Saturday, December 8, 2012

Just Whoooo Is This Mysterious Steiff Owl?

Steiffgal doesn't want to sound like a bird-brain here, but just whoooo are you?  Check out this mysterious little Steiff owl.  He's got the "blues" for sure - but just in appearance and not in mood! As far as Steiffgal can tell, he does not appear in any Steiff catalog or literature.  So here's what we know about him, and what we don't.


This fine feathered friend is 10 cm tall. His face, body, and wings are made from light grey mohair and his feathers are designed from carefully cut and detailed blue-grey felt. He is unjointed, has marvelous blue airbrushed detailing on his body, huge green pupil eyes, and charming tufts of black hair on his forehead. His rear-end tail feathers are made from felt; this area is it lined in wire and is poseable. One of the remarkable things about this piece is his chubby blue-grey felt feet.


It is clear that this brainy bird is based on Steiff's beloved and standard line Uhu Wittie, or Wittie Owl. Wittie as a plaything or collectible was produced from 1954 through 1977 in four sizes: 10, 14, 22, and 35 cm.  Wittie was produced as a popular hand puppet from 1955 through 1978.  Unlike the mystery owl, Wittie was primarily tan, brown, and white, with a few green highlights.  A collection of Wittie owls is pictured above.  

Bird's the word when it comes to Steiff's owls.  The first Steiff owl made its appearance in the catalog from 1934 through 1939.  He was an 8 cm woolen miniature made from colorful Nomotta wool.  He had tiny black eyes, a felt beak and a swivel head.  His feet were made from metal.  Wittie, who debuted in 1954, was the next - and best known and loved - Steiff owl pattern.  


In the 1960's, Steiff created several "customer specials" based on its hugely popular Wittie pattern.   By "customer special", Steiffgal means an unusual custom ribbon, a felt accessory, a unique tag, or other small differentiators added to an otherwise standard item in the line. Steiff created a 10 and 13 cm blue and white version of Wittie and a 10 cm custom imprinted standard colored Wittie for the German cigar company Weisse Eule ("White Owl").  Both of these designs are documented in the Steiff records and were most likely used by Weisse Eule as gifts or incentives for the company's customers, friends, and workers. Examples of all three Weisse Eule customer special owls sold at the 2010 Steiff auction at Christie's with hammer prices ranging from 180 to 800 euros each.  These are pictured above; the photos are from the Christie's auction catalog. 

There's no need to sing the blues over this, well, blue bird.  He's clearly not Wittie, and he's not blue enough to be made for Weisse Eule, who's owl is pictured here on the left.  It is Steiffgal's best guess that he was most likely a sample of a design option for the blue Weisse Eule owl, but was never actually put into production.  So how did he make it out of Giengen?  It would not be out of character for Steiff (and Steiffgal means this in the most loving way...) to sell extras and samples to make a few dollars, and some extra room, in their inventory stockrooms.   

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of this unusual blue Steiff owl has added a little color to your day.   

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

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