Sunday, March 24, 2013

Check Out This Most Eccentric Early Monkey On Wheels

Whatever you're doing, put on the brakes and take a look at this most interesting Steiff inquiry!  Check out this note from Melanie, who asks about a very vintage monkey who really knows how to rock and roll - literally!  Through a series of communications, she writes...


"Steiffgal,

I ran into your website while researching a monkey we came across. You have a monkey on your website that is almost exactly like our monkey. Our monkey measures 6 1/2" long, 2 1/2" wide, and 3" high, but he was more than likely taller at one point because his legs are bent down now. 

There is not button in his ear, but there is a hole where one would have been. The monkey is sewn on to the carriage.  The stitches holding him to it look to be original. The color of the thread matches his material. He is in rough shape, but we think he is still very special :) What can you tell us about him?  Thank you for your help in advance!
 

Melanie"

Felt Monkey on Wheels, photo from Gunter Pfeiffer
Steiffgal's not clowning around when she says that this monkey design is not only made by Steiff, it is also one of the company's oldest primate patterns.  This unjointed, brown felt monkey was introduced in the line in 1894, just two years after Steiff launched its first catalog in 1892.  His details include a light tan insert facial mask area, black button eyes backed in white felt, and a long, playful tail.  In 1912, his pattern was updated with a little neck ruff and clown's hat.  This general monkey design was produced freestanding in 8, 12, 14, and 17 cm from 1894 through 1927; as a 17 cm tumbler on a wooden half globe from 1894 through 1917; in 22 cm as part of a skittles set from 1892 through 1898; in 17 and 22 cm on a full carriage with four wooden eccentric wheels from 1912 through 1929 (pictured to the left); in 12 cm on a wiwag carriage from 1922 through 1927; and as a decorative pin for a coat or jacket from 1913 through 1919.

Now let's move the conversation to his wheeled status.  This pull toy's configuration is unusual for two key reasons.   

1.  First, despite an extensive search through many reference books, Steiffgal could not find this particular monkey mounted directly onto wheels.  According to published information, the "standard" brown felt monkey is mounted on a carriage, and then onto wheels, as noted above.

2.  Second, again after much research, Steiffgal could not find any reference to these exact wheels, with well defined and dimensional center axles and "rims."   Steiff's wooden wheels traditionally are very simple without decoration.  What is particularly interesting about these wheels is that despite the obvious central point on the wheels, he is intentionally mounted off center so he rolls in Steiff's beloved "eccentric" fashion.  

So can any of this information be rolled into a definitive conclusion about this piece?  Well, yes and no.  

First, the monkey.  Steiffgal believes indeed that this monkey was made by Steiff.  Given it has a ruff and hat, it was made from 1912 onward; eccentric wheels also became a standard feature in the line from 1912 onward.  With all that, Steiffgal believes that this monkey was most likely made in the 1912 through 1914 or so time frame. 

Now the wheels.  There is precedent to attach smaller early felt items directly to eccentric wheels; please click here to go to a post on a Steiff "rolling rabbit" with this design. However, the actual wheels on this clown monkey are not conventional.  This could be for a number of reasons.  An earlier owner of this piece could have replaced the wooden wheels after the original set wore out; the wheels look slightly less aged than does the monkey rider.  The piece could also have been an early Steiff prototype for this design, using a set of wheels the company might have just had on hand (yes, this DOES happen.) Steiff may have produced this model with this wheel style, albeit in a very, very limited number. Or, there may be another reason altogether!  Only the monkey knows for sure!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this early rolling Steiff clown monkey has been a barrel of laughs for you.

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

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