Thursday, August 27, 2009

Making Beautiful Music Together After All These Years

Strike up the band... the Steiff band, that is! Even if you can't carry a tune, check out this note from a reader in the Netherlands who writes about a very "playful" collectible from the 1960's...

Hello 'Steiffgal',

First, sorry for my bad English, it's horrible, I know. Recently I have bought a bimbobox. How do you call that in English; monkeybox???

He wor
ks on 'teflontape', it is a original machine? I am very glad, but I know nothing about where it's made and where it's come from, etc. etc.

I think, the seven monkeys
are made by Steiff? They are dressed like sailors, but I don't recognize them, from when I was a kid. Please, can you tell me more about the machine and especially the monkeys?

Greetings from Zutphen and thanks, Margreet"

Hello and many thanks for your note; what a great find! Steiffgal tried to do some research on these bimboboxes but there is not much information out there. These items are definitely European and not well known in other places. But, she did find out a little and here it is.

First, to answer your big question; no, sorry, the monkeys are not made by Steiff. Although Steiff is well known for their display animals, fantastic department store window displays, and mechanical displays, your happy bimbobox players are not Steiff Jockos. (Which doesn't mean that they are still not awesome!) But more about them a bit later.

Now, here's a little history on the bimbobox
. These were built in Koln, Germany i
n the late 1950's and early 1960's. Some other sources say they were also made in the Netherlands. Originally the music came from a "Tefifon", which is an early version of a tape recorder that worked sort of like a record player, with a needle and a groove. These were replaced by an eight track tape system. Most of these machines played popular 1960's tunes, with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass being a common soundtrack. Once someone dropped a coin into the machine, the monkeys would "play along" to the music with their miniature instruments. Click here and here to see some YouTube videos of these classic machines in action!

Working Bimbo Boxes are few and far between; they can still be seen in a handful of German and Dutch locations. A survey in 1991 says that there were 22 working Bimbo Boxes in Holland. There is also a working Bimbo Box at the Musée Mécanique in San Francisco, California. During their heyday, bimbo boxes were often located at highly trafficked family locations, such as department stores, playgrounds and amusement parks. They were made a little lower to the ground than a jukebox so small children could watch the fun at their own height.

Now for the m
onkeys. Steiffgal has researched many popular German plush brands of the 60's - including Kersa, Clemens, and Grisly - and none really have the look, feel, dimensions, and appearance of the bimbobox monkeys. The clothing is somewhat like the attire used on Schuco's yes-no monkeys of the period, but the face just doesn't match up. It is also possible that the monkeys could also be imported from Japan.

However, Steiffgal's best guess is that they may be made by the Austrian manufacturer Berg. There are three main reasons for this.

First, Berg was very interested in mechanical toys, and bimbobox monkeys certainly were "movers and shakers!"

Second, the monkeys in the bimbobox have deep set brown pupil eyes with very prominent black semi-circles around them.

And third, the hands. The bimbobox monkeys have relatively simple hands with stitched fingers and airbrushed fingernails as do Berg monkeys.

Take a look at this closeup of a Berg mohair monkey from the 1960's above... notice a facial and hand resemblance to that of the bimbobox monkey?

Margreet, Steiffgal hopes that this concert of information about your bimbobox is nothing but music to your ears!

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

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