Saturday, November 10, 2018

Look Who Reappeared On Little Cats Feet?

Reunited, and it feels so good! Childhood and Steiff often go hand in hand, so it is always a sweet treat to come across a old button-in-ear friend from long ago. This just happened to a new friend from across the pond, who asks about her blue-eyed beauty. Vicki from the UK writes...

"Hi, I recently found my childhood toy in my dad's under stair cupboard. She is what appears to me to be a leopard I have attached a photo of front and back. She's a hand puppet with a stuffed head with a solid finger hole in her head (difficult to describe) the button is in her ear with some yellow fabric still present although ragged. She has blue glassy eyes and whiskers. I would like to know if you can tell me the age as I can't find anything similar when I search online just cats but she's not tabby. Thanks for your help. I'm from Hertfordshire. She has no claw stitches but her nose is sewn with pink thread. Inside the fabric is very rough but I'm guessing it's mohair (I wasn't sure if real fur?) I've had her since I was little and I'm 38."

Well, isn't this the cat's meow? What we have here is not actually a leopard but a kitty, although the two probably share alot of the same feline DNA in real life. Steiff has named her "Hand Minka Cat." This oversized puppet measures about 30 cm tall and is made from white and patterned woven fur. Her head is stuffed with soft foam, which has a tendency to break down over time. Her face comes alive with a pronounced white muzzle, oversized blue and black pupil eyes, a pink nose, and dark whiskers. She left the factory wearing a red ribbon. Minka Cat appeared in the line in this size and color combination only from 1978 to 1984. Given Vicki was born in 1980, her ownership timeline corresponds perfectly to the production era of this puppet.

Puppets are legacy novelties for Steiff, and a cat puppet has been in the line since about 1912. As for Vicki's particular cat puppet, it is part of a series of larger, all woven fur puppets from 1978. These included a bear, rabbit, dog, owl, donkey, penguin, and this cat. All were 30 cm in size and had charming, childlike presentations to them. They were more soft and silly than serious - and clearly designed for play. 

The 1970's were a challenging time at Steiff in terms of production and costs, as the competition with products from Japan really disrupted the toy marketplace. The year after Minka debuted, in 1979, Steiff launched its "Hand Cat" puppet, which was 27 cm in size and had a blue trevira velvet body. Only its head and paws were made from patterned plush. His only "detail" was  small white felt collar. All of these updates to the pattern were probably done for the purpose of making a smaller, cheaper, more efficient-to-produce cat puppet for the line. Hand Cat appeared though 1983. You can see this Hand Cat puppet here on the left; the picture is from Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Sortiment

Like a cat with nine lives, it is interesting to note that in 1984, Steiff re-engineered its trevira bodied Hand Cat puppet - again.  It now featured an even simpler face, which saved on labor costs, and was made in a much more basic grey plush fabric, which saved on material costs. This model appeared in the line from 1984 through 1992 overall. You can see this cat - and other soft plush puppets on offer at the time - pictured here on the left; the photo is from Steiff's "Steiff Collection 1992" customer catalog. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Vicki's cat puppet has been a happy handful for you.

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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Rolling Out The Red Carpet For This Amazing Steiff Ball Rabbit

It's easy to have a ball with Steiff! Especially when it comes to the company's tiny and wonderful "baby balltier" or ball animals designed for babies. Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of adding one of these bitty bunnies to her Steiff hug. Check out what makes these unusual novelties so interesting from the historical and product development perspectives.

Rounding things out, this adorable, 9 cm tall bunny is head jointed and made from tan colored mohair. His body is a simple, round form about the size of an apricot. His head is about the size of a ping-pong ball and is detailed with black and brown glass pupil eyes and a simple, red hand embroidered nose and mouth. His ears are made from felt. Rabbit's two front limbs and little tail are all made from tan colored woolen pom-poms. His clear monofilament whiskers have unfortunately been lost to time. This ball rabbit pattern was made from 1934 through 1943. This excellent example has a long trailing "F" button, dating him to the earlier part of this time frame.

Steiff also produced a larger 15 cm version of this bouncing bundle of joy from 1932 through 1942. This bigger bunny featured dimensional mohair ears and limbs as well as a rubberized, pastel colored ribbon band so he could be used as a "toss and catch" toy or perhaps even as a pram toy. This ribbon feature is so ephemeral that Steiffgal has never actually seen one in person. The 15 cm version of this novelty is pictured here on the left; the photo is from Pfeiffer's Steiff 1892-1943 Sortiment.

Steiff rolled out a series of teeny-tiny ball animals starting in the early 1930s. This would prove to be a challenging decade for the company. Germany entered a period of economic depression and widespread unemployment in 1929. At the same time, growing overseas sentiment began negatively impacting Steiff's export markets. As a result, Steiff's product development strategy included focusing on creating a range of lower-tier (i.e. affordable and efficient to produce) products for their domestic market to keep their toymaking business viable. It is interesting to note that the company's inexpensive, palm sized woolen miniature animals (including numerous rabbits in various body positions) also debuted around this same time. 

Coming full circle, Steiff produced about eight types of ball style animals overall. These were all based on simplified patterns of the company's most popular designs of the time. In addition to the rabbits discussed above, the collection also included Teddy bears, elephants, ducks, cats, lions, a Chin-Chin dog, and a Molly the Puppy. What's amazing about these items is that any survived at all given they were made to fit in the palm of a child's hand and designed as toys for youngsters! Here on the left you can see the page from the 1938 Steiff catalog featuring an assortment of these well-rounded items. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on these charming Steiff baby toys has put you in a playful mood indeed.

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Can't Miss Steiff and Teddy Bear Fun In Billund, Denmark!

What could be more exciting and interesting than an ENTIRE museum dedicated to Teddy bears? How about one located in a gorgeous and historical villa in Denmark? Just the thought of such a destination gets most cub collectors scrambling to find their passports! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of speaking to Laura Beatrice Ricks, who has the dream job of being the General Manager of the Teddy Bear Art Museum in Billund, Denmark. This museum (pictured above) opened in May of 2018 and is already capturing the eyes - and the hearts - of Teddy bear enthusiasts worldwide. Come learn what she had to say about this destination that needs to be on the to-do list of every bear fan. 

Steiffgal: Thank you for taking the time to speak with the MySteiffLife readers today. Could you please tell us why you decided to create a museum based on Teddy bears and art.

Laura Beatrice Ricks: For us, it was important to show that a Teddy bear is not just a toy, but a work of art. Our name "Teddy Bear Art Museum" is to emphasize this. Just as a blank canvas can become a painter’s masterpiece so too can a length of mohair and some sewing thread become a one of a kind Teddy bear. Every one of the Museum’s 1,000 exhibits has a special expression and look, backing up the idea of art.

Steiffgal: Tell us the relationship between the museum and Lego.

LBR: Teddy Bear Art Museum is owned by Gunhild Kirk Johansen and her husband, Mogens. Gunhild was a child in the house where the Museum is now situated, built in 1959. Gunhild’s grandfather, Ole Kirk Christiansen, founded LEGO. Her father, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, made LEGO the success it is today. Gunhild’s younger brother, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, continued the good work and is Chairman of the Board at LEGO. The small town of Billund would be nothing without this entrepreneurial and hard-working family who have made it the Capital of Children and a wonderful place to visit, particularly with children. Although this house was previously a private home, it is very spacious as in the early days of LEGO Billund did not have any hotels which meant that guests were able to stay the night in the family villa.

Steiffgal: Tell us about your typical visitors.

LBR: The typical visitor is a woman from 50 years old and up. Luckily, we also have many children with their parents or grandchildren. Billund has a large international airport (Denmark’s 2nd biggest airport after Copenhagen – and again, thanks to the LEGO family who founded the airport). This means we have many visitors from abroad.

Steiffgal: Many museums now include significant activities and attractions specifically for children. Is this true at your museum, and if so, what are you doing for children?

LBR: We consider children to be a very important part of a museum. If children do not visit museums then they may not come as adults either. Our child-focused programing and activities include:

1. A number of large, cuddly Teddy bears for children to play with dotted around the Museum.

2. Several different versions of treasure hunts for children, and the children do not need to be able to read to enjoy these adventures. 

3. A wall display with a magnetic, dress-up Muffy VanderBear. 

4. A table in our Teddy Bear CafĂ© with drawing materials and bear books, Paddington, as well as Muffy bears they can dress. 

5. During school holidays, we arrange Teddy bear-related courses for children. These are designed for children aged 7 and up and include painting stones with Teddy bears, sewing felt Teddy bears, and making brooches of silk clay, among others. 

6. We have 30 minute “pop in“ workshops where a child visiting the Museum can make a small project. 

7. We have had one “Night at the Teddy Bear Museum” event when 12 children spent the night in the VanderBear exhibition. We made Teddy bear shaped pizzas and craft projects and then slept with 1,000 Teddy bears. The children all brought their own Teddy bears to the event. It was a huge success. 

Steiffgal: Where do most of the bears on display come from? Were they part of the owner’s original collection, or were they purchased specifically for the museum, or something else?

LBR: We have two main permanent collection from approximately 14 countries: Johnny and Gitte Pinholt Thorsen’s eclectic collection of one of a kind Teddy bears and the Museum’s owner, Gunhild Kirk Johansen’s collection of the VanderBear family and one of a kind Teddy bears. The collections predate the Museum as private collections.

Steiffgal: How is it decided what specific bears will be on exhibit in the museum?

LBR: Gitte Thorsen, the Museum’s Design Master and Curator, selects the Teddy bears. We have bears produced by commercial makers, bears made by artists, and of course, the original and historic Alfonzo from Steiff - the Prince of our museum!

Steiffgal: How often do you create special exhibits, and how often do you update your exhibits?  

LBR: The first special exhibition is on display from our opening in May until December 2018. Our guest exhibition with Paddington is also on display from May-December 2018. We are closed in January and re-open in February, 2019 with a new exhibition on Steiff.

Steiffgal: Tell us more about this upcoming special exhibition on Steiff bears. Will you have a party to launch this new display? 

LBR: It is an exclusive Steiff exhibition with items from Steiff’s archives in Giengen, Germany and includes bears and animals. The Museum’s oldest bear is Peachy, a Steiff bear from 1905-1907. He is pictured here on the left. Steiff is kindly lending the Museum articles from their collection. And yes, the Museum will hold a party to open the new exhibition!

Steiffgal: If an artist has a bear that they would like the museum to show or have, or if a collector has a very unusual bear they would like the museum to show or have, does the museum take these sorts of offers?  

LBR: We have received a number of donations of special Teddy bears. We regularly purchase artist bears. We also purchased Steiff’s Alfonzo from Teddy Bears of Witney after Ian Pout contacted us about this. He was keen to provide Alfonzo with a good new home where he would be on display rather than disappearing in a private collection. As the mother of Alfonzo’s original owner, Princess Xenia, was Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark, the world-famous Teddy bear already had a Danish connection. She is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal: And finally, if collectors are not able to make the journey to your museum, but want to visit or follow it virtually, how can they do that?

LBR: We have a virtual link around the Museum kindly filmed by our friend and associate Sebastian Marqvardt. Please click on this link to view this tour.
  You can also learn more on our website Homepage, Facebook and Instagram pages, and our Newsletter.

Steiffgal: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing all of this exciting news and information about the museum. Please keep us posted on the February, 2019 Steiff exhibit - we'd love to see photos from it and learn about some of the featured Steiff highlights!

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

All Treats and No Tricks With These Tiny Orange Steiff Treasures

When you were a kid, what was your favorite Halloween score? For Steiffgal, it was Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. How times have changed! Today, a REAL hair-raising treat would be a palm sized Steiff goodie in a Halloween pail, wouldn't you agree? So, to celebrate this spooky season in a more grownup fashion, here are a few orange hued "snack sized" treats to satisfy your Steiff sweet tooth. (Please click on any photo to enlarge it for viewing and study.) 

It's hard to outfox this teeny tiny Steiff woolen miniature Pitty fox. He is sitting, measures 5 cm, and is made from orange and white woolen threads. His face comes to life with an itty-bitty black bead nose and eyes and felt ears. Steiff's woolen miniatures are often head jointed, but Steiffgal is not sure if this is the case here as he remains in his original cardboard and plastic packaging. Steiff created a series of ten Pitty woolen miniature animals in the 1977 through 1981 time frame; all were distributed in similar bubble style packaging. It is Steiffgal's best guess is that this is the case so they could be merchandised and sold off of a standard counter rack.

Steiffgal's also nuts over this woolen miniature squirrel. She is also from the "Pitty" line. She is begging, measures 5 cm, and is made from orange woolen threads. She has a peach colored base and hands, orange felt ears, and a black button nose and eyes. Like Pitty fox, it is not clear if she is head jointed or not. On the back of her cardboard packaging, she has a white paper price tag from Saks Fifth Avenue. It notes that she costs $5. Adjusted for inflation, $5.00 in 1980 is equal to $16.07 in 2018. Pitty squirrel certainly packs alot of personality into a very small presentation!

This next happy handful is a late 1920s-era Steiff Charly King Charles Spaniel dog. He has distinctive orange mohair highlights on his ears, backside, and tail. Most of Steiff's Charly dogs were produced with brown mohair highlights, so this one is a little more unusual. Charly is sitting and head jointed. He has extremely long fuzzy ears; large, childlike brown and black-pupil eyes; a very detailed facial seam structure; and a prominent tail. Steiff made this Charly pattern both sitting (10, 14, 17, 22, 25, 30, and 35 cm) and standing (7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 22, 25, and 36 cm) through 1939.

Charly likes to troop the colors with this similarly hued Bully the Bulldog. This white and orange mohair pup is 10 cm, sitting, head jointed, and made from orange and white mohair. Orange and white Bully dogs are a little rarer than black and white Bully dogs as they were in the line for fewer years. Bully's face and muzzle area are tan velvet. He has very large brown and black glass pupil eyes and a black, hand-embroidered nose. Most remarkably, Bully retains his original and traditional horsehair collar. This is made from a long, thin strip of material which is doubled over width-wise; the horsehair fibers are sewn in between the faces of the material. The horsehair collar was a typical pre-war accessory and indicated a "regal" nature of the item wearing it. Bully was made in velvet and mohair, as well as sitting and standing, in sizes ranging from 10 to 50 cm in the 1927 through 1937 time frame overall. 

And this discussion would be unbearable without a cub representative in the mix. Here we have a 6 cm Teddy Baby Replica 1930. He is technically cataloged as "maize" in color to reflect his corn colored hue. This tiny Ted is fully jointed and has all the traditional Teddy Baby characteristics - including downturned wrists, flat feet made for standing, and a charming, youthful face - albeit on a super small scale. Maize Teddy Baby appeared in the line from 1998 through 2001.

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion of tiny orange treasures all treats and no tricks. 

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