Saturday, October 14, 2017

Things Are Spot on With This Delightful Pre-War Steiff Giraffe!

Steiffgal's gonna stick her neck out here and say that you will undoubtedly develop a plush-crush on this week's blog friend. She bought him based on a photo from a sale in Europe, as something about him really called to her. As a fellow collector, she is certain you know that feeling all too well! So how about following a tall order and checking him out?

Things are spot on with this delightful pre-war Steiff giraffe. He is 35 cm tall, unjointed, and made from light orange wool plush. He is hand spotted with darker orange spots. His mane is made from short light orange mohair, while the tip of his tail is made from longer orange mohair. His face comes to life with two pert horns, black button eyes, a painted orange mouth, and ears lined in peach colored felt. This pattern was made in 28 and 35 cm from 1936 through 1943.  

Despite his simple and charming appearance, this delightful example is actually outstanding in two ways. 

First, material matters. Giraffes are a legacy pattern for Steiff. Giraffes were featured in the company's debut 1892 catalog. Wheeled and simple standing ones were available in sizes ranging from 17 cm to 65 cm overall through 1909. This pattern was updated in 1909 and produced in an even greater spectrum of sizes - from 28 to 260 cm through 1942 overall. The larger sizes were designed for riding and were constructed with a stabilizing internal metal frame and detailed with steering and leather saddles. Except for a lone 110 cm example made in 1933, all of these gorgeous giraffes were made of felt.  Given the elegant lines of these animals, as well as their need for precise spot detailing, this makes perfect sense from the manufacturing, economic, and design perspectives. 

So then, what's the big deal with this little guy? This giraffe under discussion today is really the first non-felt version produced as a standard line item for any length of time. And its fabric - wool plush - aligns perfectly with its period of manufacture. Its detailing materials - felt on the ears, and mohair on the mane and tail tip - are used as minimally as possible, yet really add to the giraffe's appeal and sense of quality. Felt and mohair were beginning to become less and less available for toymaking in the mid-1930's due to geo-political reasons. As such, Steiff was very careful with the limited quantities of these upscale fabrics they had available to them. Here on the left is the catalog entry for this giraffe in Steiff's Hauptkatalog (main catalog) dated D 1938/39.

Giraffe's second fantastic feature is a heavy-metal favorite. His "knopf" is the most unusual BRASS colored Steiff button. It is the short trailing "f" style and 6 mm in diameter. This button appeared on some Steiff items from 1933/34 through 1943. This are pretty uncommon; this is only the second item in Steiffgal's collection of vintage Steiff treasures bearing this distinctive trademark. Most of the time, for items produced in the mid 1930's through early 1940's time frame, Steiff used a silver colored short trailing "f" button.  You can see this brass button, with traces of the yellow ear tag, here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this delightful tall drink of water has whetted your appetite for Steiff's late pre-war wool plush rarities. 

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

This Mystery is More Fun Than A Barrel Full Of (Steiff) Monkeys!

Steiffgal goes bananas over interesting Steiff mysteries! So she was delighted to receive an inquiry from a dear friend who asks about a new chimp-champ he recently welcomed into his hug. Would it be possible to figure out the origins of this mystery monkey? Tim from the East Coast writes,

"Hi Steiffgal,

I just wanted to know if this monkey was made by Steiff, and how old he might be. He’s in excellent condition and is fully jointed. He has excelsior stuffing and I believe is centered seamed. He measures 23 cm sitting and 33 cm standing. He has no evidence of a button in ear or a chest tag. To me, he looks more like one that might have been shown in the in older Sortiment volume riding a tricycle.

Best, Tim"

Well, let's dive right into this monkey business. It is Steiffgal's best guess that this primate was not made by Steiff. Steiffgal does think that he was designed after Steiff's beloved Jocko chimp pattern but has subtle design differences. These variances are different enough that they probably avoid patent or pattern infringement, but small enough that the average consumer would not notice them. They include detailing on the the monkey's felt face, ears, hands, and feet. For comparison, let's take a look at these features compared to a known, "standard" Steiff Jocko that measures 25 cm sitting and 32 cm standing.

Face: Steiff's 25 cm sitting Jocko monkeys have open mouths, and their white mohair chins are far more prominent than the one on Tim's monkey. There is also too much "distance" between Tim's monkey's nostrils and his mouth line - these proportions are also not typical Steiff. The Steiff example is pictured here on the left, the "mystery monkey" is on the right.

Ears: Steiff's 25 cm sitting Jockos with felt ears have distinctive "earlobes" which are rounded at the bottom and not sewn into the head. They also have airbrushed highlights and black edging. This mystery monkey's ears are not typically shaped and seamed, and its earlobes appear to be flush to the head. The Steiff example is pictured here on the left, the "mystery monkey" is on the right.

Hands and feet: Steiff's 25 cm sitting Jockos have elegant felt hands and feet, with long, narrow thumbs and big toes. The hands and feet before the digits are graceful and lean, and the digits lie flat and are unstuffed. They are detailed with fingernails. Tim's monkey has "thick" hands, feet, and digits. The Steiff example is pictured here on the left, the "mystery monkey" is on the right.

Steiff's Jockos have a long and wonderful legacy. Jocko was basically "born" in 1909, making him one of the longest running patterns produced by Steiff in their history. It was in this year that Steiff updated a version of their basic 1903 model monkey towards an even more lifelike appearance. This new chimp design featured natural body proportions, as well as detailed felt hands, feet and facial features. One key design element on larger models of the new chimp was in the inclusion of felt eye pockets. This meant that his glass pupil eyes were surrounded by raised felt eyelids; they were not simply sewn onto his face as before. Additionally, larger sized chimps also sported a white mohair chin. The updated pattern was produced in 15 sizes, ranging from 10 to 90 cm, at various times from 1909 through 1943. Post war, Jocko was one of the very first items produced; this model appeared in the line continuously again from 1948 through the 1990's.  Here on the left you can see a collection of post-war Jockos in various sizes. 

Given his longevity, actually identifying the production date of a Jocko sans a button or other ID is quite hard. This is because his basic pattern really didn't change over about eight decades. Some collectors think the older, prewar models have a more "soulful" look, but that is more subjective than objective. A more objective metric would have to be an example's eyes, with glass eyes found on "earlier" Jockos and plastic eyes on "later" Jockos.  Here on the left, you can see three "earlier" Jockos, dating from the mid-1930's through around 1950. 

One final note on early Steiff Jocko monkeys. In reality, Steiffgal finds chimps to be one of the absolute hardest animals to identify if they are not Steiff. Elephants are a close second! A version of a brown mohair monkey with felt features was produced by practically every fine European plush company from the 19-teens onward, given how popular monkeys are/were. These happy primates appealed to both boys and girls as playthings, and to adults as companions as well as home decorative items. As such, when you are looking to identity an unbranded mohair "mystery monkey," always especially study the felt areas of the piece, usually the face, ears, hands, and feet. These are the few areas that toy companies could "tweak" to differentiate their products from Steiff's world-class offerings. It is Steiffgal's best guess that Tim's monkey is from the c. 1920's or 1930's, and was produced in Europe, but can't get more specific than that.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Jockos and their lookalike buddies has not thrown a monkey wrench into your collecting endeavors.  

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Purr-haps You Recognize This Unusual Steiff Cat ?

Guess who just walked in on little cat's feet? This charming Steiff kitten! Do you recognize her classic design? She's from a very interesting production era at Steiff. Let's take a closer look at this pretty kitty with an eye towards her period features and place on the Steiff cat "family tree."

This purr-fectly lovely girl is an early version of Steiff's Susi cat. She is 17 cm tall, sitting, and head jointed. Susi is made from artificial silk plush. Her muzzle, front feet, and chest area are (were) white while her body, head, and tail are (were) grey. The grey areas are hand airbrushed with black stripes. Her face comes to life with back painted green and black slit pupil glass eyes and a pink embroidered nose and mouth. Her clear monofilament whiskers and her red claws have been lost to time. You can feel the squeaker in her belly, but it is not working now. This version of Susi was produced in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1948 to 1949 only.

Let's paws for a moment and take a peek at the history of this fabulous feline. Steiff debuted its original Susi cat in 1936. Prewar, she was produced in mohair in 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm through 1943. In Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment, she is described as "mohair plush, gray tabby, sitting, very pretty model, round shape." It is very unusual to find subjective or "flattering" descriptions in the Sortiment books as they are almost always entirely factual and literal. So Susi's design must have really caught someone's eye!

Given cats do have nine lives, and taking into account her date of introduction, it is possible Susi's updated pattern was designed to replace the company's legacy sitting, head jointed "Fluffy" cat pattern. Fluffy was introduced in the mid-1920's and reflected the "roaring 20's" aesthetic ideal of that era. Items designed for that period were often "fat, fluffy, and feminine," and sometimes featured "unnatural" color - like the blue on Fluffy's backside. But the times had clearly changed in the interim. You can see a photo of Fluffy here on the left; this example is from the collection of Shelley Smith.  

Post war, Susi remained the cat's meow.   She was produced in mohair from 1949 through 1978 overall in 10, 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm. Almost 40 years onward, she is still a classic favorite, with the smallest versions especially in demand among Steiff and doll collectors alike.

Now let's get into the meow-mix of Susi's period features.  This Susi is made from artificial silk plush.  This substitute fabric was used in the place of mohair during times of material shortages at Steiff.  It was seen on popular line items from the mid-1930's through the very early 1950's - just before, and just after WWII.  It is safe to say that Steiff items made from artificial silk plush were produced during very difficult political and economic times in Germany. Artificial silk plush wears out and get dirty easily, so its initial shine and good looks fade almost immediately. It is not a very durable or attractive fabric in the long run.  However, it was available for toy production, and to their credit, Steiff always found a way to get their job done - making fine playthings for children. 

This Susi cat's construction also has several "old fashioned" details that are not seen on later versions of this pattern.  These include a prominent white "triangular" shaped forehead and inset white front feet.  It is possible that these seams were eliminated for cost and labor saving reasons as the design evolved over time.  And early Susi's - like this one - were made from distinctly grey and white fabrics, while those produced years or decades later were all white with grey and black airbrushing to produce the same "fur" effects. 

And to button up this discussion, it's important to note artificial silk plush Susi's ID.  She proudly wears the somewhat rare STEIFF all capital letters button.  This button appeared approximately in the 1947 through 1952 timeframe, perfectly aligning with her actual production time.   
Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's rare early post war silk plush Susi cat has you feline groovy.

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Picturing A Perfect Steiff Arrival

It goes without saying that Steiff is first class in every way.  That includes the company's remarkable and very lifelike displays from the first quarter of the 20th century.  Check out this beautifully preserved black and white postcard from 1912. (You can click on it to make it larger.) It pictures a wonderful vignette of society travelers on the go.  Do you recognize a few familiar faces in it?

This pretty as a picture postcard above shows travelers emerging from a coach. The bottom text translates roughly to: "Artistic Toy Hall 1", "Arrival of the post coach" and "designed by Albert Scholpsnies." The back of the card is imprinted with a few words which translate roughly to "Bavarian Business 1912 in Munich Official Postcard." This piece of ephemera is probably from a trade fair held in 1912 in Munich; it is not clear whether Steiff participated as an attendee at the show or just provided this breathtaking and impressive display which graced the entrance to the toy section of this event. The presentation was credited to Albert Scholpsnies, a very creative and innovative designer who worked at Steiff as a freelancer on and off through the late 1920's. He specialized in product development and design; large fair, window, and event displays; and novel graphic design.

Size defies with this impressive display. In order to try and identify the items in the shot, it is important to figure out the actual scale of the display.  Starting in 1912, Steiff created a series of "upscale" adult dolls that were particularly well dressed and accessorized.  These were only produced in 50 cm.  It is Steiffgal's best guess that the both the man and woman emerging from the coach are these dolls, and are indeed 50 cm tall.  So this overall display is quite large!  Given that assumption is true, here are the items featured in this presentation.

These are most likely a 50 cm version of the company's Horse or Circus Horse design. These lifelike and elegant patterns appeared in the line from around 1911 through 1934 in sizes ranging from 50 to 100 cm. They were made in felt or mohair and produced with or without wheels. Their colors included white, brown and white, all brown, and other combinations. All were detailed with an open mouth, perfectly to scale saddles and headwear, and mohair manes and tails. (The photo on the left shows one version of Steiff's original Circus Horse, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.)

The horse's attendant: 
Given his scale, distinctive footwear, and cutaway style coat,  it is possible that this attendant is based on the company's 43 cm "Green" doll pattern. This finely tailored doll was produced as part of the company's amazingly detailed and comprehensive "Circus" series which launched around 1911. Green appeared in the line from 1911 through 1919. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Green, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.)
The lady:  
Given her long and flowing dress and big bonnet, the lady is most likely a custom-dressed version of one of the the company's 50 cm "society women." These included Beatrice, Betty, Sidonie, and Fanny. These dolls all were gorgeously dressed, with long, implanted hair, and eye-catching hats. Unlike the lady featured in the display, Beatrice, Betty, Sidonie, and Fanny all wore more "form fitting," not flowy, outfits. Steiff's society ladies appeared in the line from 1912 through 1919 overall. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Fanny, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.)

The gentleman helping the lady out of the coach: 
Given his dramatic coat and large hat, the gentleman is most likely a custom-dressed version of one of the the company's 50 cm "society men." These included Eduard, Ferdinand, Manfred, and Gustav. Like the society ladies, these men dolls donned tailor-made outfits sewn from the finest fabrics and wore felt hats.  Some even carried walking sticks! However, unlike the gentleman featured in the display, Eduard, Ferdinand, Manfred, and Gustav wore more traditional outerwear. These marvelous men appeared in the line from 1912 through 1917 overall. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Manfred, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 

The coach driver:  
Given his scale, big black boots, and top hat decorated with a large plume, it is possible that the coach driver is a based on the company's 43 cm "Circus Director" doll. Like "Green," this formally dressed doll was produced as part of the company's legendary "Circus" series. The Circus Director appeared in the line form 1911 through 1912. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Circus Director, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 
Attendant on the ladder:  
Given his scale, cap design, and big beard, it is possible that this attendant is based in part on the company's 35 cm "Matrose" sailor doll. This wonderful pattern is one of the company's earliest, launching in 1904 and appearing through 1918. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's Matrose, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 
Attendant to the left of the gentleman: 
Given his scale, great footwear, formal coat, and color (Steiffgal believes he may be African American), it is possible that this attendant is a based on the company's 35 cm "Negro Footman." This incredibly rare design, amongst the company's early efforts to capture different nationalities, appeared in 1913 only. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's Negro Footman, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 

Attendant to the right of the gentleman: Given his scale, white apron, hat, scale, and "workers" outfit, it is possible that this attendant is a based on the company's 35 cm "Host" doll. This was one of the company's "craftsman" dolls, produced in 35 and 50 cm from 1912-1920 overall. The series also included a stone cutter, tailor, butcher, and shoe maker; all had facial hair and were dressed in lose fitting, "everyday" clothes.  (The photo on the left shows Steiff's Host, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 
Rolling along, it is also interesting to note that Steiff also used the general theme of this coach display in other advertising. Here above you can see a simplified version of this grand coach arrival which was used for print promotion. (You can click on it to make it larger.) This advertisement appeared on May 23, 1912 in a weekly German illustrated news magazine called Illustrirte Zeitung. The photo is from D. Ayers & D. Harrison's Advertising Art of Steiff, Teddy Bears & Playthings. 

Steiffgal hopes you enjoyed this time-traveling adventure based on Steiff's early and original transportation-themed displays. 

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