Sunday, September 17, 2017

This Sample Steiff Alien Is Truly Out of This World!

Well, it appears that Steiffgal has had a close encounter of the Steiff kind!  She has recently had the pleasure of welcoming a new Steiff rarity to her collection, one that sent her to the moon and back! But please don't think she's a space-case, but she's not really sure of too much concerning his background or origins. Focus your telescope on this out-of-this-world Steiff creation. Can you believe your eyes?

There's no need to phone home over this Steiff alien.  He stands 30 cm tall and is made from a high quality, brown faux leather.  Most of his visible, decorative stitching is done in orange thread. His head/body is basically round with three "horns" on its top edge.  The middle one is the largest and about twice the size of the ones to the left and right.  It is possible that the middle one is supposed to represent his "nose" while the other two are his eyes. His "face" is defined by a separate rectangular mask of faux leather which is detailed with a small orange patch of orange velour or velvet. This mask can be moved slightly up and down, and is attached to the alien through the his arm joints. 

Alien's body is also of interstellar proportions. His arms are jointed in the traditional Steiff way, with double round cardboard disks and metal wire connectors. His hands are made of two digits, sort of like two thumbs. His legs have thin thighs and thick calves and ankles - the opposite of a typical human form! They not jointed. Both his arms and legs are lined in some sort of metal wires or chains. They are posable and "creak" when moved about. Alien stands on flat circular feet that have magnets on the bottom. These probably help weight him, as well as add a playful touch to where he can stand and how he can be posed. His construction and detailing are really quite spectacular and it is clear that he was made with a most loving, and exacting, touch.  

Also of note is his Steiff ID.  It consists simply of the company's yellow, double sided ribbon tag and a gold, rivet style button. It is pictured here on the left. The back of the tag reads, "Not for Sale!" and "Property of Margarete Steiff GmbH" in both German and English.  It also has a field for a date and a number, but these are not filled in. It is Steiffgal's best guess, based on this ID, that this item was indeed a sample or prototype from the c. 2002 time frame. She has another item with this identical tag and ID arrangement; in that case, the date on the tag is 7.03.02 and the number is 7.  Steiffgal is not sure if "number" refers to the total number of samples produced, or the order of the samples produced; but it is not an EAN or product number.  

So now the questions as big as the universe. Why was he made, and how did he arrive in Steiffgal's collection? Well, only he knows the answers for certain, and he's not talking.  So here are a few down to earth possibilities.  

First, why was he made?  Steiff employs the finest doll and toy designers in the world, and great people do great work. Perhaps the Steiff designers were asked by management to come up with truly out of the box ideas, and this was one result of that challenge. Maybe this design was the result of an independent vision a designer had, or maybe they wanted to test out the faux leather fabric and/or creaking metal skeleton for its toy-making potential. It is a possibility that the company was exploring a collection theme or idea (in this case, space travel or extraterrestrials) but decided not to move forward with it. Or perhaps it was created in response to a customer special order or inquiry which did not make it beyond the prototype phase.  

Steiffgal suspects that the big reason this little guy did not make it into the Steiff line was cost.  After all design, materials, and manpower factors were analyzed, this alien's production expenses were probably astronomical.

And how did the alien make the interstellar journey from Giengen to Steiffgal's hug?  It is Steiffgal's best guess that this item might have been sold during one of Steiff's Sommer Festivals a decade or so ago.  It is at these wonderful annual gatherings where Steiff offers samples, overstocks, overproduction models, and other "oddities" under a giant circus style tent.  Sometimes fantastic finds like this make their way to this sale. This item was purchased from a collector in Europe who found him at a German toy show.  As such, at least geography wise, it is possible that this was his map from there to here.

Steiffgal hopes this story on this unusual Steiff creation was as exciting as a UFO sighting!

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

This Ele-Fantastic Baby Has Movie Star Appeal!


Care to make a big deal out of a little fellow? Then consider this fantastic and all original Steiff Baby Hathi! This ele-fantastic example was produced as part the original Jungle Book set of characters made in conjunction with the Disney company in the late 1960's. Despite a half-century onward, he - and his cartoon colleagues - are still considered on and off screen favorites among Steiff collectors from every generation.

Trunk's up for this petite pachyderm! Baby Hathi is 20 cm tall, unjointed, and made from grey dralon. He has a very sweet open, smiling mouth, grey felt foot pads, grey felt ears, and black and white cartoon style eyes. He has an adorable matching swatch of grey mohair on the top of his head and on the tip of his tail. This particular model was made in this size only from 1968-1976. Baby Hathi has all of his IDs, including his lentil style button, yellow tag, and special co-branded Steiff/Disney chest tag that reads, "Baby Hathi/Cop. Walt Disney/Prod."

Let's get a little wild and check out the backstory behind this jungle gem. The Jungle Book, the 19th animated feature produced by Walt Disney Productions, debuted in the fall of 1967. It was the last film actually produced by Mr. Disney, who passed away during its production. Based on the book by author Rudyard Kipling, it was an immediate success upon its launch. The story featured a Bengal tiger named Shere Khan, a sloth bear named Baloo, an orangutan named King Louie, and a baby elephant named Baby Hathi, among other lovable characters. An early movie poster, promoting the film, is pictured here on the left. This film inspired a significant Steiff collaboration. To build on the film's popularity, Steiff initially produced these four animals from 1968 through the 1976 time frame. 

Now onto other material matters. The construction and materials selected for these early Jungle Book characters were both very typical to their time of manufacture. During the late 1960’s and 1970’s, Steiff was focused on saving costs and streamlining production at every juncture.  This was due in part to the increased worldwide marketplace competition for plush toys. All four of the Jungle Book animals were made from synthetic materials. These were very popular toy making materials for Steiff at that time. These fabrics were inexpensive, very durable, surface washable, and good for manufacturing items truly designed as playthings - not collectibles. The Jungle Book characters were also made with as few joints as possible, another cost savings measure.  Shere Khan was 35 cm tall, unjointed, sitting, and made from white and orange dralon. Baloo was 40 cm tall, head and arm jointed, and made from white and tan dralon. King Louis was 25 cm, head jointed, and made from brown and orange Crylor.  As noted on the Baby Hathi under discussion here, each left the factory in Giengen with a special chest tag noting their Steiff and Disney licensing partnership.  Above on the left you can see the four original Disney Jungle Book characters.  The photo is from Christie's and this lot sold in 2010 for 525 pounds.  That is equivalent of about $830 in today's dollars.  

Face it, once a rock star, always a rock star!  It is interesting to note, that because of this film's ongoing popularity and legacy, Steiff continued to occasionally produce characters based on it over several decades. Highlights of this ongoing collaboration include a set of four slightly smaller Jungle Book animals made from woven fur from 1979 through 1982 as well as mohair versions of King Louie and Baloo. These were both produced in 2003 as a 3,000-piece limited editions.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Baby Hathi and Steiff's Jungle Book collaboration has been like a match made in heaven for you.

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

This Long Brown Tipped Mohair Steiff Chimp Is One Head Turner Indeed!

When it comes to Steiff, it's always fun to monkey around. Primates have been an important part of the Steiff line since the late 1800's and many collectors really go ape over their expressive faces and playful presentations. Some of them even come with secrets - like this one. Check out this chimp-champ and see what makes him so interesting from the historical and product development perspective.

This sweet jungle-jem is unquestionably a mover and a shaker. His name is Chimpanzee, and he is 22 cm tall, sitting, and fully jointed. His long, narrow body, shapely arms, and bent legs are made from extra long brown tipped mohair. His face and hands and feet are made from tan felt. His charming face comes to life with black and brown glass pupil eyes set close together in eye pockets, a dimensional muzzle, a closed mouth, and a white mohair chin. And he has a delightful surprise - he has a tail moves head mechanism, which allows his head to rotate 360 degrees! Like many tail moves head items from this period, the mohair covering on this Chimp's metal tush-twister has been lost to time. He retains his large trailing f button and a trace of his red ear tag as his IDs. This great pattern was produced in nine sizes ranging from 13 to 66 cm from 1931-1934. Steiff also produced a closed mouth, long brown tipped mohair "Chimpanzee" without the tail moves head feature in five sizes ranging from 25 to 100 cm from 1928-1934 overall. 

Do you suspect any monkeyshines between Chimpanzee's design and that of his better known cousin, Jocko? Steiff's Chimpanzees did in part resemble the company's Jockos, but did have a few distinctively different features and treatments. For a comparison, please check out the photo on the left which features this 22 cm tail moves head Chimpanzee and his new best friend, a 23 cm wool plush Jocko; both were made in the early 1930's.

Steiff was really on the move in the 1920's and early 1930's, at least with its line of top-tier toy categories. Richard Steiff, although living in the United States at the time, was very involved with the company's product design and development pipeline. He constantly encouraged his family in Germany to create new and exciting novelties, to capture the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of the growing global marketplace. He did this by writing passionate and persuasive handwritten letters, in beautiful penmanship, on his personal letterhead. These letters often stressed the importance of quality, innovation, presentation, and advertising as keys to business growth and success. The Steiff design team came up with the idea of "tail moves head" animals as one of many responses to Richard's directives. The company applied for, and received patents for this technology in the early 1930's.

Overall, about 25 different tail turns head models were produced through the late 1930's and very early 1940's. These were advertised as, "The ingenious head-movement makes Steiff animals appear alive." For the most part, these were based on the best selling standard line patterns of the time and included cats, dogs, rabbits, penguins, goats, and lambs, and even Mickey Mouse, among others. However, there were exceptions to this rule, like a most unusual tabby tail moves head bulldog. Even more interesting to note is the fact that there was not a Teddy bear - perhaps the company's most popular product - on the pre-war production roster of tail moves head items. Steiff would go on to make a fully jointed, tail moves head bear in 18 and 25 cm in 1955 only. Today, this rare bear is one of the most sought after postwar bear examples among collectors.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this tail moves head Chimpanzee has been more fun than a barrel full of monkeys!

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hat's Off To This Absolutely Amazing Early Steiff Lady Doll!

Hold onto your hat - literally! What Steiffgal has to share with you today just might be head and shoulders above anything that has ever appeared in this blog before! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of viewing a collection of absolutely outstanding pre-war Steiff dolls. Each was breathtaking in its own way, and she will feature a few in this blog over the coming weeks. She wanted to give the first tip of the hat to this particular one - and after seeing her, you will certainly understand why!

It's a hat-trick when it comes to this lovely Steiff lady. Here we have a magnificent lady doll with an elaborate hat built into her head. She is fully jointed and stands about 42 cm tall; her hat adds another 15 cm or so. She wears fabulous, hand made leather lace up shoes, thigh high socks, a purple felt skirt with orange and green flowers printed on it, a white cotton apron, and a black lace shawl with a matching black lace hanky. Her core body is made from orange felt, and that is how her upper torso appears. Her face comes to life with blue and black glass pupil eyes and very delicately hand painted facial features. 

Her "proper topper," Steiffgal suspects, maybe based on some regional or traditional European design. It is literally built on her head. The core of the hat is made from felt and is stuffed with excelsior. It is trimmed with three bands of brown velvet ribbon. The top and bottom of the hat are made from soft white fabric that has been pleated and folded in the most charming and interesting way possible. She does not have a mohair wig or any indication of painted hair.

There's no question that this doll would be a headliner in any Steiff collection. It is suspected that she was produced in the early to mid 19-teens, given her presentation and materials. After extensive searching, Steiffgal could find no mention of this doll and her remarkable "hat-head" in any of the standard Steiff reference books or materials. However, she was able to locate a photograph of a similar doll sold in 1990 at a Theriault's doll auction; it is shown here on the left and the photos is from Theriault's. It is possible that only a handful of these dolls were produced (the construction is so elaborate and therefore time consuming and expensive), that they were only manufactured in extremely small numbers for a special display, or that she was a prototype of some sort. Any of these factors may in part help explain why there is a dearth of information available about her.

Let's button up this discussion with a quick peek at her ID, which is also quite interesting. It turns out this lovely lady had not one, but TWO small trailing "f" buttons in her left ear. She also has a small hole in her right ear - just the perfect size for yet another button. Although the double buttoning in her left ear could be an accident, her ear is so small, and the button is so well placed, that the second button truly looks intentional. In the past, Steiff used multiple buttons to keep track of which items were samples, prototypes, and versions of items under development. In the 1920's, this usually took the form of a regular button in one ear, and a "muster" button in the other. It is entirely possible that this doll's multiple button system is an early form of this tracking system. Unfortunately, only she knows for sure!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this incredible lady doll has given you something to hang your hat on!

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