Friday, October 29, 2010

Monkeying Around With Steiff's Playful Primates

As most readers know by now, Steiffgal is absolutely ape over Steiff monkeys in all their various shapes and sizes.  So it is no surprise she went a little bananas about trying to help a reader with a question about a very interesting European monkey pair.  Take a look at this note from Beth, who wants to learn more about a delightful piece of her family's history.

"Dear Steiffgal:

I'm hoping you might be able to help me identify a vintage Steiff monkey toy.  I found this toy in a trunk that was filled with my Grandfather's WWII memorabilia.  No one in my family knows where it came from.

This is a plush toy which looks almost like an orangutan. It has a strange wrinkly face, which doesn't look like the Steiff "Jocko" dolls I've seen online.  

It's 19" long, with a tail, a zipper up the back and a baby monkey inside.  He appears to be made from a soft type of brown fur or material.

The baby monkey mohair and is in excellent condition.  He has a small Steiff button in its left ear.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Best, Beth"

Let's not monkey around and get started on this really interesting inquiry right away!  

First, the easy part of the question... without a doubt, the little guy is a Steiff Jocko.  This monkey pattern has been around basically with a few modifications since 1909.  And what makes a Steiff Jocko, well, a Steiff Jocko? Regardless of size, Jockos have "natural" body proportions and detailed felt hands, feet, and facial features. One key design element on larger models (25 cm and over) is the inclusion of felt eye pockets, meaning that the chimp's eyes are surrounded by raised felt eyelids; not simply sewn onto his face. Additionally, larger sized chimps also sport a white mohair chin. Prewar, Jocko was produced in 15 sizes, ranging from 10 to 90 cm, at various times from 1909 through 1943. It was in 1929 that this ace ape was finally given his “official” Steiff name, Jocko. Post war, Jocko was one of the very first items produced.  He appeared in the line continuously again from 1948 through 1990 in 9 sizes, ranging from 10 through 80 cm.  It appears that Beth's little Jocko monkey is most likely the 15 cm size. 

Now for the big one - and there's no need to sleep on its identification challenge!  Steiff did not make this slumbering sweetheart.  He was actually produced in the UK by an English manufacturer called Merrythought.  This is Merrythought's "Sleeping Beauty" nightdress case, which is basically a child's pajama bag.  The middle portion of the ape's torso is hollow and finished with a silk lining; this pocket closes with a zipper. Its design was based on the illustrations of Lawson Wood, a popular artist of the time.  A sample of Mr. Wood's monkey-themed illustrations is pictured here to the left.

This nightdress bag was produced from 1935 through 1959, which aligns quite well with the timeline Beth provides concerning the history of this family treasure.  The picture here on the left, from a wonderful book entitled "The Magic of Merrythought", shows Sleeping Beauty as she originally appeared in the company's product catalog. Steiff also made a number of PJ bags from the early 1930's onward, but never a Jocko as far as Steiffgal can tell.  Click here to read more about Steiff pajama bags over the years. Perchance, do any readers know of a Steiff Jocko pajama bag or have one in their collection?  Please let Steiffgal know if you do!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of these charming chimps has been more fun than a day at the circus for you.

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

7 comments:

  1. I have a Steiff Jocko toy, not a pajama bag. Any idea what it might be worth? It's been mine since 1952.

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  2. This pajama bag was NOT made by Merrythought, probably KNICKERBOCKER. I collect monkeys and have had both types. both have velveteen molded faces, but Merrythought's face is narrower and the body longer and squarer. This guy has a rounder face and football shape body. GUND also made similar molded face monkeys, but the the face looks more like other Knickerbockers I own and the fur looks like typical Knickerbocker mohair. Unfortunately I don't currently have a good example of this particular monkey in this fur, but have one in white mohair, also a tagged Merrythought Sleeping Beauty. I can provide photos if you want.

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  3. Sounds like this was a popular novelty at the time! If you could send pictures that would be great, please forward to steifflife@gmail.com. Thanks for your note =)

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  4. I have a monkey pyjama bag and it has its original tag which says "Merrythought" It is long and leggy and curls up very nicely. Lovely molded velvet face and ears and hands and feet, brass zipper, the rest is mohair.

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  5. I was given a steiff jocko that has no tags. Thet have long come off. He is a hand puppet about 6 1/2" long. He has the white beard. His eyes are glass & the lids are covering his eyes. He has felt hands, ears & face. There is a metal ring sewn onto the bottom of his back side. He is a dark brown & feels very soft. I believe he is from the 50's as my mother had him for her work with children. I think he is mohair but am not sure. How can I tell if he is mohair. Oh, also the finger cup seems to be firmer than a cardboard one also has a ring around the end that sits on your finger. So it is smooth.
    Thanks, Gail

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  6. I have one too! It used to be my Mother's when she was a child, and she gave it to me. I just love it!
    Mine is a lighter brown color than the one pictured here, but it has the raised eyes and red lips.

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  7. When I saw the big one the first thing that came to mind was Chad Valley! Velvet was their specialty. Good luck with that.

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