Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Tall, Dark, and Handsome Steiff Mystery!

A tall, dark, handsome, and mysterious (Steiff) gentleman appeared in Steiffgal's inbox, and she couldn't be more pleased!  Steiffgal is always open to this type of introduction, and even Steiffguy is OK with it!  Take a look at this note from a reader, who asks about an "almost" life sized Steiff doll that has been in his family for over a quarter century.  Bryan writes... 

"Dear Steiffgal,
Anything you can tell me about this item? It has been in my family for well over 25 years. It still has its Steiff tag on it, but I have not been able to find out any information about it through my own searching.  The tag LOOKS like like it has the numbers 7749/12 on it, but they are really hard to decipher. 

This is a large doll that looks like someone from Saudi Arabia, perhaps.  It measures roughly 30" high at the tallest point, and is about 24" wide. The legs are not jointed, but it is possible the arms are, they have much more of a range of movement than the legs. Its hard to tell without removing the clothing. As far as the clothing goes, nothing has ever been done to it by us, so as far as I know it is original.  

Here is the story I was always told growing up about it. My dad used to import cars from Germany. On one of his trips over there, around 1983 or 1984, he was in a gift store in the Frankfurt Airport and he saw Muhammad Ali buying this same doll (or one similar, the details are vague). Of course, Ali was causing a huge commotion as everyone wanted to see him and get autographs/photos with him. He decided if Ali was buying one, he wanted one too and jumped in line behind him and bought this one. He says it was the last one they had.  Both my dad and Ali carried these dolls onto the plane, Ali in first class, my dad is coach.  Dad thinks he paid around $300US for it.

Many thanks, Bryan"

So, just who is this international man of mystery?  Well, to be honest, Steiffgal is not 100% sure, as she has never seen this piece before, and it does not appear in any standard Steiff reference books.  However, there are several clues about him that may shed a little light on his dating, background, purpose, and history. 

First check out his tag and button.  He has Steiff's traditional thick letter raised script button which technically appeared on items from the early to mid 1960's through around 1972.  His yellow linen tag was used from 1969/1970 through 1980. However, Steiffgal has noticed from some items in her personal collection that the thick letter raised script button has appeared on some larger, studio items through the mid- to late 1970's as well. 

Next check out the writing on his tag.  It is clearly handwritten.  It has been Steiffgal's observation that in the past in general, Steiff hand wrote numbers on a tag on studio (life sized) items, items that only very few were produced, sample items, and other rarities.  Although the meanings of the different numbers have changed over time, and several times in the 1950's and 1960's, Steiffgal can decipher that the first two digits, a 7 and a 7, most likely indicate Steiff is describing this item as "in caricature" - the first 7 - and "synthetic, rubber" for the second 7.  That would make sense, given the doll has a playful look to him, and is most likely made from man-made trivera velvet.  The "49" may - and this is just a guess - indicate 49 cm as a sitting size for this item, as the total height is around 75 cm.  It is not clear what the final two digits after the slash may indicate.  Overall, his tag suggests that he is very unusual and made for a special purpose.

Now his look and materials.  As mentioned above, he appears to be made from trivera velvet, a material that was very popular at Steiff in the 1970's through the 1980's.  It had a soft and durable "skin" like texture and look to it. This material was used quite frequently on play dolls, notably on a series of adorable little friends from 1972 through 1982.  They are pictured here on the left.  This material is occasionally used at Steiff today; a somewhat recent example is the 100cm bier monk doll Steiff created in 1999 for Alpirsbacher Klosterbraeu, a traditional brewery located in Germany’s Black Forest.   

Of course, it's never polite to guess any one's age.  But given all the clues mentioned above, Steiffgal feels that this doll most likely was manufactured in the the mid 1970's - a little less than a decade before being discovered by Bryan's dad!   

Now for his purpose.  Here's where best guessing and a little knowledge come together.  Based on his size, rarity, and hand written tag, Steiffgal THINKS that this doll was produced for one of these reasons:
  1. As part of a large storefront window display, perhaps of the nativity (he could have been a wise man posed with a camel) or of a Middle Eastern vignette.
  2. As a "customer special", a piece ordered and then designed and produced in very limited quantities for a private customer or organization.
  3. As a sample which was never produced in a large enough scale for documentation.    
Given that, then you may be asking why were there two of these, and why were they for sale in a Frankfurt airport gift shop?  It is entirely possible that for any of the three reasons listed above, Steiff produced a handful of extras and had them on hand in storage.  It would not be out of character for Steiff (and Steiffgal means this in the most loving way...) to sell these older extras to retailers to make a few dollars, and some extra room, in their inventory stockrooms.  

Steiffgal hopes this research into Bryan's great mystery doll has added a little foreign intrigue to your day! 

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

1 comment:

  1. That gift looks very scary to me. How ever old it is, I would send it back quickly!
    Happy Christmas to you.


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