Saturday, January 24, 2015

Having A Ball With This Terrific Steiff Roly Poly Bear

Most Steiff collectors would take a tumble for an unexpected Steiff discovery!  And that's exactly what Steiffgal did when an inquiry from a colleague about this great and very vintage Steiff treasure landed in her email in-box.  Steady yourself and take a look at this marvelous merrymaker!

Oh baby, here we have a delightful "child-proof" item intended for the youngest Steiff enthusiasts.  This is Steiff's "Roly Poly" Bear.  Many of us grew up with "Weebles," those funny egg shaped character toys that "wobble but they don't fall down."  This Roly Poly cub is an early version of this toy idea.  

Roly Poly Bear is made from mohair with a very distinct shape - extremely round (almost ball-like) on the bottom, with a standard jointed Teddy bear head.  He has jointed arms but no legs at all.  His face is detailed with black shoebutton eyes and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth.  He retains his long trailing "f" button as his Steiff ID. Given his stitching is brown, it is safe to assume that this bear started out life with white mohair - which has aged and mellowed to darker vanilla color over time.  Overall, this pattern was produced in 16, 19, 23, and 29 cm from 1909 through 1916.  During that entire time, it was produced in blond mohair.  However, in 1912 it was also produced in white mohair in the smaller sizes.  So this is one rare bear indeed!

Steiff's soft Roly Polys are great Steiff novelty items.  Models produced over time include rabbits, cats, and dolls. But these are not the first type of "rounded bottom" products that the company produced.  It is possible that Roly Polys are based in part on the company's much older wooden bottom "tumblers," which were smaller, standard line items (usually in the sitting or begging position) that were mounted on a solid wooden hemisphere.  Like the Roly Polys, they swayed and tumbled about, but did not fall completely over - unlike their wooden cousins the "skittles" - which were designed like bowling pins to fall down!  The big difference between the Roly Polys and the tumblers was that Roly Polys had a rounded bottom that was integral to their body and design, while tumblers could be basically any shape - as the featured animal or doll was mounted to a rounded bottom.  Wooden bottomed tumblers appeared in the line as early as 1894, and were produced on and off through the early 1940's. The photo on the left shows a very early wooden bottomed felt clown tumbler; this shot was taken at Margarete Steiff's birth house in Giengen, Germany where this item is also on display.

It is interesting to note that Steiff's Roly Polys made two distinct appearances in the Steiff line.  The first was basically from around 1909 through the late 19-teens... the era of the little white Roly Poly under discussion here.  These ball-like creatures came 'round again from 1937 through 1943 overall, in the form of three designs:  a 20 cm mohair Roly Poly Teddy baby, a 20 mohair Roly Poly Rabbit, and a 25 cm felt Roly Poly clown doll.  Most memorably, an all but pristine example of the Roly Poly Teddy baby realized almost $17,000 at auction at Christie's in London in October, 2010!  This terrific Ted is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Roly Polys and tumblers been a well rounded experience for you.

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

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Climb Every Mountain For This Great Vintage Steiff St. Bernard Dog!

The excitement of finding wonderful vintage Steiff treasures is certainly universal... and all collectors love to be able to say... "Look what I found!" Check out this note from a reader from Germany who asks for advice on a possible purchase of a very vintage Steiff dog. Leonie writes: 

"Dear Steiffgal, 
Could you give me an advice for a purchase? I saw a Steiff prewar St. Bernard dog on eBay. He lost most of his fur, and his button, too. He is 28 cm high and his price is 95 euro. Should I buy him or is he too expensive? I have also sent a picture. I would appreciate an answer very much. Best regards, Leonie"

Who wouldn't climb every mountain for this wonderful mountain-loving canine?  And yes, Steiffgal says YES, GO FOR IT!  What we have here is a much loved 1930's-era Steiff sitting St. Bernard dog.  This model was made both in white and brownish-copper mohair and white and tan wool plush in 10, 14, 17, 22, 28, and 35 cm.  The mohair version appeared in the line from 1929 through 1937, and the wool plush version from 1929 through 1932.  Given this photo, it is hard to tell if Leonie's pup was originally made from mohair or wool plush.  Both versions were adorable, very puppy-like, and featured realistic fur coloring.  Each model had a dear face that was detailed with expressive brown and black pupil eyes, a black hand-embroidered nose and mouth, and a distinctive muzzle which came to life with black and pink airbrushing. These sitting St. Bernard models had their tails wrapped gently around their backsides, much like how "real" dogs sit... especially when they are on their best behavior!

The mohair version of Steiff's sitting St. Bernard dog - like several very popular models of the 1930's - was also produced as a tail-moves-head model.  The one big difference between the regular and tail-moves-head version of this design is the position of the tail.  The regular versions have wrapped tails, while the tail-moves-head versions have a stretched-out tail.  The sitting tail-moves-head version was made in 11, 15, 18, 23, 29, and 36 cm from 1931 through 1934.  These dynamic doggies in good or better condition are quite rare on the secondary market;  in 2013 Teddy Dorado sold a 29 cm version for over 7,000 euro!  And just how beloved is this moving model?  In 1993,  Steiff made a replica of their special tail-moves-head St. Bernard in in an edition size of 4,000.  This replica is pictured here on the left. 

St. Bernard dogs continue to be collector's favorites today. Many enthusiasts can't get enough of the company's models from the late 1940's through the 60's, and it is easy to see why! It is interesting to note that the first St. Bernard to appear after the factory reopened for business post World War II was a larger standing mohair model on wheels. He was based on the company's pre-war design and was manufactured in 43, 50, 60, and 62 cm from 1949 through 1957. A slightly simplified standing model, also based on the prewar design, was available in 10, 14, and 22 cm from 1953 through 1957.  These early standing post-war St. Bernards are pictured here on the left.

In the early 1960's, Steiff again updated their standard line St. Bernard and even gave him a name for the first time - Bernie. Bernie was made from mohair and available sitting or standing on all fours. New Bernie had a different pattern of facial airbrushing, a chunkier build, and a smaller scale tail; standing Bernie also featured a cask attached to his collar. Standing Bernie is pictured here on the left. Overall, sitting Bernie was produced in 12 and 22 cm from 1963 through 1970 while standing Bernie was made in 22 cm from 1964 through 1966. In about 1970, Steiff also produced a most impressive display sized St. Bernard, perhaps as an exclusive for the high end toy retailer FAO Schwarz. And, since then, St. Bernards have always been a standard feature in the Steiff line, mostly appearing in large size plush models for children's fun and play. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's wonderful legacy St. Bernards 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, January 4, 2015

Time Travelling Steiff Auction Highlights - Part 2!

Last week, we took a peek back in time and checked out a few auction highlights from a long ago sale. The event was held on Saturday, April 25, 1998 in Germany and managed by auctioneer Horst Poestgens. Steiffgal recently purchased the catalog from this sale and was just floored at some of the amazing treasures it featured. Here are three more absolute standouts from this wonderful Steiff event.

You can't help but think, "oh, baby" with this first auction highlight under review today. This lot, #49, is cataloged in part as... "Prototype of a Steiff snap-joint teddy baby with neck mechanism, 1936. Pre-war button in ear, corn colored mohair, velvet paws and soles, brown-black painted back glass eyes, turnable arms (discs), nose embroidered vertically with light brown tread, open felt mouth, lower jaw notchlessly movable via a built-in hinge, legs movable by snap joint mechanism, excelsior stuffed, head turnable from tail by means of neck mechanism, known from Steiff (like the circus bears or snap joint Dicky bears from the 1930's), standing 30 cm/12", sitting 24 cm/9-1/2", very nice pot bellied bear shape.  Very attractive friendly expression.  This teddy is the only known specimen in the finish worldwide (sample)!! He dates from the time and trial series the snap joint Dicky of 1936." 

Let's snap to it and see what make this little love such a remarkable bear. In the 1930's, Steiff designed and produced a number of items capable of mechanical movements. This started with a tail-moves-head feature. Several of the most popular dogs, rabbits, and cats of the time were made with this detailing. Steiff then took this "movement momentum" one step further by experimenting with just a handful of "snap" style items, which had internal metal joints that allowed these top-tier toys further flexibility in their body positioning. As far as readily available references and sources reveal, Steiff officially produced four such "snap" models: a 30 cm blonde Snap Dicky (pictured here on the left, photo from Christie's), a 30 cm brown Circus bear, a 25 or 28 cm grey or white Circus Elephant, and four variations of a very rare 28 cm "Dream Baby No. 103" doll.  

The Horst Poestgens Snap Teddy Baby in some respects looks a little bit like a Snap Dicky. It is interesting to note that like Snap Dicky, this Snap Teddy Baby also has velvet paw pads. Teddy Baby models from this period in this size were usually made with felt pads.  However, unlike Snap Dicky, this Snap Teddy Baby's pads do not have stenciled footprints, are round and toddler-like, and lack snap fingers and toes.  There is precedence for previously undocumented snap style items to appear on the secondary market; in 2010, Christie's sold a petite 18 cm Snap Dicky bear (pictured here on the left, photo from Christie's).  So, it is entirely possible, given the exploratory and evolutionary nature of its development, the limited number of snap items produced, and the fact that previously unknown snap-style examples occasionally surface in the secondary market, that this Snap Teddy Baby is indeed an utterly charming, insanely rare, one of a kind, uncataloged prototype.

Although Snap Teddy Baby is indeed a hard act to follow, this next auction highlight also gives a terrific performance.  This lot, #57, is cataloged as... "Somersault chimpanzee, Steiff, circa 1910, button in ear and remains of white tag, cinnamon colored mohair, light brown felt face, ears, hands, and feet, the thumbs on both hands expertly repaired (hardly visible), right hand likewise on back of hand, implanted painted back glass eyes, somersault clockwork functions, absolute mint condition, very rare, sitting size 23 cm/9 inches."  

Doesn't this sweetie just make your head spin?  Steiff's tumblers are all time collector's favorites, and seldom appear on the secondary market in delightful, working condition.   This somersaulting chimp example is actually only the second one Steiffgal has ever seen for sale.  These tumbling treasures are activated by an internal clockwork mechanism and literally do somersaults when their arms are wound up. Steiff produced several types of "purzel" animals, including bears, monkeys, and elephants, and a few doll models, including Eskimos and clowns.  Steiff's somersaulting chimp was produced in 23, 26, and 36 cm overall from 1909 through 1919.  

All of Steiff's purzel tumblers are based on popular standard line items of the time with slight tweaks to their design and assembly.  These items tend to have their arms attached slightly lower on their shoulders than their non-tumbling brothers.  And, the arms can sometimes look slightly less "flush" with the body than with the static versions. Tumblers are also significantly heavier than their non-tumbling counterparts, due to their internal metal mechanisms. You can see the physical differences here with the picture on the left of a regular Steiff bear (L) and the tumbling version (R); both bears are 28 cm and were produced in the 1906-09 time frame.

Steiffgal's just quackers over this final auction highlight from this Horst Poestgens auction.  This lot, #82, is cataloged as... "Doll duck pair, Steiff, 1920's, button in ear and white paper tag, article no. 28, linen body with loosely sewn on wings, yellow mohair head, wing tips and back of felt, painted brown claws, pretty head coloring, turning head, orange felt beaks, white wool pom pom on head, black shoe button eyes, original felt/cotton clothes, slightly used condition, interesting early collector's item."

Steiffgal has a very special place in her heart for Steiff's 1930 - 1950's era dressed animal dolls, and these are no exception.  According to Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book, these duck dolls were produced in 14, 22, and 28 cm from 1931 through 1935 overall.  Each size was detailed in one of six styles of clothing, which included a sports shirt and blue trousers (probably the boy duck in this case), pajamas, red patterned trousers, a swimsuit, a salmon red dress (probably the girl duck in this case), or a blue playsuit.  Another more pristine example of the company's duck-doll is pictured here on the left; the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1894-1942 Sortiment. It is interesting to note that the duck in the red shorts does not have a white pom pom on his head, while the pair on offer do.  Another point to consider about the duck couple is their identification.  The cataloging specifically mentioned a white paper tag. However, technically, the white paper tag was only used through 1925/26, and these dolls were made in the early 1930's.  As such, they "should" have red ear tags. In this case, it is entirely possible that Steiff had a bunch of extra "28" imprinted white ear tags in inventory, and simply used the white tags in the place of the red tags for efficiency.   

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of three amazing Steiff lots inspires you to find some wonderful Steiff treasures at auction in 2015!

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Time Travelling Steiff Auction Highlights - Part 1!

Nothing is better than studying precious Steiff items in person, but that is not always possible for many reasons. A great - and budget friendly - way to learn about exceptional button-in-ear rarities is through auction catalogs. In addition to collecting vintage Steiff, you probably won't be surprising to learn that Steiffgal also collects auction catalogs, both for entertainment and research purposes. Most recently, she spent just a few dollars on a relatively vintage catalog from 1998. A picture of the catalog's cover is featured here on the left. The auction was held on Saturday, April 25, 1998 in Germany; the auctioneer was Horst Poestgens. Little did she know how many treasures the catalog featured! Here are three highlights from this long-ago sale; in next week's blog she will describe three more. Steiffgal is certain that they will make you want to turn the clock back to 1998 as well!
This first auction highlight is truly an original! This lot, #33, is cataloged as... "Original Teddy, Steiff, circa 1905/06, button in ear, grey mohair (type Richard Steiff-Teddy), black shoe button eyes, black embroidered nose and claws (missing on left paw), expertly restored hole in felt on left paw, growler defect, long bent arms, expressive humped back, pointed muzzle, Teddy has no mohair loss, good condition, an interesting collector' item, standing size: 35 cm/14"."

 And - given that he is as described -  just what makes this such an incredibly rare bear? His color, construction, and proportions suggest he is one of the absolute earliest disk jointed bears created by the company. And it is quite possible that Richard Steiff himself directly had a hand in bringing him to life! Steiffgal once read that Richard Steiff made his early prototype bears in grey mohair as that was the color of material at hand - and that the grey mohair was originally purchased for the manufacture of elephants. She has not been able to confirm that through other sources, but the theory would make sense from the logistics and R&D perspectives. According to the Cieslik's Button in Ear book, in reference to these early grey bears, "Only two examples of the bear are known to have been made in gray plush. It is possible that this color was used for a few hand made samples and not for an actual series."

Steiffgal thinks this second auction highlight deserves a "best of show" nod as well! This lot, #38, is cataloged as... "Wolf Pomeranian, Steiff, 1930's, button in ear and remains of red woven tag, long mohair white, white short mohair lower legs, inner ears and mouth, standing, turnable head, painted back glass eyes, black embroidered nose and claws, punch growler, dog in mint condition, standing size: 30 cm/12"."

Steiff has a very long history of manufacturing Spitz or Pomeranian dogs, but this example is truly in a class by itself! And that is because Steiffgal can't find any reference to it at all in the standard Steiff reference materials. His larger size, oversized eyes, and his facial/muzzle construction are quite distinct from the company's other Spitz models from 1902 through the mid-1940's time frame. His long mohair forehead and sweet expression give him a youthful, innocent look; one that was quite prevalent in Steiff designs of the late 1920's. Because he does indeed have traces of his red ear tag, it is entirely possible that he was designed and produced at the same time as the beloved - and childlike - Teddy Clown, Teddy Baby, Bully, and Molly models.

Today's last auction highlight is pretty as a postcard. Literally! This lot, #66, is simply cataloged as... "Original Steiff postcard with Steiff felt dolls, motive, Dutch village, 1912, very good condition, very rare."

Steiff's wonderful dolls, bears, and animals have always been as attractive in print as they are in real life. Steiff has used this to their advantage in terms of advertising, marketing, and promotions from about the early 19-teens onward. The company's charming center-seamed felt "children" and "student" dolls were used in many classic photo shoots including circuses, skiing vignettes, cultural and "small town" local settings, toy rooms, Christmas celebrations, and other playful and imaginative displays. These shots were intended as illustrations for catalogs and postcards, among other printed items. (If this is of interest to you, check out the book Advertising Art of Steiff Teddy Bears & Playthings by Dottie Ayers and Donna Harrison. It features many of these beloved images and is one of Steiffgal's favorites.)

The postcard itself is delightful in so many ways - the theme, layout, composition, and attention to lifelike detail are simply charming and universally appealing. However, on a more personal note, Steiffgal noticed that the card also features two Dutch children dolls that she has in her own personal collection - Alida and Harry, who are pictured here on the left. Alida, who is featured in the front and relative center with a boy and a rabbit on the postcard, was made from 1909 through 1919 in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm. She is described as "felt, jointed, Dutchwoman, original costume, Sunday best." Harry, pictured in the left of the postcard talking to another boy, was made from 1908 through 1925 in 28, 35, 43, 50, and 60 cm. He is described as "felt, jointed, Dutch fisherman, original costume." By "original costume" Steiff means that the dolls are dressed in apparel that is traditional to a country - in this case, the Netherlands. And by "Sunday best", that would imply "fancier" clothing for going to Church on Sunday, which makes sense in the case of Alida given her elaborately embroidered dress bodice and red cuffs.

Steiffgal hopes this review of some long-ago auction highlights has been as fun as a time travel adventure!  And be on the lookout for more additional highlights from this great catalog in next week's blog edition!

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