Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lost In Translation

Hello, hallo, bonjour, and こんにちは! Here is an article that Steiffgal wrote for the wonderful magazine Teddy Bear and Friends that was published awhile back. Do you recognize any of these national and international visitors....?

Lost in Translation

Steiff’s legacy has always been the design and manufacture of beautiful, high quality Teddies and realistic looking animals. Across the world, families have cherished Steiff bears, dogs, bunnies, and other treasures; often handing them down from generation to generation as an integral part of their living history.

In addition to these traditional play toys, Steiff also has a long history of creating promotional and commercial items. In the early 1900’s, Steiff began partnering with manufacturers and well known brands to create their logos, characters, and trademarks as Steiff products. For example, in 1913, Steiff was asked to create “Bibendum” out of felt in two sizes for a company in France. “Bibendum”, or “Bib”, is the Michelin Tire Man! The 1930’s marked the beginning of a long and still enduring relationship between Steiff and The Walt Disney Company. The wonderful velvet Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls created between 1931-1936 are among the most precious and sought after finds for both Steiff and Disneyana collectors! Fast forward two decades to the 1950’s, and Steiff was producing the mascots for many German companies in the footwear, pharmaceutical, food, and publishing industries, among others.

Today, Steiff continues its nearly century long tradition of making commercial-themed products for some well known (and some not so well known) businesses, primarily across Europe. Many of these Steiff items are unfamiliar and perhaps even a little strange to Americans as the brands, companies, or organizations behind their inspiration are not available in the United States. So, let’s get “lost in translation” and take a look at some unusual new and older Steiff commercial collaborations and the stories behind them.

Blink, and you would have missed him.
With a fac
e only a mother could love, Tiki-Niki was only manufactured in 1973. This humanized hedgehog is 30cm tall, has a hard stuffed torso; plastic head, hands, and feet; and wears a light blue jumpsuit. What is most distinguishing about Tiki-Niki is everything from the neck up: his little buck teeth, snout-nose, huge pupil-less cobalt blue eyes, and shock of long brown dralon hair.

So who is this odd little guy? Hedgehog Tiki-Niki is the creation of Denys Watkins Pitchford, a prolific English author also known by the pseudonym “BB”. Pitchford had a great love of the outdoors and wrote close to 60 books about nature over his lifetime. Nine of these books were written as children’s novellas, featuring Tiki-Niki and his best friend, Bill Badger, in a series of challenges and adventures. A Swiss TV network created a television series for children based on these beloved stories in the early 1970’s. Steiff’s Tiki-Niki quickly followed.

Goldi and Hor
Good things do come in twos. Goldi the Hamster and Horni The Traffic Squirrel are both free standing, 32cm tall, made from plush, and were made from 1978-1980. Goldi is one well dressed rodent, wearing both a bright yellow cotton jumpsuit with a red track suit over it. Both are emblazoned with his name. Horni wears monogrammed red cotton overalls, a white tee-shirt, and an orange felt cap. So what ties these two together forever (at least in the minds of many nostalgic young German adults)?

One word: Commerzbank. One of Europe’s largest banks, Commerzbank was one of the early sponsors of Germany’s “Kinder-Verkehrs-Club” or “Children’s Traffic Club”. This countrywide program was launched in 1976 and ran until 1997. The goal of the program was to help parents of three to six year old children teach their youngsters about road and traffic safety. Goldi and Horni were both mascots of this program. Horni wears a Commerzbank plastic pin which shows he and Goldi arm in arm, encircled by the Traffic Club logofont.

Interestingly, Goldi has the Commer
zbank logo on the underside of his Steiff ear tag, while Horni has the words Kinder-Verkehrs-Club on his. It was, and still is, quite unusual for Steiff ear tags to have anything but Steiff information or markings on them.

Pull up a seat and take a look at this unusual piece. Yes, it’s a man in a mohair bear suit, chilling out on a red velour couch. Loriot is a 2003 white tag limited edition produced in cooperation with ars mundi, a leading mail-order art specialty catalog company from Germany. Loriot is floppy, stands 39cm tall, has a cloth face, feet, and hands, and wears a long curly brown mohair bear suit with a removable hood. Both Loriot’s “real” ear and Teddy mask ear have a Steiff “button in ear”. Loriot’s “throne” is built for a king and features gold tassels on the armrests.

Although not a familiar personality in the U.S., Bernhard Victor Christoph Carl von Bülow, or “Loriot” is a beloved German writer, illustrator, comedian, and performer. An all around artist, he is best known for his cartoons as well as his TV performances, which have a “Monty Python” goofiness to them. This man-bear Loriot is strikingly similar to Loriot’s cartoon figures, with the men all having a soft fleshy face and a large bulbous nose. Interestingly, the “real” Loriot and Steiff go back over 40 years. Loriot was the artist behind Reinhold das Nashorn, (Reinhold the Rhino) a popular book and character created in 1954. Steiff created a mohair Reinhold for one year only in 1964. Reinhold remains one of the most sought after Steiff collectibles from that period.

Little Hunger
Please meet “Little Hunger” and feel free to shake his hand… his
“spots” are not contagious! This 31cm unjointed white plush character certainly is a looker! He is covered in quarter-sized primary color dots. Little Hunger has a crooked and impish smile, large cloth hands and feet, plastic eyes, and a sprout of black “Mohawk style” hair.

Little Hunger is the mascot for a line of single serving sized rice pudding snacks produced by a German dairy company called Muellers.
This animated character is well known across Germany and is often seen in funny and entertaining television commercials. And his dots? They match the hues of the lids of his product line. Steiff produced Little Hunger as a white tag limited edition of 5,000 in 2000.

Alpirsbacher Monks
So let’s end this tour of Steiff commercial oddities on a high note.
And there’s n
o better way to do that then with a beer. Or how about almost a thousand years worth of beer? These two fun loving, trevira velvet “bier monks” are dressed in traditional garb including cotton drawers, long red hooded tunics, and work aprons which are cinched at the waist with a thin rope. The large monk, a whopping 100cm, has black felt feet, while the smaller 35cm monk wears tiny leather sandals.

These two monks are characters from the Alpirsbacher Klosterbraeu, a 130+ year old brewery located in Germany’s Black Forest.
The monk’s brewery is housed in a former monastery which dates from the year 1095. Steiff created these white tag, limited edition drinking buddies in 1999. Just a handful of the 100cm monks were produced, primarily for display and advertising purposes. The smaller version was produced in an edition size of 1,500.

Each of the Steiff monks has the Alpirsbacher Klosterbrau logo proudly emblazoned on his apron—a smiling monk holding both a pitcher of beer and a traditional lidded beer stein.
And why do monks and beer seem to go hand in hand in so many cultures? Monks originally perfected the art of brewing as a way to produce a filling and good tasting beverage to complement their often Spartan meals, especially those around fasting occasions.

Hopefully this tour has whetted your appetite for Steiff and the company’s range of commercial collectibles.
Steiff has been integral to the German identity for over 100 years. So in turn, it is not surprising to see German cultural icons and logos manifest themselves through the Steiff product line over the years. If you do find an offbeat Steiff item—dig around a little and find out the true story behind it. You may discover that its background is just as fascinating as the piece itself!

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