Saturday, December 14, 2013

Getting "Sassy" Over A New Children's Book Featuring Vintage Steiff Animals!

Extra, extra, read all about it!  Steiff animals have a long tradition of appearing as characters in beloved children's books.  And why might that be?  Well, besides being totally adorable and photographing well, these dear plush creatures were designed as friends for life...  and a big part of being a kid is enjoying a good bedtime story!  It goes without saying Steiffgal was more than delighted to learn about a just-published tale that features some of our most favorite button-in-ear buddies!  The book is titled Sassafrass Jones And The Search For A Forever Home, and is the story of a sweet Pekingese dog and how just the right environment, and friends, can make all the difference.  Without giving away the story, let's take a look at the book and see what makes it so interesting from the Steiff lover's perspectives.

Good things come in threes, and there is a trifecta of distinctive Steiff highlights associated with the story.  The first, of course, is that it stars some of Steiff's most beloved characters from primarily the 1950's thorough the 1970's.  The authors have dressed these friends to the nines in fine couture, hats, and jewelry, and photographed them in remarkably detailed, doll house scaled settings to tell their story. In order of appearance, the story's Steiff cast of characters includes:
  • Wittie Owl, whoooo (yes, pun intended) was produced in 10, 14, 22, and 35 cm from 1954 through 1977.
  • Dressed Pieps mice, who were produced from 1962 through 1970 in a variety of outfits, including a bride, ballerina, princess, clown, Red Riding Hood, and Miss America, in 8 cm.
  • Diggy badger, who was produced in 10 and 15 cm from 1959 through 1966.
  • Bib the dressed rabbit boy, who was produced in 12 cm from 1954 through 1964.
  • Possy squirrel, who was produced in 10, 14, and 22 cm from 1957 through 1976.
  • Nagy beavers, who were produced in 10, 17, and 25 cm from 1958 through 1978; two from the book are pictured above on the left.
  • Perri squirrel, who was produced in 12, 17, and 22 cm from 1959 through 1983.
  • Goldie hamster, who was produced in 10 and 14 cm from 1955 through 1974.
  • Nelly snail, who was produced in 10 cm from 1961 through 1963.
  • Maxi mole, who was produced in 12 and 15 cm from 1964 through 2001.
  • Nightcap Rabbits, who were produced in 15 cm between 1968 and 1973. 
The second interesting Steiff consideration with Sassafrass Jones And The Search For A Forever Home is how it fits into the continuum of publications featuring the brand.   Perhaps the first book that specifically used Steiff bears as part of its tale was Mr. Cinnamon Bear by Sara Tawney Lefferts, who published her work in 1907.  

Since then, Steiff animals have taken center stage in many classic children's stories.  An early example is The Perfect Zoo, which was written by Elanor Farjeon, illustrated by Katy Kruse, and published in 1929.  This story is like a late 1920's Steiff catalog time capsule, as it features many delightful Steiff animals from that period including Molly, Bully, Rabinette, and Petsy, among others.  The late 1950's brought readers - and collectors - Lost Bear, written by Ann Durell with photographs by Desmond Russell, and Magic Night for Lillibet, written and photographed by Gerry Turner with drawings by Ralph Owen.  Lost Bear tells the story of a Steiff bear finding his way home thanks to the help of group of Steiff friends, while Magic Night for Lillibet tells the story of a little girl and her quest to find her missing Steiff giraffe.  More recently, Daisy C.S. Spedden's 2001 book Polar the Titanic Bear tells the story of the Titanic disaster through the eyes of a Steiff polar bear.

Perhaps the most beloved "literary" Steiff character of all is the company's Jackie, who was the “Little Bear” character from Dare Wright’s legendary series of children’s books from the late 1950s. A photo from this series is pictured here on the left; Jackie is on the far left.  Wright's first book, The Lonely Doll, made the New York Times children’s books bestseller list in 1957. In November 2010, The British Newspaper The Guardian named The Lonely Doll one of the 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of all time.  

Last but hardly least, the third important thing Steiff enthusiasts need to know about this book is that it was co-authored by a passionate and lifelong Steiff collector and animal lover!  Cathleen Smith Bresciani, from the Atlanta, Georgia area wrote the book with her long time colleague Richard Eldredge.  Steiffgal contacted Cathleen to hear more about this project and her interest in Steiff.  It turns out that the authors are donating the proceeds from the sale of this book a number of nonprofit organizations including Canine Companions for Independence and The Humane Society of New York.  Steiffgal gives that initiative two thumbs, or in this case paws, up. Here's more of what she learned...

Steiffgal:  Tell us about the history of your interest in Steiff animals and a little bit about your personal Steiff collection.


Today, I have over 400 vintage Steiff items in my collection.  I first was introduced to Steiff at the age of six, by my best friend who had a magnificent collection of Steiff animals. She also gave me my first Steiff! It was love at first sight! I purchased my first Steiff item on my own when I was 11, it was a hedgehog, and I got it at FAO Schwarz.  That's a day I will never forget!


What is your favorite item in your Steiff collection, and why? 

My favorite Steiffs have always been the Pieps mice, especially the ones who were sold wearing dresses and costumes for FAO Schwarz in the 1960's. My sister and I received the Steiff City and Country mouse houses for Christmas in 1967.  These were "dollhouse" sized little homes that were fully furnished and designed for play and imaginative fun.  I've been smitten ever since with their magic.


How did you come up with the idea of transforming your lifelong hobby into a children's book?


A friend of mine who is a top art dealer in Atlanta suggested that I create a book with my collection, she thought it to be too special not to share with the public!  I am really thankful for her mentorship, and that I followed through on her advice!


How did you choose the specific Steiff animals in the book for the characters?


I placed a few Pieps mice next to a gingerbread house in my kitchen and shot some rough photos with my iPad and thought... this is really adorable! As the story developed, I chose animals that I felt best suited the characters.  For example, I used Steiff's Wittie as Mr. Spotswood the adoption center director.  A kindly and wise owl would know that Sassafrass Jones would succeed!


What's next for Sassafrass Jones? Will we be seeing more of her and her Steiff friends in the future?


Yes, we are working on the next story! The next book is all about Sassafrass' adventures in Manhattan.  There she befriends all sorts of wonderful and exotic creatures! Many of my fashionably dressed Steiff treasures will be featured prominently in this book along with the city and ballerina Pieps, maybe even a few bride mice! One of the mice characters will discover she has a bat cousin who is a top decorator named Boysenbery - Boysee for Short!

Cathleen, thank you so much for your time and bringing many of the vintage Steiff community's favorite characters to life! 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about the new book Sassafrass Jones and Steiff's history of storybook illustrations has been a very good read for you.

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

1 comment:

  1. I have another book featuring Steiff characters, and in fact Margarete Steiff is listed on the title page. "Teddy und Verwandte reisne durch die Lande" (Teddy & relatives travel through the country) by Hans Meixner was published in Munich in 1928. Adorable pictures - Teddy & company travel by cart, car & balloon, watch a puppet show, even attend a teddy wedding. Alas, there is no English translation and the book is extremely rare.


The teddy bear search engine