Saturday, August 4, 2012

Coming To Your Rescue With This Delightful Vintage Steiff St. Bernard

It's certainly the dogs days of summer around these parts, with the temperature hovering in the 90's most of the time. It also appears to be "the dog days of Steiff" with this most interesting question from a reader about his blue ribbon family heirloom.  Roger from the UK writes in part...


I have a pull-along “King Charles’ Spaniel” made by Steiff, which was given to my mother around 1910, in the UK.

I can give you the following information about him: 
  • No eartag but there is a small hole to the rear of the right ear, near the head.
  • Not jointed and hard stuffed.
  • He is 14 in (36 cm) high on his wheels.
  • He is 5 in (13 cm) wide.
  • He is 14 in (36 cm) long and nose to rear and 21 in (53 cm) nose to tail.
  • He has brown and black glass pupil eyes and a hand embroidered nose and mouth.
  • He is made from mohair and has a leather color with 7 metal raised script ‘STEIFF’ studs.
  • He rides on brass wheels and has a braided pull cord.

I have only ever seen a picture of a pull-along bear, on similar wheels, so I am very curious to know anything more about ‘Rover’, above. Are you able to help?

Thank you, Roger"

Steiffgal just loves it when questions like this roll in!  What Roger has here is not actually a King Charles Spaniel, but a St. BernardAs Roger describes above, this early model is standing, unjointed, and made from mohair.  This is a very popular and beloved turn of last century Steiff design.  He was made in 12, 14, 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, 50, 60, 80, and 99 cm from the 1904 through 1927 time frame.  Items like this are usually measured height wise sans wheels, so this piece is probably the 28 cm size. Depending on the size and date of the example, this model appeared with an open as well as closed mouth, with a voice, on metal or wooden wheels, and with a steering mechanism. Roger's dog has glass eyes, dating him from around 1912 onward, which makes sense with his family's ownership timeline.  The dog's Steiff button studded collar makes him particularly interesting from a collector's perspective. 

Most collectors would climb every mountain to add this dog - with breed origins in the Italian and Swiss alps - to their Steiff hug. Roger's St. Bernard is the first of its breed to appear in the Steiff catalog. A similar design, but without wheels and made in lamb's wool plush, appeared in the line from 1904 though 1919. In the mid-19-teens, Steiff introduced a puppy St. Bernard to the marketplace; his chubby features, childlike face, and large, floppy paws made him all but irresistible. Made in mohair or lamb's wool plush, he was available through 1927. In 1928, Steiff went back to the drawing board and completely redesigned their standard line St. Bernard - this updated pattern is shown here above. The new model had a much more detailed face, a softer and more rounded muzzle, and playful, innocent presence to it. These design features were common to many new Steiff designs launched in the mid to late 1920's - a very "happy" and innovative time at Steiff. This pattern was produced standing, sitting, on wheels, and as a tail turns head model over time through 1943.

St. Bernards continued to be a loyal and faithful member of the Steiff pack once the factory reopened for business in the late 1940's post World War II.  A larger mohair riding St. Bernard on wheels - based on the pre-war design - appeared in the line in 43, 50, 60, and 62 cm from 1949 through 1957.   A slightly simplified standing model, also based on the prewar design, was available in 10, 14, and 22 cm from 1953 through 1957.  In the early 1960's, Steiff again updated their standard line St. Bernard and even gave him a name for the first time - Bernie.  Bernie is shown here above.  Bernie was made from mohair and available sitting or standing on all fours.  New Bernie had less prominent facial airbrushing, a chunkier build, and a smaller scale tail; standing Bernie also featured a cask attached to his collar.  Overall, sitting Bernie was produced in 12 and 22 cm from 1963 through 1970 while standing Bernie was made in 22 cm from 1964 through 1966.  From the late 1960's to the present day, St. Bernards have always been a standard feature in the Steiff line, mostly appearing in large size plush models for children's fun and play. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's St. Bernard history has come to your rescue at just the right time.  

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

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