Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hop To It! Take A Look At This Handsome Hare!

Steiffgal felt like she had just received a special delivery from the Easter bunny when she received this inquiry from a reader. Check out this note from Jeff, who writes from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania:

"Hello Steiffgal,

I hope yo
u have better luck than I did in trying to find any information on this rabbit. I've been trying to research this for a friend, but have come up with nothing.

This is a sitting rabbit, around 9" high, 6 1/4" to top of head. He has wires through the ears, which are movable, and has a red tag and button in his left ear.... (the tag) has the following on it: "Steiff Original geschutzt 3418 Made in Germany". The button is silver colored with STEIFF on it, the last F flows back under STEIFF. There is a pink, or purple ribbon around the neck, tied in a bow with a brass bell, but unfortunately, it is falling apart. The rabbit is made from a smooth material (looks like material has raised lines) in tan and cream colors, with a stitched pink nose.

Other than ears, the rest of body is pretty stiff. His eyes are brown with black pupils, around 1/2" wide. Some, if not all, stitching looks like it was hand done. Other than the rotting ribbon and what looks like some kind of dark brown liquid that has been splashed on it, the rabbit is in great shape.

My friend found it a
mong other antiques, while going through her late mother's house and doesn't know anything about it. We would appreciate any information you could tell us. I understand that you don't give values for pieces, but do you think it would be worth trying to have it restored (like trying to find someone who could possibly remove the stained areas)?

Thank you for your time!"

Jeff, thanks for sharing this great find with the Steifflife readers. What you have here is what Steiff calls Hase, or Rabbit. Your sitting bunny is velvet and has a jointed head. His darling face is detailed with brown glass pupil eyes, a pink horizontally stitched nose, and a simple line mouth. He left the factory with clear mono-filament type whiskers; it is hard to tell from the photos if he still retains them. Each of his pink velvet lined ears contains a metal wire which makes them posable. He is detailed with a silk ribbon and bell.

This model was manufactured and featured in the Steiff catalog from 1927 though 1933. He was made in three sizes: 11, 15, and 18 cm and five jewel-toned colors: blue, lilac, maize, orange, and white. Jeff's velvet find is the 18 cm and maize version. The identical rabbit model was also produced in mohair during the same time frame in a few additional colors, including brown and pink. This mohair version is shown on the left.

This is a terrific and interesting piece, from several perspectives. From the collector's point of view, except for a little fading, which is normal, the question of whiskers, and the stains (to be addressed later in the column), Rabbit seems to be in nice shape for an 80 year old plaything! It is great that he has his original silk ribbon and bell. And, his intact Steiff button and red eartag make him especially appealing to collectors.

From the historical angle, rabbits are a really popular breed, perhaps because traditionally Easter is a prominent and important holiday in Germany. Rabbits are so important to Steiff that they have their own chapter in the Steiff Sortiment books, the gold standard reference books for collectors around the globe. Rabbits have been a presence in the Steiff catalog since its debut in 1892; as a matter of fact at least 8 different rabbit models appeared in this first catalog alone.

Ok, now on to the spots and staining. Cleaning vintage products is always a challenge and presents a few risks. Fabrics produced almost a century years ago are delicate and fragile and do not have the structural integrity of materials produced today, due to technology, manufacturing techniques, and natural aging processes. Dyes and materials have evolved, so techniques for cleaning things made recently may not be applicable to vintage items. In addition, velvet has its own challenges, due to the fact that it tends to stain relatively easily and has a nap that is difficult to refresh.

That all being said, Steiffgal recommends the following
TO TEST if a velvet item is clean-able:
  1. First, remove any surface dust or dirt from the item. Shake it gently but vigorously, use a lint brush, and/or vacuum it at the lowest possible setting at a distance. You don't want to grind in any additional dirt to an item you are trying to clean. "Pre-cleaning" is really important, especially with velvet.
  2. Second, take one teaspoon of gentle dishwashing liquid detergent and put it into 2 cups of water; stir vigorously until the suds fill the top.
  3. Next, take a soft cotton cloth to gently apply only the suds to a sample patch of the stained area that is in a hidden or not so obvious place on the item, to make sure that this works and does not make the situation worse.
  4. Blot ONLY the soapy bubbles onto the stains until they start to fade. Don't really get the sample spot too wet, as the fabric is really old and the excelsior stuffing should not get wet as a result of this process. Be really conservative here.
  5. Allow the area to dry, and check for results.
  6. Is it cleaner? If so, softly brush the cleaned area to refresh the nap-- then gently clean the rest of the animal with this process. (Be really careful around the button and eartag; you may want to protect these areas with a plastic bag or other waterproofing tools.)
  7. If this does not work, and the stains are no less prominent, it may be worth going to a professional toy restorer to get a consult on your options. Google "Toy Restoration" to find a specialist in your area.
  8. Do not go to a regular dry cleaner for help here; they are set up to deal with contemporary fabrics not vintage items.
Jeff, Steiffgal hopes this explanation brings you a hare closer to understanding how terrific your finding truly is!

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