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!

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