Saturday, March 29, 2014

Care To Make A Playdate With This Precious Steiff Pachyderm?

Hey, let's play!  What Steiff enthusiast can resist that offer?  Of course, most of Steiff's delightful vintage items were designed for fun and play, but here's one who's design and naming origins insist that this is truly the case!  Take a look at this dear transitional period Steiff elephant and see what makes her so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

Care to make a playdate with this precious Pachyderm?  Here we have a sweet and distinctively cheerful jungle gem named Young Elephant.  She is 22 cm, standing, unjointed, and made from short grey mohair.  Her tail is tipped with a tuft of longer grey mohair.  She has soft ears placed low on her head, and a simple long trunk which is lined in wire and poseable.  Her smiling, open mouth is lined in peach colored felt, and her smallish, black button eyes are backed by pink felt, and have a tiny touch of pink airbrushed highlighting.  Young Elephant wears a red felt saddle that is trimmed in yellow and is decorated with a green felt crescent and a yellow felt oval on both sides.  This blanket did have a small bell on the ends of either side when she left the factory in Giengen many years ago.  Unfortunately, these have been lost to time but the stitches that held the bells in place are still evident on the underside of her blanket.   In terms of ID, this piece retains her raised script button and linen US Zone tag in the seam of her right front leg. Young Elephant was made in this size only from 1950 though 1951.

What's old is new when it comes to this great Steiff pattern. Young Elephant is actually based on a relatively vintage design that was introduced in the 1930's called "Play Elephant."  This pattern is distinctively childlike and endearing - made so by its simple design, chubby proportions, happy and tusk-less facial expression, and eye treatment.  The first Play Elephant debuted in 1935 and was constructed from an interesting material called curled wool plush.  This fabric sort of has the look and feel of very bumpy Persian lamb.  Play Elephant was made with a colorful striped blanket in 14 and 17 cm; the 17 cm version was also produced as a pull toy on eccentric green wooden wheels.  Curled wool plush Play Elephants appeared overall in the line through 1941. You can see an example of the curled wool plush Play Elephant here on the left, this photo is from Christie's.

In 1938, probably as a result of wartime shortages and rationing, Play Elephant was made in grey artificial silk plush in 17, 22, and 28 cm.  This version had a red felt blanket which was trimmed in yellow with a yellow and green felt flower and a bell on each side as decorations.  Pre-war silk plush Play Elephants appeared in the line through 1943, about the time most Steiff toy manufacturing ceased.  You can see an example of a silk plush Play Elephant here on the left, this photo is from eBay.  Both the Steiff pre-war curled wool plush and artificial silk plush Play Elephants are very seldom seen on the secondary markets and today are considered quite collectible by Steiff enthusiasts around the world.   

Anxious to regain its position as a leading toy manufacturer after the conclusion of WWII, Steiff immediately began producing some of its most beloved and best selling pre-war items as soon as the company reopened for business in the late 1940's.  These designs included Molly the puppy, Fluffy the cat, Jocko the chimp, a deer, and the Play Elephant design, among others.  Like the pre-war version, the earliest post war version of Play Elephant was also made in silk plush - but in only 22 cm from 1948 through 1949.  In 1950, Play Elephant was renamed Young Elephant and produced for the first time in standard grey mohair, also in 22 cm - but just through 1951. 

To insure that their gentle giants were indeed kings of the jungle moving forward, Steiff decided to  re-engineer their elephant pattern in 1950 to make it more lifelike, easier to manufacture, and scalable in size. Known simply as Elephant, these sweet beasts were standing, unjointed, and made from lovely grey mohair. Depending on their sizes, they had felt or mohair ears, white tusks, black and white google eyes, and a red felt blanket. This classic style of Steiff elephant was manufactured in 7, 10, 17, 22, and 35 cm from cm from 1950 through 1978. The 17 cm version of Elephant is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Young Elephant has been a playful intermission for you!

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