Thursday, December 17, 2009

Steiff Holiday Greetings - From 1913!

Steiffgal hopes that all of her readers have mailboxes full of seasonal holiday cards from friends near and far. Hopefully you have room for one more from Steiffgal! This one features a tree, but didn't take a tree to produce as you can view it online!

Take a look at this wonderful vintage Steiff Christmas scene from around 1913. (You can click on the picture to enlarge it.) This image is from the delightful book Advertising Art of Steiff Teddy Bears and Playthings by Dottie Ayers and Dona Harrison. This vignette was actually produced as a black and white print advertisement for the German publication Illustrirte Zeitug. This was a popular weekly current events magazine that featured news reports; home, garden, and fashion articles; culture and lifestyle columns, and extensive advertising. The publication had a very high circulation for its time.

Let's take a look at the ad piece by piece.
First the writing. The copy on the top left of the picture translates approximately to: "Toy factory Margarete Steiff, GmbH, (Wurttenberg). Founder and manufacturer of the world famous "Teddy bear." Trademark "Button in Ear." Grand Prix St. Louis 1904 and Brussels 1910. International building trade exhibition Leipzig 1913: State Award. Available everywhere. No direct sales to private parties. Catalog #20 free." This is basically presenting the company's trademark, highlighting early awards won, and telling consumers that they must purchase their items through a retailer's store - not directly through Steiff. However, they public could request a catalog at no charge.

Now to the fun... the items displayed in the ad! From left to right they are: a 9 cm plush play ball ($0.19), a 50 cm ride-on goat ($4.80), a 25 cm record Teddy ($0.96), a 35 cm little boy doll named Heiner ($1.32), a tiny white mouse ($0.10), 17 and 22 cm white lambs on wheels ($0.41 and $0.65), a 35 cm little girl doll named Rosa ($1.56), a 25 cm record Peter monkey ($1.14), and a 50 cm ride-on donkey ($4.80). On the tree, left to right, if you look closely you can see a 8 cm pigeon ($0.22), a white felt swan with woolen pom poms ($0.22), 12 cm velvet squirrel ($0.29), a white felt rabbit with woolen pom poms ($0.22), and an 8 cm "good luck" pink velvet pig with a clover in his mouth ($0.17).

And the dollar figures listed after each one? That's how much each item cost in US dollars in 1913! But just to put things in perspective, the average weekly salary back then, based on a six day workweek, was about $17!

Clearly, Steiff has played a role for many families at Christmas since the company started producing its wonderful items on an international scale at the turn of last century. However, it is curious to note that none of the items pictured in the seasonal advertisement were actually specifically made for Christmas. Most interestingly in this regard are the tree "ornaments". The pigeon, swan, and rabbit were all designed as "pram toys" or items to hang from a baby's stroller. The squirrel was a popular plaything, and the pig was intended to be a pincushion. After combing through many Steiff reference books, the earliest Christmas specific Steiff item Steiffgal could find was a brightly painted 20 cm wooden Santa Claus toy on a rocking base. This item was featured in the catalog from 1923 through 1927. To the left is a black and white picture of this item, which is taken from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1892 - 1943 Steiff Sortiment reference book.

Christmas became a higher priority for Steiff after WWII.
nta Claus as we know him now made his grand debut in the Steiff catalog 1953 as a five way jointed 31 cm doll with a rubber head, felt body, bright red felt suit and cap, and white fluffy mohair beard. By 1955 this design was also being produced in 13 and 18 cm as well as a special order 150 cm display piece. From 1954 through 1961 this Santa pattern was also produced as a popular and highly sought after 21 cm hand puppet. This original beloved Santa Claus doll was reissued in 19 and 28 cm as a US exclusive from 1984 through 1988. Christmas really kicked into high gear at Steiff in the late 1980's with the production of several Santa Claus Teddies. A series of limited edition Christmas tree ornaments for the US market was launched in 1994.

Today, Christmas
items are a very important part of the Steiff product line. Each year, numerous worldwide and country-wide limited editions are produced, and several retailers - including FAO Schwarz - have traditionally produced their own exclusives in conjunction with Steiff. A few years ago, Steiff started producing a series of Christmas specific soft plus playthings and baby toys. This 25 cm green, soft plush decorated Weihnachtsbaum or Christmas tree from 2005 - one of Steiffgal's treasured oddities - is a good example of Steiff's relatively new "outside the box" thinking about Christmas. This seasonal showpiece was a holiday gift from Steiffgal's friend Steiffpal a few years ago.

Dear readers, may you find that one Steiff item you have always wanted under your Christmas tree, tucked next to your menorah, or adjacent to your Kwanzaa kinara centerpiece! But more importantly, Steiffgal hopes this time of joy and celebration - however you personally celebrate the season - brings you peace and happiness in very real and meaningful way.

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

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