Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Little Novel Mystery To Light Up Your Steiff Life!

Looking for a little something to light up your (Steiff) life? Then you've come to the right place.  The world of interesting vintage plush collectibles is quite large - but also quite interrelated on many levels.  Take a look at this note from a reader who asks about a possible novelty... could it have been made by Steiff?   Jaime writes...
Here is my dilemma... After what seems like a thousand dead-ends, a ton of time, energy, and endless "google-ing" & "bing-ing"....  I have exhausted all known avenues of search.  Can you take a look at my item and provide any information about it?

Here are his details.  He is approximately 19cm or about 7-1/2" tall, and hard stuffed with excelsior.  His body is made from mohair and is yellowish / cream or off-white, in color, with darker shaded tips and a few black, air-brushed, spots on the forehead and front paws.  His muzzle and ears are shaved or trimmed black mohair; each ear has one stitch, to help keep them held down and in place.  His nose and mouth are hand embroidered in black.  He has a pink corduroy "panting or begging" tongue.  He has a swivel head and wears a green leather collar with a silver buckle.

Here's where it gets interesting.  He has glass eyes, which are light brown/auburn with a black pupil.  Each contains  a "filament", essentially, a removable light bulb with a socket. The battery or power source is housed in the belly and is accessed by un-doing three, brass, snap-style buttons. All 3 snaps are engraved with the maker's name, "Prym."  The Prym Company, responsible for making the snaps, is located just 3 hours away from the Steiff factory in Germany.

There are no identifying marks except for the button makers name on the brass snaps. There does appear to be an "indented" area where a button would have been in the left ear.   The mohair, in that area, was matted down in the shape of a round button and there did appear to be small hole through the ear,  But I have poured over this puppy for so many exhausting months that it might just be a wishful thinking!  Please help!!  

Thank you, 
Electrifying, and many thanks for introducing us to this great item.  And, as you might know, Steiffgal is a pug fiend; two real live ones (pictured above) are right here by her side as she figures out this mystery.  

Don't mean to zap anyone's expectations, but Steiffgal can tell you right away that this item was not made by Steiff. However, it has two features that are quite interesting when viewed through the lens of Steiff history and product evolution: 1.  its design and 2.  its "novelty" qualities.  The big challenge is that there were a zillion toy companies in business in Europe and the US about the time that he was made, and little documentation or history on many of these manufacturers.  So, as a result, Jaime may never really know his origins.  And that's ok. But there are a few things Steiffgal can glean about this dog which do relate directly to Steiff.  

Let's first take a look at his dog-gone design.  It is Steiffgal's opinion that has many of the same elements of two documented Steiff dog designs.  These are Tino, who is from the early to mid 1930's, and Pug, who is from the mid to late 1920's.  They are pictured above; Tino is on the left and Pug is on the right.  Both are little known, very rare, and seldom seen on the secondary or collector's marketplaces.   

It is very interesting to note that it was (and still sort of is) really, really common that plush companies would all but replicate their competitor's lines with the slightest of modifications and call that pattern their own.  Well known examples of this with Steiff include early Teddy bear designs, tumbling animals, and even their Treff the bloodhound, who was based on the English Dalmatian "Dismal Desmond," manufactured by the Deans Rag Book Co. of London.  

So, when can a dog really be a cat?  When it's a copycat!  Despite a Steiff look, there are two design elements that strongly suggest that the item was not made by Steiff.  First, his design is too "clunky" to be made by Steiff; the pattern is very simple and the lines are not curved and elegant.  (This is not meant to be derogatory in any way, it just is what it is.)  Additionally, thinking back, Steiffgal can't think of one time Steiff ever used corduroy on any item, except way post war on some doll, bear, and character's clothing items.  So this also all but rules out Steiff as the manufacturer.   

Second, let's take a look at the novelty features of this pug.  Steiff created many early novelty items - including hand bags, puppets, pajama bags, animal dolls, dangling car mascots, and even a record cleaner - but Steiffgal is all but certain that Steiff themselves never made "electric" eyed items.  (However, she has seen "aftermarket" creations, meaning someone got creative with a Steiff Ted, some wiring, and light bulbs in their garage!) The novelties that Steiff produced were always based on their most popular and well known characters, including Bully the Bulldog, Molly the Puppy, and Charly the King Charles Spaniel.  Jaime's dog design, although adorable, would not fit into this tier of classic Steiff patterns.  Steiffgal's favorite Steiff novelty of all time, Jocko as a purse - from around 1930 - is pictured here on the left. 

It's time to plug into the topic of electrified plush!  Light-up eyed items first came on the market around 1907 or so.  They were produced as novelties and mostly seen on bears.  The eyes would light up if the bear's belly was pressed, a switch was pressed, or a limb was moved up or down.  The early ones had the batteries buried in the body so you pretty much had to take the animal apart to replace them.  Jaime's pug seems to have a much nicer battery setup, with snaps or the like, implying that it is a more sophisticated, therefore slightly younger design than the early ones, perhaps from the late 1920's or so.

So what does this all mean?  Steiffgal's best guess, and that's all she can offer here, is that this was made in Europe by one of Steiff competitors in the early 1930's or so.  The light up eyes were designed to "one up" the Steiff design, but the materials used, and the overall design details are somewhat inferior to traditional Steiff standards.   Anyone else have any ideas? 

Steiffgal hopes you got a real charge out of learning about this vintage electric-eyed pug.  

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


  1. Steve (Woodenhill Bears)March 5, 2012 at 5:45 AM

    This little electric eye dog looks very similar/identical to the Farnell 'Buster' dogs made during the 1920's and 30's and although I have owned a few of those over the years I have never seen or heard of an electric eye version. Based on the current owners comments on the 'Prym' fastenings not being exported out of Germany until the 1930's I wonder if it might either be a 1930's Farnell 'Buster' dog prototype or possibly a homespun modification to an earlier 1920's Buster dog.

  2. Hi
    I now own Buster and he is definately a Farnell date circa late 1920s. The eyes are beautiful and very professionally made so don't think it is a homespun mechanism, more a prototype possibly for US market as electric eyes more common there. Also the battery area is well hidden. He caused a few problems in customs!! but has joined the other Busters!!


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