Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Best In Show

Steiffgal has seen alot of Steiff, but nothing quite like this "blue ribbon" buddy sent in from a curious reader. After much "digging and sniffing" around for what seemed like dog years, she finally figured out who he is and the remarkable story behind him. Take a look at this note from Marvin, who writes from Texas:

"I have spent a lot of time from past to present trying to learn more about a family piece I own. I have an obviously, very rare, Steiff puppy or dog tail-turns-head dating Ca. 1920's-30's.

Like many of the early Steiff pieces that w
ere made and sold in Germany, this is impossible to find anywhere! From what I know, this dog was not an import or mass-produced Steiff. What is also unusual is the open mouth. I will now provide all of the information you requested at your website/blog.

  • Age: (eartag) According to the 8mm iron nickel plated button with f drawn back to E, this piece dates to 1925-1934; also has Steiff button tags on leather collar.
  • The size of this dog measures 13" long excluding the tail. The full (L shaped) tail measures about 8". There is a thin metal rod that runs through center for turning.
  • The dog is made of mohair and is oatmeal-like in color. It could be a golden retriever puppy like Marley from "Marley & Me".
  • The eyes are glass. Brown with black pupils. Each eye measures about 11mm in diameter. The nose and claws are both stitched and black in color. ...he has an open mouth with pink felt lining.
  • This Steiff dog is stuffed with straw.
  • The tail and both front legs have a thin metal rod than runs through the center of them. The front legs have the same connected rod running through both of them, so that they will move at the same time if you move one of the legs. Probably U shaped iron rod connecting both front legs. The front legs are not jointed, neither are the hind legs either. This puppy dog may have originally stood taller on its front legs, in the front. It may need a little adjusting of iron rod in legs or just to have the seam re-sewn and positioned. This is a tail-turns-head dog, so it has a mechanical turning mechanism on its rear end.
This puppy dog was brought to the U.S. by German immigrants. I have never seen another like it anywhere! I tried to do my homework to assist you by saving time, but I have reached as far as I can go! I am sure this will be interesting for you and your friends! My last word is HELP!!!!!!!!!!"

Hi Marvin; Steiffgal would be more than happy to help out here! What you have here is truly a remarkable piece, both for what it is and the story behind it.

First the piece itself; Steiff calls your item Chinook Byrds Arctic Expedition Dog. The picture here on the left shows what he looked like brand new. Chinook is sitting (your piece got a little "bent out of shape" over time); made from cream colored wool plush that is airbrushed with light brown and black detailing; has an open pink lined felt mouth, brown glass pupil eyes, black stitched nose and claws; and sports a leather color. As you note, he features a tail-turns-head mechanism. Steiff manufactured this particular model of Chinook in three sizes: 23, 29, and 35 cm in 1931 and 1932 only.

In addition to this sitting heads-turns-tail Chinook, Steiff also made three additional Chinook models in the 1930 through 1932 timeframe. These included standing (17, 28, and 43 cm), lying down (22, 32, 35, and 50 cm), and just sitting (22, 28, and 35 cm) versions. All have the same general look and sport elaborate leather collars studded with Steiff "ff" style buttons; only the two sitting up models have open mouths.

So what's a Chinook, and what does it have to do with Byrd's Antarctic Expedition? A Chinook is a relatively recent breed of dog that was created by Arthur Walden of Wonalancet, New Hampshire in 1917 as a working dog. This breed was carefully and strategically derived from crossbreeding dogs from the Peary North Pole Expedition with other breeds with great stamina, strength, and cold weather tolerance.

Walden was an experienced dog driver with years of experience in the Yukon. For that reason was selected as the lead driver and trainer on the 1929 Byrd expedition, even though he was close to 60 at the time! Walden brought along his original Chinook, now 12 years old, and fifteen of his dog sons to provide surface transportation on the Antarctic ice for this critical exploratory mission.

Of Chinook, Byrd wrote:
"...there was no doubting the fact that he was a great dog. ...Walden used him as kind of a "shock troop", throwing him into harness when the going turned very hard. Then the gallant heart of the old dog would rise above the years and pull with the glorious strength of a three-year-old."

On the night of January 17, 1929, after an especially hard day of work, old Chinook wandered away from the base camp and was never seen again. Walden and the entire team were devastated; a highway in New Hampshire is named the Chinook Trail in honor of this dog and his heroic contributions.

And what does this mean in terms of Steiff? It is not uncommon since the turn of last century for Steiff to use "celebrities" as inspiration for new products. The world was in love with Chinook; why not make him as a plaything? The precedent had already been set with a series of delightful and popular dolls and toys honoring Peary's North Pole Expedition in the 1908 - 1919 time frame.

Marvin, Steiffgal hopes this information is helpful and gives you some background on your exceptional family treasure. Like the original Chinook, your collectible is simply Top Dog!

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