Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting A Handle on Steiff's Handbags

Steiffgal must take this reader's inquiry quite purse-sonally, but in the best way possible.  Take a look at this note from Juliet, who asks about a recent addition to her collection - a little bulldog that doubles as a handbag. Could it have been made by Steiff?  She writes in part...

"Dear Steiffgal,

This looks like a Steiff Bulldog face.  
I can't find any info on this item.  
Did Steiff ever make child's handbags? 

Best regards, 

Steiffgal's got this one in the bag.  Yes, Steiff has a long history of making handbags.  In most cases, they were not designed specifically for children, but their diminutive size does suggest that they were designed to hold few or very small things!  As far as Steiffgal can tell, the first Steiff purses, or "handtasche" were produced starting in 1927.  These earliest bags were actually based on Steiff's most popular designs of the time, and included beloved characters including Jocko the Chimp (pictured here on the left, sold for $890 at the 2010 Steiff Auction at Christie's in London), Petsy the blue eyed baby bear, Bully the bulldog, and Molly the puppy.  Items were sitting or standing, but in either case, were modified to have a hollow back pocket to hold purse-related items.  This pocket was lined in silk or velvet, and closed with a zipper.  In some cases the zipper had a pull, in others it had a circular round handle.  As time went on, Steiff added additional characters to its purse line, including Strupp the foxterrier, Treff the bloodhound, and even Pip, the cartoon dog, as late as 1941.  Steiff's early mohair character purses ranged in sizes from 17 to 29 cm overall. 

Steiff's purse line re-emerged in the late 1970's with a series of flat woven fur items.   These included a Teddy bear face in 12 and 26 cm, a little rabbit face bag in 26 cm (pictured here on the left), and a special edition Lake Placid Olympics raccoon souvenir purse in 18 cm.  Then, in the late 1980's, Steiff launched a new series of woven fur animal purses.  This introduction included a Teddy bear, panda bear, rabbit, and dog - all 17 cm heads - and a mouse, fish, owl, and hedgehog - all in full 18 cm body.  Since 1996, Steiff has also produced small plush animal faced handbags in the forms a Teddy bear, elephant, cow, cat, frog, and pig.  Steiff has not done much recently with handbags; the company's most recent purse creation was done in 2005 and was a replica of the 1927 through 1940 mohair Charly handbag.

Now, getting back to Juliet about her bulldog bag.  Although this is a charming and interesting treasure, Steiffgal does not believe he was made by Steiff.  A photo of Steiff's standing Bully purse, which was produced in 22, 23, 28, and 29 cm in black and white or sandy tan mohair from 1927 through 1934, is pictured here on the left for comparison.  The illustration is from Gunter Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.  Steiffgal does think, however, that Juliet's bulldog bag was most likely produced around the same time as Steiff's model, and may even be based in part on his design.  

Steiffgal hopes you now have a handle on the history of Steiff's wonderful handbag production.

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

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you have an amazing collection of Steiff bears! How much would you say you have spend in total?


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