Monday, June 21, 2021

The Power Of Provenance!

What makes a fantastic Steiff find simply extraordinary? When it comes with full provenance. Provenance, which can include documents and/or photos, is "the place of origin or earliest known history of something," "the beginning of something's existence; something's origin," and/or a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality," according to Merriam-Webster. In this case, all three truly apply! Come learn more about this amazing Steiff Ted from 1905 through words and images from his original family.

This marvelous and very early Steiff cub stands 16 inches tall, is five ways disk jointed, and made from mohair that has faded from an apricot color to a light blond color. 
You can see hints of his original hue in his cracks and crevices, and places the "sun don't shine." Ted has black wooden shoe button eyes, traces of his black stitched nose, and five black claws on each of his hands and feet. His stitched mouth has been lost to time. His original owners invented in essential, finely rendered professional restorations on him to improve his stability and aesthetics; these included a light restuffing, redoing his felt pads, and restitching his claws.

This turn of last century treasure also has a distinctive physical form to him.
He has a very early shaped face and head, somewhat reflective of the Baerle style. His muzzle is long and pronounced, and a bit less sophisticated (don't take that in the wrong way!) than bears produced just a year or two later. Ted's body is very similar in looks and scale to Steiff's c. 1904 rod bears, with a rounded, almost American football shaped torso. He has very long arms with curved wrists, skinny, narrow feet, a back hump, and spoon shaped pads. He has a really teeny tiny blank button in his ear... it probably measures about 2-3 millimeters in diameter. Given all of these metrics and factors, it is Steiffgal's best guess this bear was produced at the factory in Giengen in c. 1905.

But wait... there's even MORE to love about this ancient cub.
He has a handwritten, full letter of provenance summarizing his history, as well as a photo of him with his original owner. This bear was from the family of Alice Bogart Vail Tufts who was born in NYC in 1900. This bear was given to her as a gift when she was a child, and was purchased at FAO Schwarz. Given Schwarz and Steiff have been doing business together since 1906, this makes this bear one of the earliest Steiff bears extant purchased in America! You can see this photo of Alice and her friend for life from c. 1908-1910 here on the left and the letter below; click on each to enlarge them. In the photo, which appears to have been taken in a studio, Alice is "feeding" this bear with a teaspoon. Don't you just love her HUGE hair bow? 

Steiffgal hopes this fabulous bear and his lifelong documentation has helped to demonstrate the Power of Provenance! For more about this delightful cub, check out this YouTube video on his physical and historical highlights!

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

Saturday, June 12, 2021

What's The Tattle On This Unexpected Steiff Rattle?

Don't you just love a good surprise? Like when you buy something online, and when it arrives, it's even BETTER than your wildest hopes? That just happened to Steiffgal today, and she can't wait to share this auspicious treat with you. So 'ears what's happening....

Steiffgal took a leap of faith with this purchase. The electronic pictures weren't so great, and the description wasn't glowing. Yet, it called to her!

What we have here is Steiff's late 1920s sitting rabbit. He is head jointed, about 13 cm sans ears and 19 cm with them, and made from faded purple and cream colored velvet. His pert ears are lined in wires and are posable. His darling face comes to life with oversized brown and black pupil eyes, a wide forehead, and Steiff's legacy 1920s era rabbit nose and mouth embroidery. This consists of a horizontally stitched, triangular shaped nose, outlined in a slightly different color floss, and a simple "v" shaped mouth. He retains his long trailing "f" button and bits of his red ear tag. These hoppy handfuls were produced sitting in 11, 15, and 18 cm (measured without ears) in blue, purple, maize, orange, and white velvet from 1927-1933 overall.

So just what makes this purple bunny such a royal find? Two things come to mind. 

The first is his monarchal color - lilac - which is so lovely and typical to Steiff's 1920s era production. In the late 1920s through early 1930s, Steiff made a series of "jellybean" colored velvet and mohair rabbits. In addition to this sitting, velvet version, the company also produced sitting mohair and begging velvet or mohair rabbits in playful colors including orange, pink, yellow, and light blue, among others. These were made to match the aesthetics of the "Roaring 20s." 
You can see a Steiff catalog image from 1929 featuring a number of these "jellybean jumpers" at the bottom of this blog post. Today, many of these items have faced a bit, much like this rabbit. You can usually tell their original color by looking in their cracks and crevices. In this case, the folds in his ears retained their vivid violet color.

And now let's make some noise over his second highlight. Believe it or not, this beautiful bun is also a RATTLE! Yes, when you shake him, he makes a happy plink-plinka noise! This feature was not noted in his listing, which makes it even more thrilling to discover.

To keep things moving and shaking, Steiff sometimes tucked a rattle into some of the smallest or almost smallest versions of its most popular prewar models. As far as Steiffgal can tell, there is/was no formal numbering or ID system to identify those items specifically produced with a rattle feature. In her personal collection, Steiffgal has a velvet sitting Pip dog rattle, a lying wool plush rabbit rattle, a white mohair Teddy rattle, and a velvet and mohair begging squirrel rattle. All were discovered to be rattles by accident... in the best possible way. Next time you handle a small, prewar item, shake it gently.... and you may happily surprised as well!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this princely purple rabbit reigned supremely well with you.

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

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Check Out This Purr-fectly Lovely, Time Traveling Steiff Cat!

There's no need for a fluff factor to describe how lovely this sweet kitten really is!
Cats have been a key part of Steiff's offering since the very beginning, and have evolved in their presentation and construction over time. Just a handful of cat designs bridge the company's pre- and postwar production. This excellent example just squeezes into that elite category.

Here's a tip: this darling cat is going to steal your heart! What we have here is a 14 cm version of Steiff's Fluffy cat. Fluffy is sitting, head jointed, and made in part from 
blueish/lilac tipped mohair - which is just spectacular. Her little tail wraps sweetly around her body. Fluffy's face is detailed with large deep turquoise green and black pupil eyes, a simple hand embroidered pink nose and mouth, and clear monofilament whiskers. Her claws are indicted by pink paint, and she retains her original pink silken ribbon.

And just what makes her such a time traveler? For the most part, Fluffy is usually considered to be a legacy prewar production item. Her childlike proportions and colorful presentation (and personality!) all reflect the aesthetics of the time she was born, the "roaring '20s". Fluffy appeared in 7, 10, 14, 17, 22, 25, 30, 35, and 43 from 1926-1943 overall. However, this particular model IDs include traces of a white ear tag, a raised script button, a named, red imprinted chest tag, and a US Zone tag, suggesting that she left the factory in Giengen in the very early 1950s.

Well, it turns out this pattern also tiptoed its way into Steiff's postwar production on little cat's feet. Sitting, head jointed Fluffy in the prewar tipped bluish lilac mohair pattern was produced in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1949 through 1950! The branding on this sweet girl really does align perfectly to this manufacturing timeframe.

Given her popularity, it is curious to think about why her production ended midcentury. This might have to do with her distinctive, signature material - a blueish/lilac tipped mohair. This distinctively old fashioned looking fabric may not have been produced in sufficient quantities or just "timed out" in popularity in the early 1950s. For the most part, Steiff rolled out a huge number of brand new, or updated dog, cat, bear, and animal patterns starting in the 1950s, perhaps to re-launch and re-invigorate its brand post war. Perhaps Steiff felt Fluffy's presentation was "too dated" for the midcentury marketplace which was focused on the space race, technology, television, and rock and roll music. In terms of sitting cats, Fluffy's design was slowly replaced by Susi, another favorite design that spanned the pre- and postwar periods. Susi was a line standard through 1978. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this midcentury cat has been as close to purr-fect as possible.

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Playing The Dating Game With Steiff's Precious Pre- And Post War Chimp Puppets

How do you tell how old a vintage Steiff collectible is, if it doesn't have tell-tale IDs? For Steiff items produced over a very limited time, this is easy, and can be solved through reference book or online research. However, for some legacy items that appeared in the line for decades, this can be tricky. Dating is an art, and not a science, especially when it comes to timeless items like the company's Jocko chimpanzee puppets. 

Steiff's chimp puppets have been produced almost continuously in mohair from 1911 through 1978 (with a pause in the 1940s for World War II) and are beloved universally.
Steiff's monkey puppet design was produced prewar from 1911-1943. He was called Punch Chimpanzee through 1928 and Jocko from 1929 onward. Greater variants of this puppet were produced prewar than postwar. Prewar, they were made in 17 cm in brown, blonde, and white mohair. Brown was the most popular and prolific color and appeared from 1911-1943. A larger, 28 cm brown mohair version was produced from 1912-1916. The blonde version is super rare and was produced only from 1913-1916. And the white version appeared in the line from 1925-1928 - probably coinciding with the popularity of John Galsworthy’s 1925 best-selling book, “The White Monkey." A sweet 17 cm prewar brown mohair chimp puppet is pictured here on the left. 
Steiffgal has also seen prewar Jocko puppets with the traditional mohair head and felt hands, but with a red felt or purple felt body. These were probably made to match the "colorful" aesthetic of their production time - 1921 through 1942. These are relatively rare and seldom seen on the secondary market. You check out these fun novelties here on the left, the photo is LiveAuctioneers. Steiffgal also knows of a few other examples of these felt and mohair puppets, including one that has a blue felt body.

The Jocko puppet was also a mainstay in the postwar Steiff product line through 1978.
He was produced in brown artificial silk plush in early 1949, and then again in brown mohair starting later in 1949 onward. Like the popular, standard line prewar version, he measured 17 cm and basically shared the same general detailing as his earlier ancestors. A sweet 17 cm postwar brown mohair chimp puppet is pictured here on the left. 

So how do you date a Steiff chimp puppet sans IDs? There is no one simple answer here, and every expert probably has their own set of criteria and ways of thinking about this. Steiffgal personally can think of four subtle differences that are distinctive between older versions and more recent ones. They are:

1. Finger tube. As far as Steiffgal can tell, prewar chimp puppets have a cardboard finger tube, while postwar ones have a plastic one.

2. Eyes. For the most part, Steiff used glass pupil eyes on these puppets through the early 1960s; by the end of the 1960s these were almost entirely replaced by plastic ones for health and safety reasons.

3. Fabrics. Steiff produced these monkey puppets in a number of mohair and felt colors prewar, but only in brown postwar. Steiffgal has noticed that occasionally the brown mohair on the prewar versions feels or looks a little different than "traditional" mohair. By that she means it is a bit lighter or darker in color, or has a slightly different touch or feel to it. This may be because of wartime-related production limitations or supply chain issues.

4. Appearance.
Steiffgal has noticed that the prewar versions in her collection have a more "delicate" presence to them than do the post war versions. The prewar ones tend to have longer, leaner heads with more angular felt masks; the postwar ones are a bit more rounded and childlike, with curvy felt masks. The prewar ones have gentle, nuanced painting and shading on the face and ears, while the postwar ones have darker, more prominent shading. The prewar ones have larger, almond shaped eye pockets while the postwar ones have smaller, more circular ones. And for the most part, the prewar versions have their button on the outside of their ears, and the postwar ones have their button on the inside of their ears. Here on the left you can see a closeup on the faces of a prewar Jocko puppet (on the left) and a postwar Jocko puppet (on the right) for comparison. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on pre- vs. postwar Jocko hand puppets has been more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. 

Many thanks to Marcus Sampaio of Once Upon A Puppet for his contributions to this article!

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