felt. He has playful, black and white google style glass eyes. Rooster retains his short trailing "f" style button and bits of his yellow tag as his Steiff IDs on his tail feathers. This item was produced in this size (9 cm) from 1938-1942.  

Other similarly ball shaped barnyard bird buddies of rooster's era include an 8 cm duck produced from 1936-1941, an 8 cm chick produced from 1936-1941, and a 9 cm hen produced from 1938-1941. These birds are featured in the photo on the left in the top row. This image is from Steiff's 1938/1939 catalog. You can click on the catalog page to make it bigger. Which is your favorite? 

This woolen miniature rooster has article number "3509." This code translates to 3=sitting, 5=lamb's wool or wool plush, and 09= 9 cm. The 5 is somewhat confusing as it does not specifically call out the "yarn" characteristics of rooster's material. However, almost all of Steiff's prewar woolen miniatures have a 5 as their second article number digit, so it appears that the "5" does incorporate the Nomotta wool category. 

Rooster is also noted on the catalog page as weighing 15 grams. Steiffgal decided to fact check that by weighing her example... and indeed he does!

Woolen miniatures were an important part of the Steiff pre-war line from the early 1930's through the early 1940's. Birds and other pets - like rabbits, cats, dogs, and bugs - were well represented in the product mix. They were appealing, inexpensive to produce and purchase, addictively collectible, and marvelous companions for larger dolls, bears, and other animal friends. Despite their petite proportions, each had a distinct personality and a timeless charm. This probably explains why they are so adored, and collected, by enthusiasts today - nearly 90 years after their introduction! 

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion on this fine feathered friend has been a ball for you!

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more.
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