Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Perfect Stocking Stuffers... Early Steiff Woolen Miniatures!

One of Steiffgal's favorite things about this time of year is what her nephews call the "big socks," or Christmas stockings. After all, what's more fun that an oversized piece of faux hosiery filled to the brim with sweets and gifts?  So this got Steiffgal thinking - what would be perfect Steiff stocking stuffers?  Maybe the company's early woolen miniatures or "woolies?"  After all, they don't take up too much room, wrap easily, have a fantastic legacy, and truly capture the precious nature of the season! So let's check out these three very vintage "tiny treasures" to really get into the spirit of the holidays!

Bird's the word with this first pre-war Steiff woolie stocking stuffer.  This mellow yellow fellow is Steiff's Golden Bunting bird.  He is 8 cm, head jointed, and made from yellow, tan, brown, and olive green woolen yarns.  He stands upon metal legs that have been painted brown.  His tail feathers are made from brown felt, and his beak is made from orange felt.  He has tiny black button eyes.  Yellow Bunting wears his Steiff button and tag like a bracelet around his leg.  He never had a chest tag.

This golden oldie was produced in 4 and 8 cm from 1934 through 1943.  Around the same time period, Steiff also made woolie Robins, Green Woodpeckers, Finches, Blue Tits, and Sparrows.  Like the Golden Bunting, all were made in 4 and 8 cm and had very similar construction.  Only their yarn colors differentiated from species to species.  You can see several of the 4 cm versions of these other birds - and also the 8 cm Golden Bunting - in the picture on the left.  It is interesting to note that Steiff reintroduced all their 4 and 8 cm Robin, Green Woodpecker, Finch, Blue Tit, and Sparrow models right after the factory reopened for toy-making business in the late 1940's.  However, the Golden Bunting version, for some mystery reason, never appeared in the line after 1943.

Steiffgal's just quackers over this second woolie Steiff stocking stuffer.  Here we have a little 4 cm Steiff duck.  His body, head, and backside pom-pom are made from yellow woolen yarn.  His decorative head pom-pom is made from white woolen yarn.  His large, friendly beak and oversized feet and legs are made from orange felt.  His face is detailed with black bead eyes and a touch of orange airbrushing.  His button and tag, which have been lost to time, would have been on one of his feet.

This darling woolie duck was made in only this size and color combination from 1931 through 1941.  For the most part, pre-war Steiff woolie birds were designed to stand on metal legs, so this lying duck is somewhat unusual in terms of form and presentation.  

Not a creature was stirring - except for this mouse!  This final Steiff woolie stocking stuffer is not only insanely adorable, but also extremely seasonally appropriate!  This is Steiff's woolie mouse in felt slippers.  He is 9 cm, standing, head jointed, and made from white and orange woolen yarn.  His head and lower body are white, while his midsection is orange.  His hands and ears are made from single thick felt.  His legs are made from grey metal which has been painted light pink.  His little slippers are made from single thick orange felt and literally "slip on" his feet.  His tiny face comes to life with red bead eyes, a touch of pink to indicate his nose and mouth, and a few clear monofilament whiskers.  When he was a younger man - eh, mouse - he had a long matching tail.  He retains his tiny short trailing f Steiff button in his ear.
This petite treat was made in from 1936 through 1942 in this size only.  He also came in several other color combinations, including grey and red and brown and yellow.   Steiff also made several other standing woolie models with tiny felt slippers around this same time period; these included birds, rabbits, ladybugs, beetles, and bumblebees. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's tiny pre-war woolies has gotten you excited for the holidays in a mighty big way.

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Just Who Is This Remarkable And Rare Steiff Rodent?

In the mood for a little Steiff puzzler?  Then check out this mysterious forest friend who's keeping very, very quiet abut his identity. Does he look familiar to you?  As far as Steiffgal can tell, he does not appear in any of the standard Steiff reference books.  But, he did squirrel away a little clue about himself many years ago in a most clever way. But more about that in a bit.  But first, take a look and see what you think!
What is the tale behind this rare rodent?  Here we have a 22 cm, begging Steiff sweetheart.  He is made from shorter tan mohair and is unjointed.  His hands are made from double thick felt.  His prominent tail is made from very long, wavy mohair.  He is expertly hand airbrushed all over with tan, brown, orange, and black highlights.  His adorable face is highlighted with over-sized black eyes, a simple black hand embroidered nose and mouth, clear monofilament whiskers, and single sided mohair ears. 

His IDs help just a bit in identifying him.  He retains all of his original Steiff IDs including a large colorful bear faced chest tag, his raised script button, and yellow ear tag with the article number 2029/02.  This combination of IDs suggest he was made no later than 1969.  However, his actual article number doesn't translate into anything that actually describes him or his size.  This is possible because in 1968, Steiff started to give each item its own unique number, rather than relying on its traditional numbering system that had alot of redundancies to it. 

So just who is this guy?  Given his configuration, detailing, and era, is possible that he could be a squirrel, a chipmunk, or a marmot. Steiff has a legacy of creating all of these fuzzy friends, and they share many similar general characteristics.  These include body position (begging); double thick felt hands and/or feet; large and fluffy tails; and eager faces detailed with oversized eyes and whiskers. 

It took an international effort to crack this nut - oops, case!  Thanks to a tip from Steiff Super fan Alaina Russell from Canada, it appears that this example appeared in the FAO Schwarz toy catalog in 1968-1969, and is indeed a sensational squirrel! His picture appears here on the left.  It is interesting to see that he is grouped with another field and forest friend, Dormy the Edible dormouse.  

The squirrel's FAO Schwarz catalog description reads as follows...
"Tame and friendly, this begging grey squirrel in soft plush, has a long bushy tail and looks very natural. 7-1/2" tall. Ship wt. 2 lbs. $6.95"

It is not possible to tell from the information at hand if he was produced exclusively for FAO Schwarz or not.  However, regardless of his manufacturing status, it is clear that he is quite rare and was produced in extremely small numbers overall.  Have you ever seen another one?  He really is fabulous!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the mystery FAO Schwarz squirrel has left you bright eyed and bushy tailed.

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Rolling Towards The Holidays With This Great Steiff Spitz Dog On Wheels

Ever feel like howling in excitement upon a wonderful Steiff find? Even if just in your mind? Well, that just happened to Steiffgal when this delightful Wolfspitz on wheels arrived on her doorstep last week! Take a look at this dynamic dog and see what makes him so interesting from the design and product development perspectives.

This vintage pup is the wheel-deal indeed. Wolfspitz measures 20 cm from head to toe and 22 cm including his wheels, measured vertically. He is standing, unjointed, and made from tan mohair. His body and tail are made from long wavy mohair, while his face, ears, and legs are made from matching short mohair. He has very distinctive black hand embroidered claws on his paws, and a full and very prominent tail. He has distinctive mohair "feathering" construction on his front legs; this is pictured here on the left. His somewhat serious face is detailed with black and brown glass pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and traces of black airbrush highlighting. He rides upon four red wooden eccentric wheels.  

So how old is this pup, in dog years or otherwise? He retains his short trailing "f" button and traces of his yellow year tag. Given this utterly charming pattern was made in this size only from 1934 through 1943; his combination of IDs suggest he was produced in the 1936 to 1943 time frame.

Spitz, or Pomeranian dogs, are legacy patterns for Steiff. They appeared as early as 1902 in the Steiff line. The earliest Steiff Spitz dogs were produced in felt and mohair. This is most interesting from the historical perspective. And why is this? Felt was Steiff's first toy making fabric, and mohair became available on a commercially viable scale in 1903. Thus, early Spitz dogs truly embody the "old" and "new" material ways of manufacturing at Steiff!

These earliest Spitz dogs were produced in many configurations, including on wheels, sitting, fully jointed, and on a pincushion. They were made from long white curly mohair, with white felt faces, ears, and legs. All had black shoe button eyes and embroidered facial features. Most also left the factory in Giengen with a red cord with two pom-poms or tassels around his neck, giving them a “regal” appearance. The breed does have some connections to German royalty, which may explain why Steiff decorated them like “little kings.” The felt and mohair Spitz dogs appeared in the line in general through the 1920s.  A typical early Steiff Spitz is pictured here on the left; the photo is from Christie's.

Except for one all mohair, 17 cm model produced from 1924 through 1927, it was not until the mid 1930's that the company focused again on Spitz dogs. In 1934, Steiff launched a series of very expressive, all mohair tan colored Spitz dogs. These included a standing version (produced in 22 and 35 cm); a sitting version (produced in 17, 21, 22, and 25 cm) and the 22 cm version on wheels, the topic of this post. At the same time, the company also introduced two new all white Zwergspitz, or Miniature Pomeranians. These included a standing model (produced in 15, 18, and 23 cm) and a 20 cm sitting version. (An example of a lovely white Zwergspitz dog is pictured here on the left, the photo is from Teddy Dorado.) All appeared in the line through 1943, when Steiff ceased toy production due to war constraints and political realities. 

It is interesting to note that despite their popularity and longevity in the line, Steiff did not produce a standard line mohair Spitz after the factory reopened for business after the war in the late 1940's.  More recent Spitz dogs include a 22 cm white dralon "Cosy Spitz Blanko" from 1960 through 1973; a 30 cm woven fur model produced in black, white, or red-brown from 1980 through 1983; and a 60 cm mohair standing display "Polar Pomeranian" dog, produced in 1960 and then again in 1967.

So what's in a name?  According to Wikipedia, the Wolfspitz breed name was formally changed to "Keeshond," in 1926 in England. The breed is described as having "a lion like ruff, spectacles, small and dark triangular ears, definite contrast, and a thick double coat." All of these characteristics truly describe Steiff's Spitz dogs from the very beginning! 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's lovely Spitz dogs has been a warm and fuzzy experience for you.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's On Your Steiff Holiday Wish List?

What's on your holiday wish list? A wonderful vintage Steiff Teddy bear, perhaps? You are certainly not alone there! Well, the timing couldn't be better for vintage Teddy Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa shopping with the upcoming Teddy Bear sale at SAS (Special Auction Services) in London, England.  On December 4th, 2014, the auction house is selling 102 fabulous Teddy bears from Steiff Superfan Jena Pang, including some remarkable and very rare examples. Steiffgal checked in with friend and SAS auctioneer Daniel Agnew to learn more about what is certain to be a great auction to top off the 2014 Steiff sales year.

Steiffgal:  What was your first reaction when Jena contacted you about selling the bears?

Daniel Agnew:  I have known Jena and his wonderful collection for a number of years, almost as long as he has been collecting. I thought he was joking when he asked me to come and see the bears again for a potential sale. How could anyone part with these bears? He had to keep reminding me to come and see him. I eventually went down and then we discussed his collection, and the logistics of the auction process, and I was back a few days later picking them up! 

Steiffgal:  What was the process to get the bears from Jena's collection to your business? How long in advance before the auction did you need them in-house?

 Daniel:  This was a very unusual circumstance, once Jena had decided to sell, he wanted an auction this year. I was virtually on deadline for my 6th November auction, so after some pondering we decided to do a double catalogue, with the 6th November one half and Jena's auction the other. I literally had to collect and catalogue the sale in a few weeks. Normally we close 8 weeks before the auction. I live an hour south of London, Jena lives an hour to the east of London and Special Auction Services is about an hour west of London, so it took some managing to get it collected. 

Steiffgal: Cataloging is a really important part of the auction process. How did you (and your team, if that was the case) go about cataloging the bears? How long did it take? Where was it done? 

Daniel:  I catalogue on my own; this is done at SAS in Newbury. I also had Jena's insurance valuation document which we had prepared a few years ago. So I could pad out the antique bear descriptions in the comfort of home, also Jena had extra information that he prepared. It was fun to put it together, but would have been a bit less stressful if we had a bit longer than a couple of weeks to get it all done. 

Steiffgal:  Getting the photography right is key for creating a memorable auction catalog.  Can you explain to the Steifflife readers how you go about photographing the bears for the catalog?

Daniel:  We have a new photographer and I am a very fussy specialist when it comes to bear photography. So, we did several test shots and then I have to set the bear up, so we get that important eye contact. The bear has to speak to you from the pages of the catalogue. That bear needs to be saying, "please, take me home."  And, the image has to be suitable for the printed catalogue and the on-line catalogue. 

Steiffgal:  You have been in the auction and vintage toy world for many years.  How is this auction similar, and atypical, to other toy and plush auctions you have conducted in the past?

Daniel:  It's a fairly unique auction. Jena's collection has at its core 27 exceptional Steiff Teddy Bears, then there are a few other antique bears by different makers. Jena also had a selection of artist bears and limited edition collectors bears, which makes up the rest of the auction. It's a total of 102 lots, which is small for one of my auctions, but it's perfectly formed and we will be all home in good time for dinner!

Steiffgal:  Of the bears up for offer, which are your top three favorites, and why?

Daniel:  How can you ask me to choose three! I want them all. OK, after looking through the catalogue again, and again. I can easily chose my favourite; Lot 1014, Constantine. When I first saw this bear, he simply took my breath away. A huge, chunky, centre-seam, blank button, 1905, 28 inches, and a stunner.  For a bear which is almost 110 years old, he is in exception condition. If I had a spare £10,000 lying around, I would snap him up.  

I have about five second favourites, but I think I'm going to plump for Lot 1016, Winston Howitz. I like this bear because he is a cinnamon, I have a white and a golden mohair Steiff bear, which are smaller than this one, so he would be a nice addition to my collection, but the most intriguing thing about Winston, is that he has a 'Howitz' name tag under his arm, the sort of tag that is sewn into your school clothes (does/did this use to happen in US?). When Jena bought this bear, nobody had realised this was there, but I find it fascinating to think who this person was, that owned this beautiful bear.

For my final choice, I could chose any of the other antique Steiff bears, but I'm going to go for something different and completely different to my normal taste. Lot 1091, a Stier Bear made by artist Kathleen Wallace, he is called Harmony and is a Pierrot/clown bear. I just love his colours.

Steiffgal:  Thank you so much for giving us a peek at the inner workings of this great upcoming Steiff sales event!  Best of luck you! 

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