Friday, May 25, 2012

Collecting Steiff's Very Vintage Treasures

Although Steiff treasures can't talk themselves, they certainly inspire delightful conversations between enthusiasts from all over the world!  Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of meeting a collector who has a special passion for really old Steiff:  items from the turn of last century or before!  Come meet Jean and check out some of her absolutely museum quality antique Steiff finds!

Steiffgal:  Please tell us your name, where you are from, and your profession.

Jean:  My name is Jean Smith, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, in Berkeley, California. I’ve been at UC Berkeley for 25 years, and am currently the business manager for the communications office… never a dull moment, I can assure you!

Steiffgal:  Please tell us how you got interested in Steiff.

Jean:  When I was a child, my mother gave me a Steiff animal when I received good grades on my report card. I was never interested in dolls, but loved animals, so her ploy worked… I wound up with 20 or so Steiffs in my toy basket. Fortunately, even then, I knew they were special, so I always kept them, although I do remember pulling the chest tags, buttons and stock tags out… ouch!

Steiffgal:  Please tell us about the first piece of Steiff you remember getting.  Do you still have it?

Jean:  I recall that my first Steiff was “Slo” turtle, followed closely by a little fox, a woolie ladybug (sadly misplaced), an “Wittie” owl, a “Pieps” mouse, a “Nosy” rhino, a “Gaty” alligator, and an elephant. I still have them all!

Steiffgal:  Please tell us about your very, very old Steiff items.

Jean:  I think I started veering into the really old Steiff pieces back in the 1980s and 90s. My mom and I for several years attended the “Festival of Steiff” Show in Toledo, OH, where I saw wonderful pieces on display and for sale. We also haunted the old Marin City flea market every Sunday. Over the years, I found an 1898 Steiff skittles set, all elephants, with the original pink and green felt ball, a Steiff velvet cat pincushion which also had sewing guide lines (literally template lines) drawn on at the factory for a young girl to practice her needlework, and many other treasures.

Steiffgal:  What draws you to items from the turn of last century?

Jean:  I find the workmanship, imagination, and historical significance of these pieces to be fascinating. Being a bit of a history wonk, I love the idea of handling something that has survived two World Wars and over 100 years of handling. I also have a weakness for those little shoe-button eyes… can’t help myself when I see a shoe-button eye! 

Steiffgal:  What are your favorite three items in your collection from this time period? Why is each one a favorite?

Jean:  I’d have to say my favorite of the entire collection is the 1898 skittles set. They are pre-ear button era. The set’s just so clean, so complete and so wonderfully whimsical that I just adore it. When it came to me, I could see that each piece had been wrapped in old newspaper, and judging from a small scrap of paper, came from Britain. Just what these little guys had been doing for all this time was a mystery. They certainly were not played with. I often wonder… did some parent buy them for a child who died young? Did some adult fall in love with them and then put them away in a box? So far, the elephants are not talking. 

I also love a little felt giraffe on metal wheels. This came from a couple of wonderful California Steiff dealers, the Jensens. He’s also incredibly clean and was not ever played with. Imagine what this little guy has seen…the advent of the automobile, human flight, computers, etc. 

Little kitty pin cushion and Mr. Goat run a third-place tie for favorites. I adore pet goats, so it was just crazy the day I saw this guy on EBay. I agonized over his “Buy It Now” price and finally hit the button and he was mine. My mom’s Steiff goat is even earlier, on metal wheels, but she won’t part with him to keep mine company. 

Steiffgal: How do you display these precious items?

Jean:  All of my pre-1940s pieces are housing in a large glass-fronted case in my bedroom, arranged by species or character. I have a few very rare 1950s pieces in there as well, like the grasshopper, his frog buddy, and the Bayer Germ

I keep, in my bedroom, an old comforter cover, king sized… if there’s ever a fire, my dogs go out the window first and then I start frantically stuffing those old Steiffs in the comforter cover and make my escape!

Steiffgal: What is your dream/fantasy piece that you hope to add to your collection someday?

Jean:  There is a picture, in one of my Steiff books, of a Steiff character frog standing on his hind legs, holding an oar. I would LOVE to find one of those froggies. And of course I would find him at a garage sale and pay $5 for him. Well, I can dream. I would also love to find a Billy possum, but the last one I saw went on EBay for over $9,000. Maybe at that same garage sale…?

Steiffgal:  Many, many thanks for sharing these remarkable Steiff treasures with me and our wonderful readers! And good luck finding your frog... I am sure you will find him if he's out there!

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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Getting Piccy Over Steiff's Playful Pelicans

Ok, Steiffgal admits it.  She sometimes gets a little "Piccy" when it comes to Steiff treasures. So it should come as no surprise that she has a special thing for one particular and unusual Steiff bird breed - their pelicans!  Let's take a look at Steiff's classic "big beaked" beauties, and see what makes them so interesting from a design perspective.

Bird's the word when it comes to these yellow fellows.  Steiff's Piccy pelicans were produced in 17 and 25 cm from 1959 through 1961 only.  Both sizes are standing and unjointed.  They are made from yellow mohair that seems to have a touch of pink airbrushed highlighting to it.  Their wings are stretched facing back, as if they are about to take off in flight.  Their oversized feet are made from yellow felt that has been detailed brown and grey stripes.  They are partially lined in metal wires and are somewhat posable.  Each also has a simple half-circle tail lined in a metal wire; it is posable as well.  And of course, their faces - which only a mama pelican or Steiff enthusiast would love.  The tops of their heads are finished in longish yellow mohair, in somewhat of a "mullet" style.  Each has black and white goofy "google" style round eyes.  Their huge, show-stopping beaks are made from yellow felt.  The insides of the beaks are lined in jagged-cut, shiny yellow patent-leather looking material, to simulate their teeth. 

Piccy is a playful and delightful example of Steiff's late 1950's - early 1960's era creativity.  It is interesting to note that there were many other somewhat "unconventional" (i.e. not usually considered cuddly creatures) yet beloved Steiff patterns launched within the same time frame, most also incorporating unusual materials, like Piccy's teeth, which are shown in extreme close up here on the left.  A few examples include:

  • Eric the Bat, produced in 10 and 17 cm from 1960 through 1962.  His tiny, mouse-like body was constructed from gray-brown mohair. His thin wings were made from plastic-like sheeting. His arms and legs were gray pipe cleaners, while his ears were felt.
  • Crabby the Lobster, produced in 10, 17, and 28 cm from 1963 through 1966. The larger size was mohair; the smaller sizes were felt.  He had black eyes, eight bright, orange bendable pipe-cleaner legs, and bright orange string antenna. 
  • Nelly the Snail, produced in 10 cm from 1961 through 1963.    Nelly had a velvet body; the bottom was tan and the top was either brown or green. She had tall, plastic antennae (which had a tendency to snap off during normal play), black bead eyes, and a large, swirled plastic shell to match her body color.  
Based on his good looks and charming personality, Piccy was one of the "Steiff Covermodels" chosen for its 1960 "Steiff Zoo Series" of commercial postcards.  These were a series of 20 full color, standard sized 3" x 5" cardboard postcards, each featuring a number of popular Steiff animals from the period, in a funny or authentic natural setting.  The postcards were made by Nyack Art, of West Nyack, New York, and published by the The Block Importing Company, Inc., Richmond, Virginia.  In his postcard - pictured above - Piccy is featured holding Steiff's 40 cm silk plush trout, a highly coveted United States exclusive from 1950.  The back of his card reads, ""Piccy" the Pelican catches a favorite appetizer."

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff's Piccy pelican design has been as delightful as a summer's day on the beach for you.  

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

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Check Out This Remarkable Lifesized Steiff Jungle Gem!

So what would be your most perfect way to spend a day? For Steiffgal, it probably is walking the miles and miles of booths at the Brimfield Fair in Brimfield, Massachusetts with Steiffguy. This event, which is held three times per year, is the largest outdoor antique and vintage show in America.  This past weekend, the Steiffteam hit the road to the show in the hopes of enjoying a "Steiff Safari" and even perhaps scoring a few treasures.  Little did they know how true the familiar adage... "Be careful what you wish for"... would come true in this case!

Ok - so how to begin here?  The Steiffteam had just parked their car in one of the fields adjacent to Route 20, where the event is held.  The plan was to first cover the area where they had struck gold last year, about a quarter of a mile down the field.   As they were walking past the very first booth of the show, there he was.  A magnificent lifesized Steiff studio baby okapi, majestically displayed among vintage cloth dolls and a few old paintings.   Steiffgal's heart skipped a beat or two in disbelief.  After a quick inspection, Steiffgal's fondest dreams were realized.  Yes, indeed it was a superb example of one of Steiff's most unusual studio items from the 1960's.  After a few minutes of light negotiations, the treasure was hers!  Here on the left you can see Steiffguy excitedly getting ready to carry this breathtaking find back to the Steiffcar.  Imagine the looks he got in transit as the porter?

So who exactly is this jungle gem?  An okapi is a little bit like a cross between a giraffe and a zebraThis elegant and distinctive animal somewhat resembles a giraffe from the torso up - with his long and graceful neck and pert ears - and a zebra from the legs down, with his striped legs and lower back torso. Steiff's studio version is standing, mohair, and gorgeously detailed with hand airbrushing in black and many shades of browns and tans. He has a peach colored felt lined open mouth and huge brown and black pupil eyes.  The soles of his hooves are covered in a very durable leather like material.  This design was produced in 120 and 200 cm in 1960 and 1967 only. Steiffgal's version is the 120 cm baby sized model. 

Okapis are as rare in the Steiff catalog as they are in real life, and have only appeared for a handful of times in the line.  In addition to the studio versions mentioned above, Steiff also produced a series of smaller okapis in 14, 28, and 43 cm from 1958 through 1970.  These are pictured here on the left.  The 14 and 28 cm versions are made from velvet while the 43 cm version is made from mohair.  All are standing and have amazing brown, black, tan, and grey airbrushed details and black mohair manes. The larger sizes have mohair tipped tails and ears; the smallest version has a little rope tail and felt ears.  The next Steiff okapi made his very brief appearance in the line for one year only, in 1995.  His name was Kiwu;  he was 35 cm, standing, and made from woven fur.  Given his limited production and distribution, it is no surprise that Steiffgal has never actually seen Kiwu in person.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on special finds and Steiff okapis has been an exotic adventure for you as well!

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

Saturday, May 5, 2012

This Vintage Steiff Farmer Is Quite The Charmer!

When it comes to collecting Steiff, it's really important to be "buttoned up" about the legacy behind exceptionally special vintage treasures.   And once in awhile, "the button" itself becomes an important part of the story.  Such is the case - in spades -  with this really special Steiff doll that Steiffgal recently had the pleasure to adopt into her hug.   Let's take a look at this country gentleman and see what makes him so special from the design and historical prospectives.

This vintage farmer is quite the charmer!  Here we have Steiff's 35 cm "Dachau Farmer."   Dachau a town in Upper Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany.  Farmer is five ways jointed and made entirely from felt - except for his footwear.  He is very hard stuffed with excelsior. His face is detailed with black shoebutton eyes, while his other features - mouth, eyebrows, ruddy cheeks, and "needs-a-shave" chin - are all painted by hand.  Farmer wears black pants, a red vest with a white collar, and a blue blazer.  He dons a black floppy hat and has handmade leather boots with tan felt soles.  His clothes are actually part of his body - they cannot be removed.  Steiff produced this design from 1908 through 1928. It is also interesting to note that this particular Dachau farmer design was also produced as a 29 cm roly-poly from 1909-1917.

This doll is really unusual from other dolls produced in the same time period for several reasons.  The three key ones include:

1.  "Button in ear"
It goes without saying that Steiff items are universally known and loved for their "button in ear" branding, which is usually in the left ear or side, if you are facing the item.  However, this particular doll has a button in both ears!  At the turn of last century, Steiff sometimes put a button in each ear of an item if it were a sample of the item.  The button usually said the word "Muster" on it, which means "sample" in German.  This clearly is not the case here!

2.  "Button as decoration"
This item could certainly compete in a Steiff button contest... and even perhaps qualify as having the most buttons on an item - ever!  Including the two ear buttons, Dachau Farmer has a total of eighteen - yes, eighteen - 4mm trailing "f" buttons.  This size button was used in the approximately 1906 through 1925 time frame. His red vest is detailed with sixteen tiny buttons.  Some are right side up, some are upside down.  But they certainly add an interesting touch to his appearance.  Steiffgal has seen Steiff buttons as detailing on shoes, soles, collars, belts, and even some packaging, but never on vests to this extent.

3.  "Facial seam"
Take a close look at Farmer's face.  Notice anything unusual, besides his striking good looks?  Farmer has a HORIZONTAL facial seam.  The vast majority of early turn of last century Steiff felt dolls had VERTICAL facial stitching.  This may be to accommodate the design behind his prominent nose, which is somewhat larger and more pronounced than other Steiff felt dolls of the time.  However, this construction is by far the exception to the rule, and is quite interesting from the collector's perspective.  It wasn't until the early 1930's that Steiff was able to overcome the challenges of felt doll facial construction and produce a doll with a seamless face.

Steiff produced many felt figures from the early 1900's through the 1930's. These models were more reflective of occupations and culture (shepherds, stone cutters, tailors, butchers, shoemakers, soldiers, students, etc.) than playful designs for children. Steiff made at least eight distinct farmers from different geographic areas, indicating how important this profession was at the turn of last century. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of The Dachau Farmer has been a barn-burner for you. 

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