Saturday, April 19, 2014

Strike Up The Band With These Great Steiff Dolls Up For Auction at Bonham's

It's music to Steiffgal's ears when she hears about wonderful vintage Steiff treasures!  And this set of five antique Steiff dolls is certainly worthy of a Grammy award - really!  Take a look at this note from a new friend in the United Kingdom who writes about a collection of marvelous musicians she recently sent to Bonham's for sale.   Helene shares...

"My dad bought the whole stock of a haberdashery shop back in 1970 from a woman, she was 80 years old at the time and she didn't want to get retired, anyway the Steiff dolls were in the shop and she used to sell those brand new, she had the shop for about 60 years...  her shop was in a little village near the border between France and Germany, my parents always knew the dolls where valuable, they both passed away now and when we cleared the house we found those dolls."

How about a special fanfare for this breathtaking quintet?  Here we have what is known as Steiff's "village band" or Dorf Musikkapelle. According to the Steiff Sortiment 1892-1942, this item was in the line from 1911 through 1913 and is simply documented as "village band, 5 dolls with instruments, item [number] states size in cm."  The Sortiment also details that the players include a 35 cm bass fiddler, a 35 cm clarinet player, a 50 cm piston wind player, a 35 cm trombone player, and a 50 cm violin player.  The photo that accompanies this description from the Sortiment is pictured here on the left.

A rare set of five felt Steiff Musicians, 1912-1915
"All having black boot button eyes, printed features and jointed at shoulders and hips each standing on a circular wooden base, the rotund trombone player with a pronounced nose and smiling mouth, black and grey cotton thread hair, black rimmed hat, and with a Steiff button to each ear, wearing a felt red shirt with a further sixteen Steiff buttons in two rows to front, blue jacket, black trousers and leather boots, holding a painted gold trombone, 33cm (13in) tall, the similar contra-bass player having a Steiff button to each ear, round hat with tassel and wearing a cream shirt with black boot buttons in a row to centre, a brown jacket, black trousers and black leather boots, holding a painted wooden stringed bass with bow, 33cm (13in) tall, the slimmer clarinet player with up-turned nose, painted ginger hair and Steiff button to left ear, tall grey hat and wearing a long black jacket with three gold buttons, blue trousers and painted shoes, holding a carved wooden clarinet, 36cm (14in) tall, the older slim violin player with pointed nose and chin, painted grey eyebrows and real shoulder-length grey hair, skull-cap and wearing a white shirt with black bow-tie, jacket and trousers, leather shoes, holding a carved wooden stringed violin and bow, Steiff button to left ear, 40cm (15 3/4in) tall, the tall and slim trumpeter with pointed features, painted ginger hair and flat hat, wearing a black jacket with five buttons and trousers, with white collar and bow-tie, leather shoes and Steiff button in left ear, holding a painted gold wooden trumpet, 43cm (17in) tall."

So let's strike up the band and take a look at these five fantastic fellows - from left to right.   

The musician on the far left with the trombone is probably Steiff's Dachau (an area in Upper Bavaria) Farmer pattern.  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1908 through 1928.  This particular doll has three very interesting details that make him extraordinary from the design perspective:  he has a Steiff button in each ear - not just his left one; a horizontal facial seam instead of the more typical vertical seam; and 16 tiny Steiff buttons decorating his red shirt-vest. The original Dachau Farmer doll is pictured above. 

The musician in the brown felt coat with the bass fiddle is most likely Steiff's Alb (a district in Baden-Württemberg) Farmer.  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1908 through 1919.   It is interesting to note that at the turn of last century, Steiff created a series of dolls representing farmers from different areas of Germany, including Brenz, as well as surrounding countries including France and Switzerland.  The original Alb Farmer doll is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book. 

The skinny musician in the middle wearing a dark coat and blue pants and playing the clarinet appears to be Steiff's Alphonse, the character from the comic book series "Happy Hooligans."  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1904 through 1928.   Steiff records show that Alphonse was produced as a pantom or marionette style puppet on roller skates.  The original Steiff Alponse doll had a press voice box hidden under his red felt hat.  Steiff's Alphonse doll is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.

The violin player very closely resembles the teacher from a small series of Steiff display pieces featuring the theme "school" - which were inspired by a quote from Busch's "Max and Moritz" book. In 1910 Steiff sold 45 complete school displays. A portion of this display can be seen above. The photo is from Theriault's; this set sold for $50,000 in 2012.

Steiffgal is not able to find a close doll match to the horn player on the far right, but his design and proportions are very typical to Steiff's “charakterpuppe” or “caricature” style dolls.  These debuted at the Leipzig spring fair in 1908 and appeared in the line through 1914 - also making a brief appearance again in 1925. These dolls are noted for comical, exaggerated features – such as extremely lean or rotund bodies, huge feet, or cartoon-like faces. Models representing sportsmen, postmen, firemen, policemen, and members of the military were all produced in the “caricature” style.  A typical Steiff long and lean "charakterpuppe" of a policeman is pictured above, the photo is from Christie's.

It's clear that each band mate is a rock star all on his own.  But some collectors might wonder why the the members don't exactly match the photo of the band pictured in the Steiff Sortiment book.  In this picture, which is shown above, it appears that all three musicians shown are in the Dachau farmer pattern.  First of all, it is important to note that the Sortiment cannot possibly capture every version of every Steiff item and multi-part edition produced. But even more importantly, it has been Steiffgal's observation that the Steiff company very frequently "repurposed" existing inventory into other items.  For example, it is not unusual to find an early rabbit, dog, or cat available on its own, on a pincushion, on a tumbler, or on a skittle.  And for very early products that involved collections of things -  like skittle sets or ranges - the actual product mix would vary somewhat, depending on what was on hand and what was in production.  Given that all of these great dolls were produced in the same general time frame, it is Steiffgals' strongest suspicion that this is what is happening here as well.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff's early "Village Band" going up for auction at Bonham's in May, 2014 has been a great intermission for you.

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

UPDATE, May 28, 2014:  Looks like this set hit the top of the charts - under the hammer, that is!  Click on the photo below to check out their selling price...

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