Sunday, November 4, 2012

This Vintage Steiff Polar Bear is One Head Turner Indeed

There's a chill in the air, but in this case, it's not a bad thing at all!  Check out this note from a reader who asks about a recent really cool Steiff find!  Over a series of communications, Diane from Florida (of all places!) shares:

"Steiffgal:

Check out this adorable polar bear!  He is over 14 inches long and about 8.5 inches at the height of his rump.  His head seems to be bent, I am not sure if this is his original pose.  He retains quite a bit of mohair, which I think was white at one time.  

The bear retains his small underscored Steiff button.  I'm thinking mid 1920's.  His paws need to be replaced for sure. Could this be the early polar bear on wheels? It may be my imagination, but I think you can see an indentation on one paw where the wheels may have been. I sure would appreciate any information on this adorable piece.

Do you think he should be restored, or should I keep him as is?

Best,

Diane"

It's white-out conditions over this great bear for sure!  What we have here is Steiff's Polarbaer or Polar bear.  He is standing, six ways jointed (more on that soon!), and made from white mohair.  His detailing includes black claws, a simple hand embroidered black nose and mouth, and little black shoe button eyes.  This is a great design that did appear with and without wheels.   He was produced with wheels in 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, 50, 60, 80, and 100 from 1910 through 1919, and without wheels in 14, 17, 22, 28, 35, and 80 cm from 1908 through 1928.  Diane's bear has the 4mm button, which dates him before 1925.  The photo on the left shows an excellent example of this polar bear design; this particular bear sold for close to $2,200 at the 2010 Steiff auction at Christie's in London.  

So is this item the "wheel deal?"  It's hard to tell from the condition of his paw pads if indeed he originally had wheels.  In general, larger items were mounted on their wheels and carriages, not sewn on.  The frames had a little "thumb" that was inserted into the foot of the animal to secure the item to the carriage.  You can see an example of this here on the left, on a 1920's era lion on wheels. Much smaller and lighter items were stitched to the wheels and carriages, as the stress and pull was not as great.  It is Steiffgal's best guess that items with felt paw pads would in general not be stitched on to carriages as this would not be a strong and durable connection for the long run.  


One really head turning feature of this Steiff polar bear design is his "ball jointed" neck.  This feature enables the head and neck to be twisted and rotated into different lifelike positions.  This proprietary movement was invented by Franz Steiff and registered on May 24, 1908 in the German patent office as a "toy animal with movable head."  According to company records, this was accomplished by... "attaching a swivel jointed mechanism to the head which was then secured to the body by means of a tube running from the neck to the torso."  Steiff used this feature on a few models of their polar bears, begging poodles, pigs, cats, and opossums.  Here on the left you can see the engineering behind this movement feature; this illustration is from the Cieslik's wonderful 1989 reference book, "Button in Ear The History of The Teddy Bear and His Friends."  

Let's sew up this blog posting with a brief discussion on restoration.  Every collector has a different opinion about whether to repair a piece or not.  Here is Steiffgal's thoughts... if an item is very rare, and the chances of ever finding another are slim to none... and/or the piece has amazing sentimental value or a family history... and/or if the treasure is at great risk for falling apart or becoming more damaged if it is not secured... then yes, Steiffgal would probably suggest restoration.  Of course, it is critical, and ethically essential, that if you do have a piece restored and then move it along at some point, that you let the new owner know about the work.  


Steiffgal hopes that this conversation on this delightful jointed polar bear has really warmed your heart.

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