Saturday, February 19, 2011

Overall, A Most Delightful 1907-era Steiff Bear

Timing is everything, even when it comes to Steiff's "friends for life!" A few weeks ago, Steiffgal was thinking about what she'd REALLY like for her upcoming birthday. And look who appeared, as if on cue... a nearly "perfect" 1907-era Steiff Teddy! Come meet Maxwell, a charming and delightful cub and one of the central reasons why this birthday was one of Steiffgal's most favorite ever!

Well, well, well, this is one very special bear!  Maxwell is 32 cm, five ways jointed, excelsior stuffed, and made from blond mohair.  He has black shoe button eyes, a black stitched nose, and four black claws on each of his hands and feet.  His paw pads are made from light tan felt and are original.  He has long arms with curved wrists, long narrow feet, a back hump, and the proportions of a classic turn-of-last century Steiff bear.  He has a very sweet, slightly upturned nose - not in a snobby sort of way, more in a way that says "I'm sniffing out my next meal!'  And his Pièce de résistance?  Maxwell retains his tiny, 4mm trailing F button, the one used on many Steiff products from the 1906 through mid-1920's time frame.  

Maxwell's history is incomplete, but a few things are known about him. According to his previous owner:

"My Dad was an antique farm toy collector for 20 plus years. We grew up on a dairy farm and milked cows and farmed 800 acres. Dad started out going to flea markets with my Grandma and buying old farm toys until he eventually had the 4th largest collection in the USA.  He and my mother used to travel around the country setting up in large shopping malls with their exhibit.  He acquired many collectibles from these exhibits, one of which is the bear.  I don’t recall exactly where he got him from however."

As noted above, Maxwell is no bare bear.  He came wearing a pair of tiny "Lee" brand overalls, probably originally donned by a now famous mischievous boy with a crooked smile in 1920.   In the nineteen-teens, the Lee company began promoting its denim overall line by producing tiny, doll sized pairs which could be distributed to consumers at country fairs as well as to clients and prospects at business meetings.  These "samples" were scaled down and simplified versions of adult sized overalls, and included large, brass "Lee" branded buttons. They were produced in blue and blue and white striped denim material.  

Then Lee started thinking, "why not doll up this promotion?"  So they did.  In 1920, Chester Reynolds, the sales manager for the Lee's Minneapolis location, came up with the idea of putting the overalls on a doll, which could then be used in a storefront window display.   Thus, the now legendary and beloved "Buddy Lee" character was born.  Buddy made his debut appearance in a Dayton’s Department Store window display on Nicolet Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota.    Over time, the doll's popularity really exploded and Lee encouraged the stores to sell or give the dolls away when they were finished displaying them. Soon after, Lee started selling the overall-clad dolls directly to the public.  These early dolls are now a beloved collectible, sought all over the world by Buddy Lee enthusiasts.

Steiffgal hopes that this introduction to Maxwell overall has been a fun and enjoyable experience for you!

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

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