Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fawning All Over This Tiny And Unusual Steiff Treasure

It's pretty easy to fawn over Steiff treasures - especially the tiny ones - and that is certainly the case here!  Check out this note from a reader who asks about an unusual Steiff item she found in a box of family treasures.  Through a series of communications, Betsey writes in part:  
I was looking online to try to identify an antique Steiff fawn and found your site - so here I am. 

I found this item in a box of my deceased parents personal belongings - my father and mother were born in 1910 and 1915, respectively.  The fawn in question stands 4.75" tall and is 4.5" long if standing fairly straight up.  He is a kind of deep cinnamon/pumpkin color with 'age-darkened' white spots on his body and around the front of his chest.  He also has white detailing on the top part of his rather rounded, permanently-tucked-in tail.  His hooves and snout are black.  He has dyed-to-match pumpkin colored triangular felt ears; his left ears is still adorned with a tiny silver colored Steiff button. He has round black button eyes.  His coat is very woolen like, similar to the pom pom bunnies.  He is only wired, not at all jointed, and the wire can be seen when you part the wool of his belly.

I have hesitated calling him a fawn because his ears are not big and tall like real deer ears and his nose and hooves are not fine, but nearly the same width as his head and legs.  Of course, this may merely be simplicity of his design. He looks a bit more like pictures I've seen of alpacas, shorn all one length, like a poodle with a puppy-cut.

He is quite darling, and just now as I smell him...  he smells like mittens, woolen mittens like my mother made.

I hope you can help me learn more about him.  Thanks so much for taking the time to read this message.

What a dear - whoops, Steiffgal meant deer - inquiry!  What we have here is Steiff's very rare and seldom seen woolen miniature Reh or deer.  Deer is is 10 cm tall and made from pumpkin colored Nomotta wool.  Nomotta is a type of high quality, alpaca-like wool which has been treated with a moth repellent product; "Nomotta" is actually a play-on-words for the German phrase, "No Moths."  This Nomotta deer has white highlights on his chest and tail, as well as spots on his back.  His face is detailed with a black nose, a simple black mouth, and black bead eyes.  His ears are made from felt.  He is flexible as he has an internal wire framework.  This tiny handful was made in 10 cm only from 1935 through 1938.   

Steiffgal's just guessing here... but given the ages of Betsey's parents, and the production timeline of their Steiff treasure -  it is possible that this deer originally served as a courtship or early marriage gift for the young couple.   

This fawn is an outstanding example of an early Steiff woolen miniature, or "woolie."  Woolies debuted in the 1931 Steiff catalog in the form of six simple birds; each item was a different color and was produced in 4 and 8 centimeters. This introduction proved extremely successful.  Almost immediately, Steiff introduced rabbits, cats, mice, mice, monkeys, ducks and other popular species - including Betsey's little deer - as woolen miniatures. The vast majority of these tiny treasures were in the 5- to 15-cm size range. Despite their small proportions, most were head jointed and/or made with internal wire frameworks for flexibility.  They also often had charming details that included tiny metal legs; felt beaks, wings and ears; colorful slippers; and head wear, including bonnets, top hats and lacy veils. Steiff produced these woolen miniatures pre-war through 1943.  (Pictured above is a photo of what Betsey's deer looked like when new; this illustration is from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Steiff Sortiment reference book.) 

Post war, Steiff began producing woolies again in 1949; resuming the manufacture of some of the more popular earlier models—like the robin, green woodpecker, finch, blue tit, sparrow and rabbit—and introducing some brand new breeds as well. Steiff also got a little creative with the woolies, manufacturing hanging mobiles made from woolies in the late 1960s through the mid ’70s.  Around the same time as the mobiles, Steiff also experimented with woolies by combining them with mohair features. Two examples of these included a 6-cm. woolie skunk with a black and white wire reinforced posable mohair tail and a 5-cm. squirrel with a brown posable tail.  Steiff woolen miniatures appeared in the catalog though the early 1980s; after that, demand decreased and it became too labor intensive and expensive to produce them. Steiff subsequently dropped them from the line.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about this unusual woolen miniature as brought you a huge amount of happiness today.  

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

***UPDATE:  February 17, 2013***

Steiffgal received the following note and photo from Betsey:

"Dear Steiffgal,

Look at what I found in a box of pictures my sister just sent me!  Does it make you feel clairvoyant?

See what looks like 'linked pins' over my mother's left breast (frat' pin?) and then her gazing at the little center of attention beneath the Christmas tree. Seeing this picture made me feel like Indiana Jones finding the holy grail - and you were the expert/historian who created the treasure map!  I just had to share it with you." 

So it does appear that the little deer was a courtship present from Betsey's father to her mother.  A beautiful and delightful Steiff mystery solved!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing all the interesting pictures and information about such a stunning piece of Steiff woolen art masterpieces. I´m loving it! Teddy hugs & Bärige Grüße, Carsten from Germany

  2. That deer is adorable. I always loved the woolies and still have my childhood birds of that type from the 60s. This deer reminds me of the little ARA wool animals.


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