Saturday, January 7, 2017

Getting Around To Solving This Unusual Steiff Mystery

Well, here's a little Steiff history-mystery! Check out this note about Steiff bear with some cryptic writing on his belly. Could this bear be a musical prototype? A new friend, in part, writes...

"I found your blog and thought I would reach out. Today I acquired what, from your blog, I have determined to be a mohair Musical Teddy. Unfortunately, it does not have the ear tag, though still has the made in Germany on the back, and has been signed on one paw by Hans Otto and the other paw is dated 1983. 

Interestingly, there is also writing on the red musical circle that appears to say 1954-55 and then has a series of numbers underneath that. The antiques store where I bought it seemed to think it was a "salesman sample". I just wondered if you had ever run across such a thing?"

Well, let's strike up the band and see what we have here. This bear is 
definitely an example of Steiff's Music Teddy. This bear was produced from 1951 through 1957. He is 35 cm, five ways jointed, and made from caramel colored mohair. His hand and foot pads are made from tannish peach colored felt. His face is detailed with brown and black glass pupil eyes and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. Smack dab in the middle of his belly is a red felt circle; when he was new, it had the word "music" in printed in white on it. When this spot was squeezed and released, it played a sweet lullaby. 

Let's paws for a second here and check out the information on the bear's feet. From the writing on the bear's lower pads, it appears that this piece was brought to a Steiff sponsored event in the early 1980's and signed by Hans Otto Steiff. Hans Otto Steiff was the former President of Steiff in Germany and a direct descendant of the founder, Margarete Steiff. Hans Otto and and his wife Brigit toured the USA several times in the 1980's, meeting collectors, attending events, and signing Steiff items.

Now let's circle back to the strange marks on his red felt belly patch. After thinking about this for awhile, it is Steiffgal's strongest suspicion that these numbers do not indicate that this bear is a prototype. The date on the patch, which reads 1954/5, doesn't really align with anything in this bear's production history. This bear was introduced in 1951 and was in the line from 1957. So if it was a prototype, meaning that it was produced prior to general line introduction, the date on the red circle would probably read 1950 or 1951. Or if it were a piece designed for the archives after manufacturing was complete, the date might read 1951/7, or something like that.

So what does this all mean?  Although there is no way to tell for sure, his presentation suggests that he was a beloved toy at one point in his life, based on his playwear pattern. Steiffgal speculates that that the date 1954/5 refers to the year that he was purchased or adopted, and the other numbers (12 9335,3) refer to the numbers that were on his original ear tag, which has since gone missing. These correspond to 12 = bear, 9 = mechanical, 3 = mohair, 35 = 35 cm, and 3 = with music box. Perhaps his owner put the dates and numbers on the red circle so they would forever be attached to his history, as the ear tags very often get lost to time. Or, it is possible that someone bought him from the owner, and asked them about the year they purchased him, or it could have been information from an antique dealer provided to someone at purchase. Besides his red felt circle, there really is no other place to record any writing or marks on him.

Steiffgal hopes her evaluation of this red-bellied mystery has been spot on with you.

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

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Is This Steiff Jungle Gem A Diamond In The Rough?

Let's end 2016 in a wild way! Check out this note from a reader on the east coast who found an Ivy-League tier Steiff treasure and wants to learn more about it. Jacob, in part, writes...

"I was hoping you could tell me a bit more about a Steiff tiger that I found recently. It is similar to one you've written a blog post about already but with some noticeable differences. It is an approximately 40 cm long, 23 cm tall mohair tiger wearing a black felt vest with an orange "Princeton" P. It has a Steiff button in the ear and a tag that says "US Zone Germany." It is standing, rather than sitting and does not have a jointed head as the one you've written about did. However, it does have the "cartoon" eyes."

Wow, Steiffgal is seeing stripes over this cool cat. This indeed is the standing, larger version of Steiff's early 1950's Princeton Tiger. He is unjointed and made from mohair that has been hand airbrushed with black stripes. His face comes to life with a prominent, felt lined open mouth, white wooden teeth, and green and black "squint" style glass eyes. And, of course, what makes him head of the class is his orange and black felt "P" blanket. He was made as an exclusive for the upscale US toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz in the c. 1951-1952 timeframe.

Now let's take a little trip backwards in time and check out some interesting things about this grrrr-eat example. Here you can see this tiger's original advertising from the 1951 F.A.O. Schwarz catalog. Other Steiff mascots listed with him include the sitting Princeton Tiger, a sitting and standing Yale Bulldog, a sitting and standing Navy Goat, an Army Mule, and a Columbia Lion. They ranged in price at the time from $7.50-10.00. This is the equivalent of $69.62 to $92.83 in 2016 dollars. Steiff is, and always has been, a premium product. Ironically, the mascots pictured just below the Steiff versions that were made in France are more expensive than the Steiff ones upon their introduction. It is Steiffgal's strongest suspicion that they would have mostly sentimental value today.

Steiff also created other smaller scaled school and institutional mascots in the late 1950's and early 1960's. These were all standing and included a 14 cm Yale Bulldog in 1957, a 10 cm Princeton Tiger in 1957-1958, 12 and 14 cm Army Donkeys in 1957, a 15 cm Navy Goat in 1957, and a 25 cm Navy Goat in 1957-60.

Is this jungle gem a diamond in the rough? Well, as always, something is worth what someone will pay for it. These marvelous mascots come on the secondary market quite infrequently, so "comps" are hard to come by. However, in June 2016, a standing Yale Bulldog illustrated along with the standing Princeton Tiger in the 1951 F.A.O. Schwarz catalog sold at auction here in the US. Estimated at $600-1,200, it realized $900.  This "Handsome Dan" is pictured here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Jacob's great tiger puts you on the prowl for some great Steiff finds in 2017! Happy New Year, dear readers!

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

Steiffgal's Just Boy Crazy Over This Late 1930's Steiff Doll!

Oh boy!  Literally!  Santa stopped off at Steiffgal's house a tad early, delivering this sweet little guy just in time for the holidays.  He came all the way from Germany and was won at a recent toy sale there. Steiffgal has a thing for Steiff's early felt dolls, but she was particularly excited about this darling little man. Here's a little bit about him, and what makes him so interesting from the collector's perspective.

This handsome devil is Steiff's Seppl.  He is a great example of the company's pressed felt faced dolls, which appeared in the line overall from about 1936 through the very early 1950's.  Seppl is 35 cm tall, standing, solidly stuffed with excelsior, leg and head jointed, and made from felt.  He has lovely and very real looking blue, white, and black glass pupil eyes, a mischievous facial expression, and a shock of blond mohair hair.  He wears a very traditional German outfit.  This consists of black wool shorts with green embroidery; green suspenders; a white button down cotton shirt with a collar; a grey wool jacket trimmed in green with leather buttons; a green Alpine style hat; black tie style shoes; and grey and green knitted calf socks.  Seppl was produced in this size only from 1938 through 1943.

Seppl and his fellow seamless felt faced dolls were introduced in the late 1930's and were the "stars" of many of the company's advertising and sales materials at that time. This is understandable, given their charming presentation and personalities.  Here on the left you can spot Seppl and his gal-pal Lisl, who is also dressed in traditional clothing, as they appeared in one of the company's sales catalogs from 1938/1939.  You can see from his information that he is supposed to weigh 220 g (Steiffgal weighed her Seppl, who came in at 213 g); measure 35 cm (true) and cost 6.80 marks at the time. In 1938, 2.49 marks = $1 USD; as such, 6.80 marks = $2.73 USD. According to inflation calculators, $2.73 in 1938 had the same buying power as $44.84 in 2016.

Steiff has a half century of tradition of creating delightful cloth dolls, starting around 1903.  It is interesting to note that Steiff's earliest dolls were, for the most part, overwhelmingly male in gender.  Models included policemen, soldiers, soccer players, scouts, and other truly masculine designs. It wasn't until around 1909 that Steiff started creating both male and female doll models on a relatively large scale.  However, through the late 19-teens or early 1920's, many were still male, as the company's lines of international soldier and police dolls were a major emphasis on production.  You can see three typical male Steiff felt dolls here on the left from the c. 1909 through 1916 time frame. 

After WWI, the gender balance in Steiff's doll production changed significantly.  The soldier and police dolls were no longer of great interest, and Steiff's production of them dropped dramatically.  Female dolls started gaining popularity, and more and more were seen in the catalog.  By the time that seamless pressed felt faced dolls like Seppl appeared in the catalog, the company was really focusing on producing girl dolls for little girls.  For example, Steiff produced 27 versions of its pressed felt faced dolls in the 1938-1943 period.  Of those models produced, only 7 were boys, Seppl being one of them. As such, Steiff boy dolls from this period are quite rare.  You can see Seppl's cousin Rosl, who was produced from 1939 through 1941, here on the left. Once the factory reopened for toy making business in the late 1940's, Steiff again produced these pressed felt faced dolls for a handful of years.  However, all of the post war models were girls.  

Steiffgal hopes that you have enjoyed learning about Seppl, and that Santa also brings you a marvelous vintage Steiff treasure this year as well.  Happy holidays, dear Steiff readers!

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

Friday, December 16, 2016

Outfoxing The Mystery Behind This Very Vintage Steiff Dog

Who doesn't love a surprise? Especially when it may have to do with Steiff! Check out this note from a new friend who writes about a "foundling" discovered in the home of a relative. Caroline shares,

"Hi there,

I was wondering if you could help me identify this charming straw stuffed dog? It was found in the basement of my mother-in-law's house back in the 60's but clearly it's a lot older. It has a hole in the right ear (there is velvet inside the ears) which made me think it could be Steiff if there was once a button there. I'm not sure if they were ever stuffed with straw or made of this material?

Anyway I know he's not not worth a lot but I love him and I'd love to know a bit more about him. Thank you so much for your time. 

Kindest regards,

Well, let's pull up a chair and check out this sitting sweetie. From what Steiffgal can make out from the photos, it is her best guess that this is an early Steiff Fox Terrier. It is not clear about his measurements, but based on his remaining materials, it is most likely that he originally was made from white mohair; the woolen covering has entirely been lost to time in this case. If he has a "crunchy" feeling to him when he is squeezed, then he is stuffed with excelsior, which would be consistent with his era of production. 

This early and beloved Steiff pattern is known for several design features.  These include one white ear and one orange one; pert black shoe button eyes and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth; a black circle drawn around the dog's right eye; velvet lined ears; and adorable, perfectly-to-scale prominently formed back leg haunches. Steiffgal has also seen several of these early Fox Terriers detailed with an orange airbrushed ring around their tail end, although it is not clear if this model has this based on these limited photos.  

Steiff has a long history with Fox Terriers, and they have always been an important breed in Steiff's kennel club. They made their first appearance in 1899, just a handful of years after the company's debut commercial catalog launch in 1892. This particular sitting version, named simply "Foxterrier," has its origins as far back the very early 1900's, when a similar model was produced in felt in 10, 17, and 22 cm from 1902 to 1924. This sitting pattern was produced in mohair in 7, 17, 22, 28, and 35 from 1902 through 1929, as well as lamb's wool plush in 12, 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1903 through 1917.   

This basic sitting Foxterrier pattern made a somewhat interesting "solo" appearance in 1928. For that year only, this design was also produced in mohair in 7, 17, 22, 28, and 35 cm but was specifically given the name "Spotty." This name appeared on a white tag with a metal wire rim worn as a chest tag. Two of these 1928 Spotty dogs are pictured here on the left; the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Steiff Sortiment book.    

And what's up with this name-game? It is Steiffgal's best guess that this update from a generic breed to a more "playful" name in 1928 was not random, but part of a larger strategy. In the mid- to late 1920's, Steiff began producing a great number of beloved dogs and giving them endearing, child-like names. This was a directive straight from company management and was made to help reinvigorate the product line and align design priorities to the societal trends and preferences of the time. This marketing tactic proved quite successful, starting with the introduction of "Molly" the puppy dog, who debuted in 1925. Other named pups introduced around this era include "Treff" the Bloodhound in 1928, "Fellow" the puppy dog in 1928, and "Bully" the Bulldog in 1927.  You have to admit, the name "Spotty" is much sweeter and appealing than "Foxterrier!"

In 2013 - perhaps in honor of his 85th birthday? - Steiff produced a charming 17 cm replica of 1928's Spotty in an edition size of 1,000 pieces for the worldwide market.

Unfortunately, due to its condition, it is difficult to put a firm date on Caroline's Steiff dog. However, given the information available about the pattern and assuming that it did have a button-in-ear at one time, it would be safe to say that it was manufactured in the 1904 through 1929 time frame.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Caroline's vintage Foxterrier has made you sit up and take notice!

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