Saturday, August 20, 2011

Baa, Baa (Steiff) Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool...

Sometimes it’s ok to be the “black sheep” in a group, especially when it comes to Steiff! Steiffgal recently welcomed one of Steiff’s most distinctive “outsiders” to her hug – a lovely larger sized black lamb called “Swapl.” Steiffgal’s fallen hard for this black beauty, not only for his rarity, but for the traditional and classic details that make up his pattern. Let’s take a look at this lovely lamb and see what makes him so interesting from a design and collector's perspective.  

First, a few barnyard basics. This piece is officially known "Swapl Persianer Lamm" or Swapl Persian Lamb. He is 22 cm tall, unjointed, and standing. He was produced in 10, 14, 22, 28, and 35 cm between 1957 and 1964. And it is Steiffgal’s best guess that his name derives from the German words “schaf” meaning sheep, and “schwarz" meaning black. 

Now let's take a closer look at three of Swapl's finest design features.  

First, it goes without saying that Swapl's material is exceptional.  He is made from black wool plush which has a bumpy, "Persian lamb" texture to it. That means that the fibers are tight and curly, and quite concentrated... you can't really see the backing to the fabric because of the wool's density.  You can see this unusual material pictured here on the left.  It is interesting to note that the only other Steiff animal that Steiffgal can think of with this identical material is "Maidy" the miniature poodle.  Maidy appeared in the catalog for one year only - 1959 - which overlaps with Swapl's production timeline.  Maidy was produced in 25 and 30 cm and has lovely tri-colored, almond glass eyes.  

And speaking of eyes - the "eyes" certainly have it when it comes to Swapl's second outstanding feature.  Swapl has lovely, over-sized cobalt blue and black pupil eyes.  These peepers are a striking and handsome contrast to his overall dark coloring.  Most Steiff sheep have green and black pupil eyes, so it is clear that the designers behind Swapl really wanted to differentiate this pattern from his white-coated cousins.  Blue eyes are relatively rare Steiff features.  Other famous Steiff designs with similar "baby blues" include Siamy the Siamese Cat (made from 1930 through 1933 in 14, 17, 22, 25, and 30 cm and then again from 1953 through 1954 in 11, 15, and 23 cm) and Mungo the Multicolored Monkey, who was produced in 17, 25, and 35 cm from 1957 through 1971.  

Swapl's final distinctive feature in line is just that; the lining of his ears and mouth.  These are charmingly detailed in baby pink velvet.  Traditionally, Steiff lined the open mouths of its products in peach colored felt, so this choice of material is most unusual.  Velvet was frequently the fabric of choice for Steiff at the turn of last century, when velvet dogs, birds, cats, and other staples filled the catalogs at the time.  After the factory reopened for business in the late 1940's, velvet was used far more sparingly.  It was most commonly used on dog muzzles, including Bully the bulldog (produced from 1951 through 1974 in 10, 17, and 22 cm) and Saras the Boxer (produced from from 1950 through 1970 in sizes ranging from 10 to 22 cm).  Velvet also appeared as a sweet detail on some 1950's era cat and rabbit designs, including the velvet muzzles on the black and white "Gussy" cats (produced from 1952 through 1969) and the lining of the ears of the smallest "Niki" rabbits (produced from 1951 through 1964 in 14, 17, 22, 28, and 35 cm.)    

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about Swapl the black sheep has given you new appreciation for one of Steiff's more unconventional characters.   

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1 comment:

  1. Hi! I have a collector's blog (my own collections) and each weekend I feature other collectors. Would you like to be featured on my blog next weekend? You can reach me at
    Check out my blog at:
    I'm so excited to have found your blog, your stuff is wonderful! (and I love Steiff too, although I only have a couple of items. One bear & one bunny)


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