Thursday, January 23, 2020

Boys Will Be Boys With This Midcentury Steiff Cowboy Doll


Winston Churchill once said, "No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." And Steiffgal's certain this rare Steiff cowboy would agree wholeheartedly! Take a look at this marvelous mid-century Steiff doll and see what makes him so interesting from the design and product development perspectives.

Boys will be boys with this precious Steiff "Cowboy." He is 17 cm tall and arm jointed. He has a molded rubber head and a cloth body. His face comes to life with realistic and well contouring painting and details. His handsomely tailored and coordinated shirt, pants, vest, hat, and bandana are made from felt, calico, and leather. These items are not removable from his body. His accessories include a wooden gun housed in a leather holster; these are suspended on his original leather belt. This particular doll design was made in 12 and 17 cm from 1954 through 1957. The smaller size has a rubber body and head, while the larger size has a rubber head and cloth body. The larger one - the one under discussion here today - has the product number "117." This translates to 1=standing and 17=17 cm tall.


Cowboy made his home on the range at a really interesting time in the Steiff product development timeline. Prewar, Steiff''s doll line was primarily felt-centric. From the turn of last century through the mid-1930s, the vast majority of Steiff's standard line dolls had a felt face with either a prominent horizontal or vertical seam. Starting in the mid-1930s, the company produced its dolls with seamless, pressed felt faces.


Postwar, dolls with rubber heads (like Cowboy) took center stage at Steiff. This new way of manufacturing dolls enabled the company to introduce a great number of brand new, contemporary models in just a handful of years. These debut rubber headed models, including a series of dwarfs (Gucki, Lucki, and Lucki), Santa Claus, clowns, and of course the Horzu hedgehogs Mecki and Micki, were far more economical to produce than their labor intensive forefathers, and had a "modern" (for their era) look and feel. It is interesting to note that the dwarfs and Santa share the same facial detailing.

One of the strategies that Steiff adopted to regain its prewar prominence in the toy world postwar was to produce unique offerings exclusively for the US market. Postwar, the company employed two US distributors, Reeves International and the Loucap Company, to insure that their button in ear treasures were represented in as many high quality retail stores as possible. Both Reeves and Loucap created special Steiff exclusives for their retailers. Steiff had also been working with F.A.O. Schwarz in the US since 1906. Geopolitical and trade issues put a huge damper on this relationship from the mid-1930s onward. However, this relationship was reignited in the late 1940s/early 1950s, and a series of delightful Steiff/F.A.O. Schwarz exclusives emerged as a result. A little known one is the “Cowboy Tramp Set” exclusive introduced in 1954; it consisted of the 17 cm Cowboy doll under discussion today and a sweet mohair pony. You can see the catalog photo for this dynamic duo here on the left.

The cataloging for this Cowboy Tramp Set noted, "No rags or cutaways for this young fellow, but a cowboy outfit of matching brown felt chaps and vest, checkered shirt, slouch hat, gay kerchief, felt, and holster. Has molded face with bulbous one and roguish grin - strictly and individualist. Body of his chubby little pony is firm, covered with brown spots. Has a white mane and long white tail. Sports a red leather bridle."

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's 1950s era cowboy doll has been a pleasant ride!

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

This Antique Steiff Doll Is Just A Kid At Heart!

Oh boy! Literally! That was Steiffgal's reaction when she laid eyes on this charming character. Check out this extremely early Steiff doll and see why he's alot more than snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

It's hard to outfox this turn of last century "Foxy Boy." He is 28 cm and arm and leg jointed. He has a felt, center seamed face and felt hands. His feet are very large in proportion to his body. His hands are early and primitive, like fists, with embroidered digits. His body is primarily made from velvet. His simple, integral outfit consists of a green velvet shirt and black socks, red felt pants and tan laced shoes, and a leather buckled belt. He comes to life with an inset blond wig, black shoe button eyes, and painted facial features. This is one of Steiff's earliest doll designs. He appeared in the line from c. 1904 through 1924; given his details, Steiffgal suspects he's from around 1909 or so. The earliest "Foxy Boy" dolls produced were string jointed and had elephant buttons as part of their branding. Unfortunately, this example's IDs have been lost to time.

Foxy Boy is one of the characters from the turn of last century American cartoon series “Foxy Grandpa.” The strip was introduced in 1900 and penned by Carl E. Schultze. It ran through the 1930's. The strip told of the adventures, and misadventures, of a grandfather and his two grandsons. The strip was wildly popular with readers throughout its run.

In the early 20th century, Steiff took much inspiration for its doll line through popular cartoon strips, as the characters and their presentations translated so well into the Steiff aesthetic of the times. This look included exaggerated facial features, big feet, and very fat or very thin torsos. In addition to the Foxy Grandpa crew, beloved Steiff cartoon character dolls from the early 1900s included Happy, Alphonse, and Gaston from Happy Hooligans and Mama (often produced as a tea cosy) and the Fat Captain from the Katzenjammer Kids. 


Age was just a number when it came to Steiff's interest in the Foxy Grandpa cartoon strip. Steiff produced the "star" of Foxy Grandpa, the actual Grandpa, from 1904 through 1915, and the the two grandchildren as dolls in the overall 1904 through 1924 time frame. Here above you can see the catalog page for Foxy Boy in 1913; you can click on it to make it bigger. According to listing, Foxy Boy weighed .10 kg, his item number was Bu28, and he cost $0.85, which is equivalent to $22.10 in 2020. It is interesting to note that "Foxy Boy" was offered as an “aviator doll” in the French catalog, probably because the French were not familiar with him in the context of the American comic strip.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Foxy Boy has been a blast from the past for you.

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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Welcoming 2020 With Hogs and Kisses!

It's time to welcome a new decade with 2020 being just on the horizon. So, how about launching the new year in the best possible - and auspicious - way? Pigs are considered "lucky charms" in Irish, Chinese, and German traditions, among many others. So this moment seems perfect to take a look at this precious pink porker who really knows how to move and groove. She'll undoubtedly put you in a celebratory mood!

This pretty piggy has enormous squeal-appeal. She's just about life-sized compared to a baby piglet, and equally as adorable. Pig is about 9" tall, 16" wide, solidly stuffed with excelsior, and made from soft pink mohair. She is arm and leg jointed. Her lifelike face is detailed with black shoe button eyes, a prominent muzzle, and an inset velvet tipped snout that has been airbrushed with pink nostrils and a mouth. Her pert ears are made entirely from mohair and are dimensional. Her true-to-scale tail is actually in a curly-Q as you would see in a live pig; it is lined in wire and is poseable. This queen of the barnyard retains her small long trailing "f" button as her Steiff ID. This pattern appeared in the line from c.1913-1918.

Jointed pigs are pretty rare in the Steiff line. As far as Steiffgal can tell, this example is just one of two produced prewar - or ever. The first debuted in 1908. This version had a ball jointed neck, as well as jointed arms and limbs. The ball jointed neck enables the head and neck to be twisted and rotated into different lifelike positions. This proprietary movement was invented by Franz Steiff and registered on May 24, 1908 in the German patent office as a "toy animal with movable head." According to company records, this was accomplished by... "attaching a swivel jointed mechanism to the head which was then secured to the body by means of a tube running from the neck to the torso." Steiff used this feature on a few models, including this pig, as well as polar bears, begging poodles, cats, and opossums. This uber-jointed piglet was produced in 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm through 1918 overall. The only one Steiffgal knows of came up for auction in 2018, you can see his listing here.

The pig under discussion here is the second jointed version. Steiffgal suspects that it was produced as a response to economic and marketplace realities of the era.  

*From a supply perspective, it is Steiffgal's best guess that the fully jointed pig with a ball jointed neck was probably pretty expensive to produce - given its complex engineering, unique internal hardware mechanism, and additional manual labor to sew, stuff, and assemble. It was a great product and idea, but somewhat resource intense to bring to life. 

*From the demand perspective, given its time in the line - which considerably overlaps with WWI - Steiffgal also suspects that many consumers did not have alot of extra cash or the inclination to purchase high end toys like this. As such, Steiff most likely simplified elements of their ball jointed pig pattern by removing a big cost/labor element of this design - the neck feature. This reduced the costs for all parties, and made this still-playful pattern a bit more accessible overall.

Pigs really “bring home the bacon” in Germany. There's a German expression, “Ich Habe Schwein Gehabt,” which roughly translates to “I have had pig,” that people say after personally experiencing something lucky or fortunate. This Germanic tradition dates back many centuries of hard times and refers to having enough food to feed a family. If a family had a pig, they were able to eat for a week or more! Today in Germany, pigs made from marzipan are popular holiday time treats and are often given out as little gifts on December 31st to insure luck in the coming year.

Steiffgal thanks you for letting her bend your ear over this fully jointed pig - and happy new year everyone!

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

Monday, December 23, 2019

It's Time To Welcome The Big Man In Red!


Just in Claus you haven't noticed, its just a few hours until Christmas Day is upon us! And nothing says season’s greetings quite like the main man in red - Santa Claus - at least here in the United States.

Check out this page from a 1967 Steiff catalog featuring an almost life-sized Santa Claus doll. You can click on the image to make it bigger. Many collectors are familiar with the company's popular and beloved smaller Santa Claus dolls, which were produced in 13, 18, and 31 cm from 1953 through 1963 overall. This pattern was also made as a puppet. In the 1960s, Steiff produced this big fellow as a display piece in 150 cm, or about 5 feet. These supersized Steiff Santas were dressed to the nines in fine felt tailored suits trimmed in mohair - just like their rockstar namesake!

Today, these life-sized Santas are extremely rare, as for the most part, time has not been kind to them. Because their faces were made from rubber, they tend to dry out, sink, and crack as the years go by. As such, there are not too many of these still around. Steiffgal only knows of one, and he's having a rough go of it. And speaking of faces, it is interesting to note that the same facial mold used to create this display Santa was also used on the company's display sized shepherd and gnomes which were all produced at the same time as this Santa; you can see two of these "lifesized" gnomes here on the left. You can click on the image to make it bigger.

Steiff's Santa catalog page, like many of Steiff's vintage advertising images, is utterly charming, visually engaging, and tells a happy story. It is also fun to check out the other secondary items in the shot - those toys and articles placed around the featured article to help bring it to life. The selections often represent a "time capsule" of popular line items of the time, which is absolutely true in this case as well.

Santa's delightful deliveries from 1967 include:

*A caramel mohair “mask style" original Teddy bear (made from 1966-93 in sizes ranging from 11-100 cm overall.) 

*A grey mohair Snobby poodle (made from 1954-74 in sizes ranging from 10-43 cm overall.) 

*A white plush Diva cat (made from 1967-78 in 35 cm.) 

*A mohair giraffe (made from 1953-74 in sizes ranging from 14-75 cm overall.) 

*A brown mohair jointed Jocko monkey (made from 1949-81 in sizes ranging from 10-80 cm overall.) 

*A grey mohair Jumbo elephant (made from 1952-75 in 22 and 35 cm overall.) 

*A Mungo multicolored monkey (made from 1957-71 in 17, 25, and 35 cm overall.) 

*A tan wool plush camel (made from 1950-69 in 14, 17, 28, and 35 cm overall.)

Steiffgal ho-ho-hopes this life-sized discussion on Steiff's display Santa Claus has put you in a holly-jolly mood!

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