Listen up! Steiffgal just got back from a visit with collectors from the Orlando area, at a wonderful Steiff event sponsored by Judy's Dolls of Longwood, Florida. And guess what just "rolled" into the appraisal clinic? This fabulous but somewhat mysterious Steiff dog with large floppy ears, perched upon wooden wheels. When Steiffgal saw him, he sort of rang a bell with her - but something wasn't exactly lining up. After a few minutes of noodling, she finally figured him out. So, just who is this delightful doggie?
Hear, hear... what we have here is Steiff's early Arco German Shepherd on wheels. He is 43 cm standing, made of mohair, and unjointed. He has an open, felt lined mouth and felt lined ears. His body is detailed with brown, tan, and black airbrushing, giving his fur and coat nice texture and a realistic appearance. His face is detailed with brown and black glass pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose. His claws are indicated by black stitches, and he has a thick and impressive tail. He rides upon a black metal carriage and four red wooden wheels. Arco has his original red and white pull cord and red wooden handle. Overall, Arco on wheels was made in 35, 43, 50, 60, and 70 cm from 1937 through 1943. This design was also called "Police Dog" and some models had this name imprinted on their chest tags.
This blue ribbon beauty is clearly "man's best friend" as well as a "friend for life." As a result, he has suffered a bit of wear that in some ways made his exact identity a bit challenging initially. Much of this focuses around his facial area. One of the details that makes the early Arco design so particularly life-life and irresistible is his ears. They were made to stand straight up, much like the real dog. (You can see this here on the left, in a photo from the Steiff Sortiment book, which shows what this example looked like when new.) This was done by lining the ears in a metal wire, much like Steiff's ear construction on their beloved Petsy bears. However, in this example, the ears were extremely floppy and positioned high up on the dog's head. It was apparent that over time, the ears had come loose and someone tried to sew them back on, albeit in a somewhat sloppy way. It is Steiffgal's best guess that when the ears were sewn back on, someone removed the wires so they would not stick out on the ends of repair. When she felt along the perimeter of the ears, she did feel small pieces of wire; it is also possible that the wire broke over time and when the ears were replaced, the seamstress took out as much of the wire as possible.
Arco's other facial issue, was, well, easy to see. His eyes just didn't look right. One was much larger and rounder than the other. Steiff traditionally attaches eyes to their products by sewing them securely through the head (yes, this requires a mighty big needle, great skill, and strength!) and tying the two threads in a large knot at the the back base of the neck. You can usually feel this as a significant bump or indent on an item. However, Steiffgal could not find this feature on this Arco. She also noticed that when she ran her finger around the perimeter of the eyes, she felt a hard glue-like residue. It is Steiffgal's best guess that the original eyes had fallen out, and over time, someone had found replacement eyes and glued them back into place.
To repair, or not to repair, that is the question. Steiffgal realizes that every collector and enthusiast has their own feelings about this question. Issues of authenticity, value, cost, and personal preference all come into play here. However, in this case, Steiffgal recommended to Arco's owners that they consider having him professionally restored, given that the dog is in otherwise really nice condition, is relatively rare in this size and configuration, and appears to be completely structurally sound. No surprise here, but they were all ears over this suggestion! This relatively simple two step facial restoration, if done professionally by an expert, would bring back his absolute charm and help draw attention to his most impressive features.
Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this vintage Steiff Arco has shepherded you into a new way of thinking about restoration.
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