Friday, January 4, 2013

Make 'Em Laugh... With Steiff's Vintage Comic Strip Dolls

It's kind of funny, but Steiffgal has always had a fascination with Steiff's interpretation of famous cartoon figures. So of course she was delighted when a colleague gave her the heads up about a great group of vintage Steiff comic strip dolls coming up for auction at Theriault's January, 2013 "Stars - A Celestial Collection of Antique Dolls" three day event.  Three items in particular really caught her eye.  Let's take a look and see what makes them so interesting from the design and historical perspectives. 

Foxy Grandpa, lot #237
This first selection clearly proves it is possible to become more handsome the older you get!  Here we have Steiff's Grosspapa or Grandpa, produced from 1904 through 1915.  He is lot #237 and is described as...

"14" (36 cm.) Felt swivel head with press-modeled facial features, pronounced nose, center seam, stitched ears, black shoe-button eyes on felt pads, mohair wig, attached hat, firm ball-shaped stomach with jointed arms and legs, shaped knees, over-sized feet, wearing original sewn-on blue wool costume. Condition: fair, some fading, few moth holes, wig very sparse. Comments: depicted is the comic character "Foxy Grandpa" from the early 20th century comic series, Steiff, circa 1910. Value Points: very rare early doll by the firm, he has an early Foxy Grandpa celluloid pin and a first prize award from a 1944 doll show."

Original Foxy Grandpa comic strip from 1905, click to enlarge
And just who is this silver fox?  "Foxy Grandpa," a US cartoon series introduced in 1900, was penned by Carl E. Schultze.  It ran through the 1930's.  The strip told of the (mis)adventures of a grandfather and his two grandsons.  You can see an example of the strip above.  Steiff also manufactured the two grandchildren as dolls in the overall 1904 through 1924 time frame.  Steiff produced Foxy Grandpa with both a velvet face and a felt face, but the velvet face is much rarer.  According to Steiff records, both versions had a press voice box hidden under Grandpa's felt hat.  In 1996, Steiff reproduced Foxy Grandpa as a replica in an edition size of 1,200.

Barney Google and Spark Plug, lot #235
It's time to hit the ground running with our next cartoon highlight.  Here we have Barney Google and Spark Plug, his faithful racehorse.  The pair was produced from 1925 through 1927.  They comprise lot #235 and are described as...

"5" (13 cm.) 5"(13 cm.) Barney, 8"l. Spark Plug. The set comprises stockinette Barney with press-shaped and painted features, prominent nose, large felt eye whites with black bead eyes, whiskers, armature padded body, wearing original purple vest and blue jacket, shoes and hat, plaid cotton pants; along with Spark Plug, who has grey mohair coat with sparsely-inset yarn mane, bead eyes on felt pads, felt tongue and feet, harness, and yellow felt blanket with patches and printed Spark Plug name. Condition: generally excellent, bright fresh colors, few moth holes on blanket. Marks: Copyright 1923-1924 by King Features Synd, Inc. DeBeck (muslin pad on one foot) Steiff (silver button in ear). Comments: Steiff, Germany, the set was issued in 1925-1927 only, and according to company archives only 615 sets were sold. Value Points: very rare Steiff comic character set is well-preserved and delightful."



Here's more about this (sort of) dynamic duo.  Barney Google, penned by artist Billy DeBeck, debuted in the Hearst Newspapers in 1919.  Barney was a silly, bumbling little man who seemed to find even the simplest things complicated. In 1922, DeBeck gave Barney a new companion, a race horse named Spark Plug; a few years later they were joined by an ostrich named Rudy.  Barney Google was so popular that he inspired the 1923 hit tune "Barney Google (with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)," as well as the 1923 record, "Come On, Spark Plug!"  You can listen to the song above by pressing on the white arrow in the middle of the record.  In addition to this Barney/Spark Plug set, Steiff also produced several Barney Google themed pull toys on wooden during this same period.  Rudy was made as a sample, but never put into widescale production.  

And just how rare are Steiff Barney Google themed items?  Steiff was asked to set up an exhibit of incredible rarities at the FAO Schwarz store in New York City in honor of the retailer's 150th anniversary in August, 2012.  From the archives, Steiff sent over a Barney Google and Spark Plug on wheels  - along with things like the earliest rod bear, an original hot water bottle Teddy, and a turn of last century tumbling bear.  So even Steiff considers these characters quite legendary!


Happy Hooligan, lot #232
Let's move happily along to our third and final Steiff cartoon auction highlight.  Here we have Steiff's Hoolygan or Happy Hooligan, produced from 1904 through 1927.  He is lot #232 and is described as...

"14" (36 cm.) Firmly-stuffed felt character with egg-shaped head having center-seam, shoe-button eyes, caricature face, upturned nose, stitched-on ears, red attached cap, big plump red felt stomach with painted circle designs, green felt jointed arms and jacket, and long spindly jointed legs with patched knees and over-sized leather feet. Condition: good, some shelf dustiness, few moth holes. Comments: Steiff, from their premiere series of character dolls, representing the popular comic strip character of Happy Hooligan, circa 1910. Value Points: delightful character exactly captures the beloved figure from the comic series."

Original Happy Hooligan comic strip from 1904, click to enlarge
Steiffgal's happy to tell you more about this rare comic character Happy, who is actually usually unhappy, was penned by popular and prolific writer Frederick Bur Opper and introduced in 1900.  According to the artist, Happy is "a sad, smiling victim of wayward children and heartless adults... and a direct ancestor of (Charlie) Chaplin's "little man"."  He and his two brothers, Montmorency and Gloomy Gus, were Irish tramps who traveled across Europe.  They were sometimes joined by two Frenchmen named Alphonse and Gaston.  Steiff produced a 35 cm version of Alphonse from 1904 through 1928 and a 50 cm version of Gaston from 1904 through 1927.  Steiff records also show that these Frenchmen were also produced as pantom or marionette style puppets on roller skates.  Like Foxy Grandpa, Happy Hooligan also had a press voice box hidden under his red felt hat.

Steiffgal hopes this review of Theriault's cartoon doll auction highlights has been as delightful as reading the Sunday newspaper comic section!

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

12 comments:

  1. You made me smile...and I needed that...great article..always a treat...

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

The teddy bear search engine