Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green With Envy: A Steiff Mystery

Before Steiffgal reveals the mystery, she must first confess that she enthusiastically bid on this Steiff collectible on a recent online auction; wanted it desperately; lost only by a few dollars; and is jealous of the winner. So that explains (most of) the green with envy part of the story. So with that disclosure out in the open, onto the mystery.

Take a look at this wonderful Steiff primate. He is about 11 inches (28 cm) tall, five ways jointed, and has a tail. His body and limbs are white mohair while his hands, feet, face and ears are felt. His face is quite distinctive with airbrushing highlights: surrounding his green glass pupil eyes, detailing the nostrils on his nose, and defining his mouth. The monkey has his ff Steiff button in his left ear, indicating that he was made in the 1906 through 1934 time frame.

So what exactly is he? Steiffgal cannot find any reference to his true identity anywhere. There lies the mystery. But there are a few hints…

Is he a classic green-eyed white Jocko, the chimp Steiff produced pre-war from 1925 through 1943? Check out this picture of a 1920's Jocko and see what you think. White Jocko was produced in six sizes ranging from 10 through 25 cm. At first glance maybe… but no. Here’s why. Mystery monkey has a tail, a seam down the entire front of his face, and is 28 cm. Jocko does not have a tail, his face seam ends at the bridge of his nose, and maxes out at 25 cm. (To learn more about the history of Jocko, click here.)

Ok, then is he the rarer, more primitive looking white Steiff “Affe” or monkey, the predecessor of Jocko? Imagine this brown monkey in white - that's what Affe looks like for reference. White Affe was produced from 1908 through 1915, in five sizes ranging from 28 through 60 cm. Sort of fits the bill, but not perfectly. Mystery monkey has green glass pupil eyes, extensive facial airbrushing, and a flush nose. Affe has black boot button eyes, a raised nose, and no airbrushing.

With everything, the devil is in the details.

Here’s
what Steiffgal discovered with a little more digging. Although 1915 was technically the last year the white Affe appeared in the Steiff catalog, for some reason, the 28 cm version, which is the size of Mystery monkey, was made for a blip from 1925 to 1927. As noted above, prewar green eyed white Jocko was produced from 1925 - 1942. So there is some manufacturing overlap from a timeline perspective.

It is Steiffgal’s guess that Mystery monkey is a rare and interesting composite of a white Jocko and a white Affe, and was made around 1925. The body shape, tail, and facial construction are from Affe; the distinctive green eyes, facial details, and airbrushing come from Jocko. Mystery monkey may even be a factory prototype for a design that was not produced commercially. Steiff has a history of creating their next generation of products based on “borrowing” design elements from successful items, so this “merged monkey” hypothesis does have legs to stand on.

Mystery solved? Perhaps. Jealousy abated? I guess I could say the monkey’s off my back now.

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