Saturday, September 15, 2018

Playing the Name Game With This Adorable Vintage Steiff Bear


Looks can be deceiving! This sweet vintage Steiff bear looks sad or thoughtful, but he's actually just trying to tug at your heartstrings. At least that's what Steiffgal thinks! This petite prince joined Steiffgal's hug over the summer, and she couldn't be happier about it! Let's take a look at his history and design and see what makes him so interesting from the collector's perspective.

What we have here is a smaller scaled Steiff Dicky bear. He measures 23 cm standing and is fully jointed. His body is made from blonde mohair and his muzzle is made from white mohair. His dear face comes to life with brown and black glass pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. His mouth is somewhat asymmetrical, adding to his appeal and personality. Unlike the majority of Dicky bears, this particular example has plain tan colored felt paw pads and not stencilled velvet ones. 

Dicky was produced in blond, white, and brown in a wide range of sizes. All were five ways jointed and had the same distinctively shaped and constructed muzzle. His pattern was specifically designed to be as cost, labor, and material efficient as possible, given that he was launched during a period of economic depression and widespread unemployment in Germany. The blond and white versions were mohair and were made in 15, 29, 23, 25, 30, 32, 35, 43, 45, 50, 65, and 75 cm (measured standing) from 1930 to 1937 overall. A dark brown wool plush version was made in 25, 32, and 43 cm (measured standing) from 1935 thorough 1941. This particular Dickie has a long trailing "f" button and tiny traces of a red ear tag, dating him to the beginning of this production timeline.

One thing that has always been interesting to Steiffgal about this pattern is its name. Some of Steiff's bears and animals started having "endearing" names in the 1920's. Before that, most things were just cataloged as their species or breed. For example, Petsy the Baby Bear, Molly the Puppy, Bully the Bulldog, and and Charly the King Charles Spaniel all debuted during the "roaring '20s." A quick search of the most popular German boy names in 1930 reveals that "Richard" was the 50th most common of the year. So chances are, this bear was not named for popular cultural appeal. Steiffgal wonders if perchance he was named endearingly for Richard Steiff, the genius who invented the fully jointed Teddy bear as we know him today, for Steiff around 1903? Naming a model for a member of the Steiff family is not without precedence; it is thought that the company's adorable Susi cat, introduced in 1936, was also named for a Steiff family relative. Only Dickie knows for sure!

It's also a clothes call with Dicky's new wardrobe. As pictured above, Dicky arrived from overseas naked, and clearly had been someone's best friend for a number of years - given his somewhat "threadbear" presentation! Sometimes, if this is the case, it is a good idea to give a new vintage friend some protective clothing. As such, Steiffgal's sister jumped into action and handmade this sweet boy his trousers, red t-shirt, and grey sweater. Notice how the button on his cardigan matches the mushroom design on his pants! Isn't he stylin'? A shout-out to Steiff Sis for such a great job.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this pensive Dicky has been thought provoking for you.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Your Jaw Will Drop When You See This Turn Of Last Century Steiff Tom Cat!

Mouth agape! That was exactly Steiffgal's reaction when this turn-of-last-century rarity finally made its way into her Steiff collection. Like every Steiff enthusiast, Steiffgal also has a wish list, and this terrific Tom had been on it forever - until now! Check out this cover boy (really - and more about that later!) and see what makes this fantastic feline so interesting from the historical and design perspectives.

They say orange is the new black, but sometimes being old is in vogue, too! Here on the left is Steiff's original Tom Cat in the smallest sized produced. He is standing, unjointed, and made from jet black velvet. Measured vertically, he's 8 cm from the top of his head to his toes and 10 cm from the top of his tush to his toes. His thin, almost straight tail measures 8 cm long and .5 cm wide - and even more astonishingly - it is stuffed with excelsior! How did they do that, given its scale and configuration? Tom Cat wears his original silken bow and bell. This pattern was produced in 10, 14, and 17 cm from 1903 through 1919 in black velvet, and in 14 and 17 cm in white velvet from 1906 through 1908. This example retains his original blank button, dating his production to around 1905 or 1906.

Face it, you can't look away from Tom Cat's distinctive head design and construction. He comes to life with tiny, triangular shaped ears, black seed bead eyes backed in yellow felt, and an open, pink felt lined mouth. The lining is held in place with tiny pinkish-tan colored stitches - perhaps to resemble teeth? You can see where the seamstress tied the knot of pinkish-tan thread for these stitches on the cat's chin area. This is a tiny but interesting detail; it is not unusual to see an embroidery thread  knot on the face of an early Steiff bear or animal. Tom Cat also retains a number of his clear, monofilament whiskers. One could say he has a face only a (Steiff) mother could love! You can see all of these delicate details on the photo trio above. 

This Tom Cat is truly a headliner - from both aesthetic and well as historical angles. This petite treat was featured in an important photograph from the company's 1904/04 product line catalog. But what's so special about that? It's the same picture that debuted PB55... the world's first jointed Teddy bear! Timing is everything, eh? A snapshot of this catalog page is shown here on the left; you can spot the arched back Tom Cat a little to the right of center standing on top of a donkey on wheels. Given the scale of the items in the image, it is Steiffgal's best guess that the Tom Cat pictured is the 17 cm version. What you can't see on the photo is the cat's intricate mouth construction, but you can make out his bow and bell. This picture is from the Cieslik's Button in Ear The History of the Teddy Bear and His Friends reference book, published in 1989.

Now let's paws and look at the details noted on the photo. According to the hand written notes along the bottom of the page, these original black velvet Tom Cats were 14.40 Deutchmark per twelve. That is VERY ROUGHLY equivalent to $0.30 each in 1903.  This translates to approximately $8.59 in today's US dollars, given inflation and other financial and economic factors. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of this rare Tom Cat has left you on your toes for your next great find!

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Care to Rock and Roll With This Adorable Antique Steiff Tumbler?

You are sure to take a tumble over this week's featured Steiff rarity! Steiff is well known for producing novelty items based on some of its most popular designs, and this hare-raising piece is a perfect example of that. So steady yourself and check out this wonderful - and totally adorable - Steiff tumbling rabbit.

This bun is truly designed for fun! The rabbit is 12 cm tall and made from velvet. This measurement takes into account the vertical height from his head to his feet and does not include his ears. He is begging and unjointed. His body and presentation are quite simplified, but his form is unmistakably that of a rabbit. His face comes to life with black button eyes, a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, and clear monofilament whiskers. He is airbrushed with a few brown spots here and there. His bow and bell are original to him. Rabbit sits upon a naturally colored wooden hemisphere which is detailed with a decorative groove around its perimeter. The wooden base is really heavy and shows little wear. Rockin' rabbit retains its tiny long trailing "F" button in ear as his Steiff ID. This novelty was made in velvet in 12 and 17 cm from 1901-1917 overall.

Given its popularity, the number of items using this  basic "heavy bottomed" pattern multiplied like jackrabbits in the Steiff line starting in the late 19th century. It first appeared in felt as early as 1892 and was produced over time in white, spotted white (like this tumbler), grey, black, or brown in sizes ranging from 10 to 28 cm. It was made in a number of other materials, including velvet, short pile plush, wool plush, or mohair through the end of World War I. Some came with a basket on their backs (perhaps to resemble the Easter Rabbit?), and a few of the smallest velvet versions were produced as pincushions or rattles.

This very vertical design was also perfect to mount on the tops of wooden skittles. Steiff made rabbit skittles in both felt and velvet. Sets for the American market featured 10 pins while those for the European market had 9. These sets consisted of 8 or 9 begging rabbits and one rabbit king pin dressed in a red felt top coat and crown. All were mounted on wooden plinths with the king pin on a slightly higher platform. Felt sets appeared from 1892-1912 and the velvet ones from 1901-1916. The picture on the left is from James D. Julia; this set sold for $7,110 in 2014.

Given the history and longevity of this early begging rabbit pattern, it is not terribly unusual to find examples that never had a button as they were produced around 1904 or earlier. As most collectors are aware, Steiff debuted its now ubiquitous branding in 1904 with their "elephant" style button. 

This basic bunny pattern is also a best seller for another important reason. He also represents one of Steiff's earliest, and most important licensing agreements - that of "Peter Rabbit!" in 1902, Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit became a worldwide sensation due to its simple, universal story and beautiful illustrations. Ms. Potter created a little Peter Rabbit doll and registered it in the London patent office. Despite numerous attempts, she could not find a manufacturer in England to produce her toy. Steiff got wind of this, and soon became the producer of the "official" Peter Rabbit doll for the English market. The company took their basic rabbit pattern and added a felt topcoat and slippers to his design. Steiff's Peter Rabbit appeared in the company's product line in velvet or wool plush in sizes ranging from 10 to 28 cm from about 1904-1919 overall. Today, an early and all original Steiff Peter Rabbit can easily generate big four figures at auction.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this great tumbling rabbit has been a windfall for you.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Shake A Leg And Check Out This Precious Steiff Rattle Lamb!


How novel! That's how Steiffgal felt when she came across this tiny Steiff treasure at a friend's house recently. It goes without saying that he is adorable, officially qualify as "antique," and has a distinctly playful personality. But more on that later! He lives on a shelf in a beautifully curated collection in New England, along with many fine dolls, bears, and Steiff friends. Take a look at this happy handful and see what would have him a premier plaything more than a century ago.

There's no need to count sheep over this bitty barnyard buddy. Here we have a too cute for words Steiff lamb! It is simply amazing that this item is in such nice shape given its age and that it was designed as a play toy for babies! Steiffgal suspects that it was purchased as a gift for some lucky child and used primarily as a nursery decoration, not a toy. Or, sadly, the child passed away in infancy and never got to enjoy the toy - or life. The lamb measures about 3 inches tall, head to toe. He is standing on all fours, unjointed, and made from lamb's wool plush. His face, ears, and legs are made from felt. His legs are lined in metal wire. His face comes to life with teeny black button eyes and a very simple hand embroidered pink nose and mouth. His bell and ribbon are original to him. He retains all of his original Steiff IDs, including his tiny long trailing "F" button and linen backed white paper ear tag.  

Numbers don't lie! According to the Sortiment books and his prominent ear tag numbering, this lamb was produced from 1902 through 1917 overall, and as a "pram toy." This particular model was made in the 1910 through 1917 time frame. Pram toys were hanging toys designed to dangle from a baby's carriage or crib. Most of Steiff's earliest pram toys were constructed from elastic cord and woolen pom-poms, suspended from a white ivory carved ring. The "1" on the ear tag means "standing" and the "5" means lamb's wool plush. The "75" identifies it as a "hanging toy" while the "46" identifies it as a lamb.  

Now shake a leg and check out his little secret. This lamb actually is also a rattle, elevating him to novelty status! As a rattle, he makes a little "click click" sound when jiggled about. Steiffgal has handled rattle bears, dogs, cats, squirrels, and now this lamb. They all share the similar construction of having a small sealed glass tube filled with beads inserted into their torsos. Usually, but not always, rattles were made from the smallest versions of Steiff's most popular designs. The "youngest" product Steiffgal has seen with a rattle is a c. 1929 velvet sitting "Pip" dog. You can see this "chatty" Pip pictured here on the left. It is her best guess that the company stopped making rattle items in this fashion from the 1930's onward. 

Steiffgal has not been able to figure out any ear tag numerical code that distinctly and specifically identifies an item as having a rattle feature. So finding one, which usually comes about by accident, is always such a delightful surprise!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this wonderful Steiff novelty as shaken you up a bit!

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