Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Good Things Come In (Steiff) Threes

Steiff items are made with such quality that it is not all that unusual for them to be passed down through numerous family generations. Steiffgal herself is the proud third-generation steward of many of her family's Steiff treasures! Check out this note from a reader who wants to learn more about a fantastic collection of vintage items that belonged to his great, great aunt. Joel from Minnesota writes...


I got these toys from my great, great aunt.

I was wondering when they were made and if they all were Steiff or not?

I would be happy with any information you could give me.

Thank you, Joel"

Good things come in threes, and these delightful Steiff items certainly exemplify that truth! But before digging into the details of each, Steiffgal first wants to introduce a very special SteiffLife guest. Please welcome Joel’s great, great aunt, Harriet. She is the original owner of these turn-of-last-century treasures. Harriet was born around 1912 into an affluent family from Wisconsin. Here she is on the left as a little girl – probably about the time that she welcomed these Steiff “Friends for Life” into her own life.

Ok, now let’s jump right in – literally. Joel and Harriet's first item is what Steiff calls Hase, or Rabbit. This bouncing bundle of Steiff joy is unjointed, sitting, and is made from lamb’s wool plush, giving her a “nubby” texture. Her ears are lined in pink. This particular model was produced from 1901 through 1924 in 8, 10, and 12 cm. The same basic design made from lamb’s wool plush was also produced in an upright running style in 14 and 17 cm from 1903 through 1918.

This sitting “heavy bottomed” bunny pattern was extremely popular in the Steiff catalog through the end of the 1920’s. This design debuted in the first Steiff catalog of 1892 in white felt in 8, 10, 12, and 14 cm as well as in brown, grey, black, and white short pile plush in 14 cm. She next appeared in velvet in 1899. Most interestingly – and a sure confirmation of her popularity - this design was one of a handful of items produced post World War l in substitute woven fabric and mohair “paper plush” in 1918 through 1921. If you look closely at the bunny’s button, pictured to the left, remarkably you will see a remnant of a white ear tag. This helps to date the piece between 1906 and 1924.

It’s time to tiptoe on cat’s feet to the next great item in the collection. Here we have a Steiff Katze, or Cat, also from the early part of last century. This fantastic feline is unjointed, sitting, and made from white mohair. And like Joel’s Aunt’s bunny from around the same time, she also features a “heavy bottom” design. This particular cat was produced from 1906 though 1927 in 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm. When she left the factory in Giengen a century ago, she was detailed with a colorful (probably pink) silk ribbon and a bell.

This cat, like the rabbit discussed previously, is a classic early Steiff design. A sitting cat in felt in the same pattern - featuring a deep “v” as part of the chest construction - was featured in both white and grey felt in 14, 22, and 28 cm in the charter 1892 Steiff catalog. This model then appeared in short pile plush, mohair plush, velvet, and wool plush within a few years. She was last seen - in a slightly updated form - pre World War ll made from coat plush, an inexpensive material used in the place of more costly mohair.

Steiffgal tries never to play favorites, but in the case of this final item, it’s almost impossible not to! Saving perhaps the best for last, here we have what Steiff calls Spitz or Pomeranian. This wheeled wonder was produced from 1902 though 1929 in 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm. Spitz is standing and made from long white curly mohair with a white felt face, ears, and legs below his hips. He has black shoe button eyes and embroidered facial features. He was available with metal wheels until 1921; after that, he came with wooden wheels.

When this Spitz was new, he featured a red cord with two pom-poms or tassels around his neck, giving him a “regal” appearance. The breed does have some connections to German royalty, which may explain why they are decorated like “little kings”. This wonderful Spitz design was also produced in several other variations, including an unjointed sitting version, a jointed standing version, and as a pincushion on a red velvet pillow, seen here on the left. (This picture is from a catalog from the German auction house Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion.) All but the standing version came with red tassel neckwear.

Joel, you are most fortunate to be the next steward of this marvelous collection of century old classic Steiff playthings. Steiffgal hopes that this overview gives you a great feeling for the legacy of the items as well as their importance on the Steiff product – and your – family tree!

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

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