Sunday, June 17, 2018

There's Nothing Scary About This Fantastic Pre-War Steiff Tom Cat

It's time to cast a little black magic, in the best possible way. Cats are one of Steiff's most popular and prolific lines, but there is one example in particular that has every collector feline groovy. That's the company's Tom cat, the all black kitten on all fours with an arched back and prominent tail. Steiffgal would like to introduce you to a somewhat rare example she recently added to her collection.

It's no tall tail to say that this Steiff Tom cat is quite the looker! He measures 14 cm head to toe, and 25 cm top of tail to toe. He is standing, unjointed, and made from black mohair. His body, limbs, and head are made from shorter mohair, while his tail is made from much longer mohair. His tiny triangular shaped ears are made from velvet. He has a red embroidered nose and mouth, and three matching red claws on each foot. His teal-green and black eyes are in the slit-pupil style, and he has clear monofilament whiskers on his muzzle and forehead. He has a very serious, pensive look to him. His red silk ribbon may be original to him, his brass bell has been lost to time. He retains his short trailing "F" button as his Steiff ID. Tom cat was made in 8, 10, 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1923-1943; the two smallest sizes were made with velvet bodies and heads.

Steiff's Tom cat design literally has had nine lives - or maybe even more! The original Tom cat was produced in both black and white velvet. Both versions were very skinny, standing on all fours, unjointed, and had arched backs and open mouths. They all left the factory in Giengen, Germany wearing a silk ribbon and bell. Black Tom cats were produced in 10, 14, and 17 cm from 1904-1918. White Tom cats were produced in 14 and 17 cm for three years only - from 1906-1908 - and are exceptionally rare. Steiffgal has never actually seen an early white velvet Tom Cat! Steiff's next version of its Tom cat was the one under discussion today. Then once the factory reopened for toymaking business after WWII, Steiff produced its Tom cats in 8, 10, 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1950-1976. These post war models were very similar in appearance to their 1920's-40's versions.

One thing that's the cat's meow about this pattern is how long it has appeared in the Steiff line. It debuted in a photograph featured in the 1903-1904 Steiff catalog... in the same picture that introduced PB55... the world's first jointed Teddy bear! This got Steiffgal thinking about other named Steiff legacy pets that have stood the test of time and have not changed significantly in appearance over many decades - appearing prominently both pre- and post- war. Of course, there's Jocko the Chimp, who's design debuted in 1909. Molly the Puppy was "born" in 1925, while Waldi the Dachshund appeared on the scene in 1933. These timeless treasures remind us how good design transcends years, generations, and borders.

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on Steiff's pre-war Tom cat close to purr-fect.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I'll Tumble For You!

Talk about (s)tumbling onto a fantastic Steiff find! Robin was at the right place at the right time when she found this absolutely amazing and extremely rare early Steiff bear novelty. She shares,

"Hi Steiffgal,

Here's the item I told you about. He is pretty cool and definitely something I’ve never seen before. Before I received him, I thought he might be a skittle like the bear ones I already have, and the bear himself is very similar but he’s much bigger and the base is totally different.

The bear himself is 10" tall and about 5" elbow to elbow. The base is 5-1/2" in diameter and 2-1/2" high. The base is wood with some kind of metal weight inset, that allow him to rock and spin without falling over. It is quite heavy."

Wow, it is easy to lose balance over this delightful turn of last century toy. He's actually a wonderful example of Steiff's early Tumbling Bear. He's standing, unjointed, and made from an early plush material. His eyes are black, and his nose and mouth are embroidered in a very early style. He is mounted on a weighted, wooden hemisphere. This allows him to wobble about, like a very early "weeble" but not fall down. He left the factory holding a wooden stick between his paws and a chain connecting his nose to the stick - to resemble a circus bear of the time.  You can see traces of the stitching on his paws that would have held the stick in place. These real-life bears would travel from city to city at the turn of last century as part of roaming circus companies. Robin's tumbling bear was produced in 35 cm from 1899 through 1918 overall. 

Check out this tumbler in action here!

Robin's tumbler has a key role in the history of the development of the jointed Teddy bear as we know him today. In the late 1890's, Steiff produced a number of bear novelties. They were made to give the toys action and movement. The picture on the left shows a few examples of these early bear toys. Left to right, they include bears on platforms with bristles supporting them; a bear on a cart with metal wheels; and three tumblers in different sizes and configurations. The bears on the platforms with bristles would move when someone tapped the table on which they were standing - so they would sort of "shimmy" about.

Richard Steiff wanted to create far more playful, dynamic, and child-friendly versions of these static/moving bears, and he took this challenge very seriously. He studied the way real bears move at the zoo. Mohair, a fabric perfect for soft, durable toys, became available on a commercial level around 1902. He married those two facts, inserted his great creativity, and came up with the patterns for a series of fully jointed bears, starting with string jointing, then rod jointing, then disk jointing. The company's disk jointing system has not changed much since its introduction over a century ago.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Robin's tumbler has left you steady on your feet!

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Thumbs Up Over This Fantastic Paddy Walrus Hand Puppet!

It's all hands in the air for Steiff's great mohair puppets - especially the really rare ones. Steiff started creating these high quality puppets in the early 1900's in the likenesses of some of their most popular characters and designs. This tradition was carried out for the most part through the 1970's; after then, the company's puppets were mostly constructed from plush, plastic, and other materials. Let's take a deep dive and check out one of the most unusual post-war mohair examples and see what makes him so interesting from the product design and historical perspectives.

It's not unusual to see collectors fighting tooth and nail over this walrus hand puppet. This unjointed rarity is 20 cm tall and made from tan mohair that has been airbrushed with brown and tan spots, shading, and highlights. He has a pair of dimensional flippers; the tips are stuffed with excelsior. His oversized, very round head is solidly stuffed with excelsior. His face come to life with two black and white google style eyes, jowls, a long, brown tipped mohair beard, a pink hand embroidered nose, and two white tusks. This walrus puppet was made in this size only in 1962 as an exclusive for high end toy retailer FAO Schwarz.

This perky puppet of course is based on the company's standard line Paddy walrus design. Paddy was produced in 10, 14, and 22 cm in the 1959 through 1965 time frame. It was not unusual in the 1950's and 1960's for Steiff to retool popular items as exclusives for FAO Schwarz. By "retool," Steiffgal means making an item in a bigger or smaller size; sitting instead of standing (or vice versa); dressing a piece in a fancy outfit or giving it a distinctive accessory, or taking a basic design and producing it in another toy category. That's what you see here - the Paddy design being reinterpreted as a puppet. 

To keep things twice as nice, Steiff also produced Paddy as a pajama bag as an exclusive for FAO Schwarz from 1962 through 1972. This delightful and functional collectible was 45 cm nose to tail; made from short brown mohair or dralon plush which was carefully airbrushed on its face, flippers, and tail; and was lined in blue colored silk material. He had a zipper up his belly and was "hollow", meaning that you could indeed store your adult sized pajamas inside of his torso!

Steiffgal's Paddy puppet clearly was someone's best friend at one point in his life, which is a good thing. He has some play wear to him, his beard is quite thin, and he lacked his traditional tusks upon arrival. So the question is, how important is condition when making a Steiff purchase? Of course, everyone has their very own algorithm for this, and it always comes down to personal choices and preferences. But if it is helpful in any way, here are three key things that Steiffgal considers when making a purchase decision for her own collection.

1. Do I have this item in my collection already? If not, then it may be a good choice, all things being equal. If you already do, is this example in better shape than the one you already have? If yes, then consider purchasing it and rehoming your lesser quality example. If no, then maybe pass on the opportunity.

2. How often do examples of this item come up for sale? If the item seldom if ever appears on the secondary market, condition plays somewhat of a lesser role in the decision making process. If the item is almost never seen for sale or at auction, consider adding it to your collection. If you have seen examples of the item come up for sale two or more times in the last year or so, and the item you are considering adopting today is not in great shape, consider waiting for the next purchase opportunity.

3. How "bad" is the condition? In the case of this puppet, he was really dirty, had a small tear in his beard, and had lost his tusks to time. These things can be fixed or restored, and that's exactly what Steiffgal did here. She cleaned him, stitched his beard, and made him tusks out of white Fimo clay. (After all, its not uncommon to need custom tooth implants over the age of 50 these days!) If you (or someone you know) can fix the item's condition to a state that you are comfortable with, and/or stabilizes it so it is around for many more decades to come, then consider the purchase. Just make sure that you fully disclose these repairs if you move the piece along sometime in the future.

If the item is in really rough shape, may attract insects, or has other condition issues that make its time on Earth quite limited, perhaps consider waiting for the next big find - which is always just around the corner!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this Paddy walrus 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.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Have You Ever Seen 14 Carrot Mohair On A Steiff Rabbit?

Anyone out there have a rabbit-habit? Steiffgal does for sure, especially when it comes to Steiff's unusual vintage bunnies. And this fantastic example under discussion here is not only breathtaking to look at, but also is a bit mysterious in terms of his construction and dating. Take a look and this bouncing bundle of joy and see what you think.  Jill shares...

"Here are a few pictures of the orange rabbit I was telling you about. He is 11" in height without his ears, which are floppy. His head and front paws are jointed. He has a non-working squeaker. 

I thought maybe he was from the 1920-30s, BUT he has a raised script button, not an FF button. Could he be prewar stock that was buttoned and sold until after the war? I was not able to find him in any Steiff reference book.

Thank you for any help or insights you can provide."

Orange you glad you checked out the blog this week to see this wonderful treat?  There are three key things to note about this happy hopper.  

The first, of course, is his 14 carrot mohair.  It is bright orange with a little white tipping to it. Tipping and/or bright colors were very popular fabric choices for charming things designed and produced in the mid- to late 1920's through the 1930's at Steiff. For example, think of the company's wonderful "jellybean" colored begging and sitting rabbits and the bright orange Bully the Bulldog patterns produced during this time - and of course Petsy the Baby Bear, famous for his brown tipped fur.   

Now let's move and grove with his second feature, his jointing. According to Jill, this example is head and arm jointed.  He has a very similar presentation to the company's tail moves head rabbits, which appeared in the line from c. 1931 through 1938 overall.  This is especially true when you look at his neck area, which is somewhat elongated.  You can see an example of one of Steiff's tail moves head rabbits here on the left for comparison. This photo is from Morphy Auctions. However, Jill's rabbit is absolutely not tail moves head jointed.  

And finally, let's button up this analysis with a look at his ID. Apparently Jill's rabbit came with a raised script button.  This ID would indicate that he was produced in the c. 1952-1969 time frame. However, his color, pattern, and presentation strongly suggest that he was made prewar.

So do you feel you've just been lead down a rabbit hole? Well, Jill's orange rabbit is confusing in part, but here's Steiffgal's best take on him.  He may be an undocumented, one-off sample or prototype made in the mid-1930's and based on a little known rabbit that appeared in the Steiff line in 21 and 30 cm in 1935 through 1936 only. (Jill's rabbit is 28 cm, so it is entirely possible that he started out life at 30 cm, or shrunk a little over time, like all good things seem to do.)  This cataloged rabbit, which is pictured here on the left, was begging, at least head jointed, and produced in long, soft grey/brown mohair tipped in white.  This model is specially called out for its distinctive fabric, as noted in his cataloging. This photo is from Pfeiffer's Sortiment 1892-1943; you can click on it to make it larger. 

It's unclear exactly why Jill's rabbit was not produced on a commercial scale, but it most likely had something to do with the general business realities of the 1930's in Germany.  It is possible that his orange mohair was either too expensive or simply not available in commercial quantities necessary for manufacturing, and/or that Steiff decided that he would not sell in enough volume to justify his costs.  And what about his ID? As Jill suspects - and Steiffgal concurs - he may have been made pre-war, put into storage, and buttoned and sold in the very early 1950's, explaining his raised script style button. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Jill's fabulous rabbit has been a cheerful-earful for you. 
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