Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's All Luck When It Comes To Steiff's Earliest Black Open Mouthed Tom Cats

There's no bad luck when it comes to collecting Steiff, even when things don't work out exactly as you had hoped! Recently, Steiffgal just stumbled across a very interesting item on the online auction site, eBay. The item was titled "Vintage Halloween Stuffed Black Cat Toy Arched Back Erect Tail."  Out of curiosity, she clicked on the photo to learn more, and was pretty much blown away over what she saw listed.  Can you guess what this item was?

It is most likely that this item is on every vintage collector's "meow mix!"  The listing for this cat exactly read... "We are offering a Halloween Black Cat with original red ribbon (faded) around neck with small brass bell. Stitched pink mouth  Plastic green eyes with black pupils. Height to top of arched back approx. 6"; height to tip of erect tail approx. 9"; front to back where tail begins approx. approx. 3 3/4".

Yes, all of this is exactly true - but for one major omission!  In Steiffgal's best estimate and based on the photos in the listing, the item was most likely Steiff's original OPEN MOUTHED Kater, or velvet Tom Cat, dating from as early as 1903!  

...And because the item didn't have an ear button, and perhaps never did, it could have been made in 1903 - a full year before the first "elephant" style ear buttons debuted on Steiff items in 1904! 

Just what makes this black beauty the cat's meow? The original Tom Cat was produced in both black and white velvet. Both versions were very skinny, standing on all fours, unjointed, and had arched backs and open mouths (like they were screeching or yawning). They all left the factory in Giengen, Germany wearing a silk ribbon and bell. Black Tom cats were produced in 10, 14, and 17 cm from 1903 through 1918. White Tom cats were produced in 14 and 17 cm for three years only - from 1906 through 1908 - and are exceptionally rare. Steiffgal has never actually seen an early white velvet Tom Cat.  

So you are probably wondering... did Steiffgal place the final bid on this Kater?  No, it appears that another bidder used a bit of auction "black magic" and was victorious only by a few dollars.  Such is life, you can't win 'em all.  

But here's the silver (button) lining for this cat tail (oops, tale!) While researching the eBay listing for the early Tom Cat, Steiffgal came across this photo - here on the left - of these same black cats from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment Book.  Notice anything unusual about the larger cat in the photo?  He has a Steiff button IN HIS TAIL in addition to the one in his ear! How cool is that?  It is most likely a "muster" button, which was used very early on by Steiff on items considered samples, evolving designs, or prototypes. In general, the button indicated that the item was Steiff property and was not intended for sale or distribution.  "Muster" translates loosely from German to English as "pattern" and in a sense, these "muster" items were just that.  It is most unusual to find early Steiff items with buttons as well as muster buttons today.

Steiffgal hopes this Tom Cat auction adventure has been a pleasant paws in your day.

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

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