Sunday, April 12, 2009

More Than Meets The Eye: Auction Highlights 4/6-4/12/09

Choosing auction highlights is a little like going to an ice cream parlor and picking out two or three flavors for a multi-scoop indulgence-- so many yummy options, its hard to choose. In the end, the most delicious looking goodies get the thumbs up.

This week, there were several temptations for the column but two items really stood out. They couldn't be more different - material, design, decades produced, and hammer price - but they share two characteristics. First, I had never seen either one available at auction, and I have been monitoring Steiff online for a decade. Second, they both have fascinating, little known histories behind them. Let's take a look at these two special treats...

This super rare "sherbet sweetie" is Molliette, a design that Steiff produced from 1927 through 1932. She has the original "Molly" mohair puppy head; long, soft unjointed dangling limbs; and mohair hands and paws. Her body, arms, and legs are made from lilac colored velvet. She has glass pupil eyes and an embroidered nose and mouth; her lips are accented in red. This Molliette is 20 cm and retains her original ribbon, rare red ear flag, and Steiff "ff" button. Given her age, she appears to be in very good to excellent condition according to the copy and photos accompanying the auction. Molliette received an impressive 17 bids and sold for a whopping $807.

Molliette is one of a series of long limbed lovelies in the Steiff catalog from 1927-1932. These "play and car dolls" included Bulliette, the bulldog, Fluffiette, the cat, Rabbiette, the rabbit, and Cherrioette, the open mouthed puppy. Each had the head of the character, mohair paws and feet, and dangling velvet limbs. Most were available in several colors and in 20, 30, and 43 cm, with the larger sizes having a squeaker. It has been suggested that the design of this series was based on a similar line from the Chad Valley Toy Company of England called "Tango Toys." Steiff modified the design to fit their characters and manufacturing processes, and named the line "Charleston Animals", based on the Charleston dance crazy of the 1920’s, with its fast moving arm and leg movements.

I would give an arm and a leg to have a Molliette, or any of the "Charleston Animals" in my collection!

It's time to get down and dirty with the other highlight of the week, a hand puppet called "Blacky". Blacky the Chimney Sweep is 17 cm. His head is molded PVC with painted features and blonde mohair hair; his body is made from coal-black mohair. Blacky's hands and top hat are made from felt; he carries a traditional ladder and wears a leather belt. Blacky is one of the Steiff "one-derfuls"; produced for one year only; in this case, 1964. Blacky retains his original chest tag but does not seem to have his button and tag, which would have been located on the front lower left hand side of his body. He appears to be in good to very good condition according to the copy and photos accompanying the auction. Blacky received 8 bids and sold for a steal at $46.89.

Many Americans are unfamiliar with Chimney Sweeps, but they have a rich legacy in Europe. Sweeps are harbingers of luck, especially for brides on their wedding day. The hearth was an important part of Victorian life; superstition was that a bride had to kiss a sweep on her wedding day to in order to have successful marriage. In addition, pigs and sweeps are linked as good luck charms. It was customary for a sweep to carry a pig through the streets on New Year's Day; people paid to make a wish while pulling a hair from the pig. Finally, why do sweeps traditionally wear top hats and tails? Long ago, sweeps got their clothing as hand-me-downs from funeral directors. The outfit gave an air of distinction to a messy, though necessary, job.

Steiff has examples of "good luck" sweeps in their catalog starting with a 15 cm felt sweep produced from 1936-1943. Others include a Macky hedgehog sweep and a sweep designed to hang from your car's rear view mirror. And to light a fire around the new millennium, Steiff gave each of its employees a 10 cm mohair Teddy dressed as a sweep to ring in 2000.

Tracking auctions is a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. I hope this week's overview has given you some insight and flavor into the tasty background behind these Steiff rarities.

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