Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two Truths and A Lie: Spotting Fakes Is No Game

This past weekend, Steiffgal went antiquing with a friend (Egypto-mama, for her love of vintage Egyptian themed collectibles) at an area antiques mart. Her experience could be summed up by the party game “Two Truths and A Lie”, where each player reveals two real things about themselves and one fabrication. The other participants have to determine which is which. Here’s why the game comes to mind: Steiffgal scored two lovely collectibles (the truths), and was almost swindled by a fake one (the lie).

First for the two truths.

Truth #1 is this adorable 8 cm Fox terrier. This size was made from 1950 - 1959; he was called Fox up to 1953 and Foxy from 1954 onwards. This pup is unjointed and made from white mohair that is detailed with black airbrushed spots. He has brown glass pupil eyes, a salmon ribbon and metal bell around his neck, a simple embroidered nose and mouth, and tiny brown felt ears. This overall dog model was produced from 1949 - 1975 in 11 sizes ranging from 7 to 36 cm. In 1956, a 8 cm Foxy was paired with a Ginny doll and was given the names “Ginny’s Pup” and “Sparky”; this promotional set is highly coveted by both Ginny and Steiff collectors alike.

Fox terriers are a legacy breed for Steiff, first appearing in the catalog in 1899. Pre-war, close to 40 different models were produced in practically all forms, including sitting, standing, and lying toys; woolen miniatures; puppets; pincushions; rolling toys; and waterproof bath toys. Post war, their popularity continued; the breed was one of the first items produced once the factory was up and running in the late 1940’s. A Fox terrier has appeared in the line almost continuously to this day.

On to truth #2: this exotic 17 cm llama. Llama’s body is made from long cream-colored mohair with brown, black, and tan airbrushed spots. His legs (from mid-thigh down) and face are both made from tan velvet. His ears are tan felt with a bit of pink airbrushing. One of the things that make this llama so interesting are his eyes: they are glass pupil and embedded in velvet eye pockets, giving them a “sleepy” look. Eyelids can lend tremendous emotion to Steiff collectibles: similar facial treatments can be seen in Jocko the Chimp (learn more here) and Treff the bloodhound (learn more here).

Llamas are relatively uncommon in the Steiff catalog; this particular model was the first ever produced and was available from 1957 - 1969 in three sizes: 17, 28, and 43 cm. Steiff has also produced a Studio llama in the 1960’s and two soft plush play llamas in the 1990’s.

Ok, now to the BIG FAT LIE (or, Steiffgal’s tips for spotting a fake)

Steiffgal can’t put into words how excited she was when she spotted what appeared to be a late 1940’s blank button tiger in the showcase at the antiques mart. Egypto-mama can vouch for that! Post war blank buttons are extremely rare and were only used sporadically from 1947 to 1952. (Steiffgal only has one blank button item in her entire collection.) Steiffgal asked to see the piece and was handed a 14 cm running tiger cub.

Immediately Steiffgal felt something was not right with the piece. Here’s what was off, and what you should look for as well before investing in a pricey collectible.

1. The button itself.
Upon closer look, the button was extremely shiny and scratched, like someone had taken a file to it. It was also relatively small and completely flat; it seemed to be glued to the tiger’s ear.

What you need to know:
The post war blank button is full sized and has a dull pewter colored finish. It also is attached to the ear of items via small prongs, which can be seen on the underside of an item’s ear, as well as felt through the fabric. Steiffgal cannot think of a single Steiff item she has ever come across where the button is glued on – it is inserted (via small prongs) or punched into the collectible.

2. The date of the item. As mentioned above, the postwar blank button dates an item from 1947 through 1952. That means this tiger was produced before 1953 at the latest.

What you need to know.
The only possible item this could be is the Steiff Tiger Cub, which didn’t go into production until 1954. So the dates don’t match up.

3. The quality of the item. Even though the piece had what appeared to be Steiff’s classic tiger green glass pupil eyes, something about the quality of the mohair and the facial stitching just didn’t feel or look “Steiff-y”. Even Egypto-mama, a Steiff novice, noticed this. Perhaps most telling were his stripes. Steiff does a good job at robustly “striping” their tigers through careful airbrushing and stencils. This tiger had random, thin, non-precise striping down his back.

What you need to know.
If your gut tells you the item is not real, listen – even if the salesperson insists to the contrary. Steiff items are beautifully constructed, made from top-notch materials, detailed with great care, and age well. If an item doesn’t meet those criteria, buyer beware: it’s better to leave an item on the shelf than to risk making a big financial mistake.

Well, I guess Steiffgal came out on top of this weekend’s round of “Two Truths and A Lie”… but not without some careful thinking and questioning. Make sure you do the same before pulling the trigger on a Steiff collectible that appears “too good to be true!”

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



  2. I recently purchased a tiger cub,fully jointed legs and head ,it has no ear tag or button it has a chest button and yellow fabric type label.any ideas on the date


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