Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Different Sort of Peter Principle

For Steiffgal, nothing's quite as exciting as opening up a treasure postmarked from Germany. And this surprise far exceeded any expectations! What started as a big mystery resulted in this Steiff Life column, written to introduce you to one of the oldest and beloved "little boys" in 20th century German literature.

Here's the story... Steiffgal came across this unusual Steiff puppet for sale at auction. She had never seen this model before and did not recognize it. It was not listed in the Sortiment books or other print or online sources. The only clue about him was his button and ear tag, attached to the lower right hand side of his jacket. These IDs dated him to the late 1960's or early 1970's. Despite the unknowns, she bid and won the puppet. A week later it arrived in a neatly wrapped box from Germany. With the item in hand, could the puzzle be solved?

Yes! It turns out this fine fellow is none other than "Shockheaded Peter", a character from a classic European children's book called Der Struwwelpeter. Peter is 28 cm and has a hollow body, legs, and arms. His head is trivera velvet with blue pupil eyes, a tiny felt mouth, and a shock of long blond hair. The design of his head is somewhat similar to that of a series of Steiff soft stuffed play dolls from the mid 1970's. Peter's shoes are black, his pants are green, and his coat is red; all are made from felt.

So how did Steiffgal ID this rarity? It turns out that Struwwelpeter (which translates literally to "Shaggy Peter") has made important appearances in the Steiff catalog, albeit many years ago! As a matter of fact, there is a tiny Struwwelpeter on the back of the first Steiff catalog ever published, in 1892! A jointed Peter doll was available from 1909 through 1927 in 3 sizes - 30, 35, and 43 cm. He was also available in 20 cm as a ride-on pull toy from 1916-1927. In all of these cases, Peter had a shock of blond hair, black shoes, green pants, a red belted coat, and a white collar .... exactly matching the design of "Puppet Peter"!

But what's the story behind Struwwelpeter? This book was written by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845 as a gift to his son. It is composed of ten richly illustrated tales focusing on children. Each story has a life or societal lesson and graphically illustrates the results of bad behavior in each situation, in an Edward Gorey - like fashion. For example, the first tale describes a boy who does not bathe and groom himself properly (hence the long crazy hair and fingernails) and as a result is unpopular. Other tales involve playing with matches, thumb sucking, and wasting food; still child rearing issues today! Struwwelpeter has been translated into many languages and first appeared in English in 1848.

Relevant over 150 years after his debut, Struwwelpeter is still referenced in popular culture today. He has been the inspiration behind several characters in the DC Comics series Doom Patrol and Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands from the movie of the same name. More recently, Rainn Wilson's character, Dwight Schrute, from the TV show The Office tried to read Struwwelpeter to kids on "Take Your Daughter to Work Day." There is even a Struwwelpeter museum in Frankfurt, Germany, celebrating Hoffmann's life, professional work, and literary contributions.

Shocking! Who would have guessed all of that would pop out of a little DHL package from Germany?

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I remember the book well. As a child I was terrified by it and had nightmares about that boy with his awful fingernails!


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