Saturday, December 27, 2014

Time Travelling Steiff Auction Highlights - Part 1!

Nothing is better than studying precious Steiff items in person, but that is not always possible for many reasons. A great - and budget friendly - way to learn about exceptional button-in-ear rarities is through auction catalogs. In addition to collecting vintage Steiff, you probably won't be surprising to learn that Steiffgal also collects auction catalogs, both for entertainment and research purposes. Most recently, she spent just a few dollars on a relatively vintage catalog from 1998. A picture of the catalog's cover is featured here on the left. The auction was held on Saturday, April 25, 1998 in Germany; the auctioneer was Horst Poestgens. Little did she know how many treasures the catalog featured! Here are three highlights from this long-ago sale; in next week's blog she will describe three more. Steiffgal is certain that they will make you want to turn the clock back to 1998 as well!
This first auction highlight is truly an original! This lot, #33, is cataloged as... "Original Teddy, Steiff, circa 1905/06, button in ear, grey mohair (type Richard Steiff-Teddy), black shoe button eyes, black embroidered nose and claws (missing on left paw), expertly restored hole in felt on left paw, growler defect, long bent arms, expressive humped back, pointed muzzle, Teddy has no mohair loss, good condition, an interesting collector' item, standing size: 35 cm/14"."

 And - given that he is as described -  just what makes this such an incredibly rare bear? His color, construction, and proportions suggest he is one of the absolute earliest disk jointed bears created by the company. And it is quite possible that Richard Steiff himself directly had a hand in bringing him to life! Steiffgal once read that Richard Steiff made his early prototype bears in grey mohair as that was the color of material at hand - and that the grey mohair was originally purchased for the manufacture of elephants. She has not been able to confirm that through other sources, but the theory would make sense from the logistics and R&D perspectives. According to the Cieslik's Button in Ear book, in reference to these early grey bears, "Only two examples of the bear are known to have been made in gray plush. It is possible that this color was used for a few hand made samples and not for an actual series."

Steiffgal thinks this second auction highlight deserves a "best of show" nod as well! This lot, #38, is cataloged as... "Wolf Pomeranian, Steiff, 1930's, button in ear and remains of red woven tag, long mohair white, white short mohair lower legs, inner ears and mouth, standing, turnable head, painted back glass eyes, black embroidered nose and claws, punch growler, dog in mint condition, standing size: 30 cm/12"."

Steiff has a very long history of manufacturing Spitz or Pomeranian dogs, but this example is truly in a class by itself! And that is because Steiffgal can't find any reference to it at all in the standard Steiff reference materials. His larger size, oversized eyes, and his facial/muzzle construction are quite distinct from the company's other Spitz models from 1902 through the mid-1940's time frame. His long mohair forehead and sweet expression give him a youthful, innocent look; one that was quite prevalent in Steiff designs of the late 1920's. Because he does indeed have traces of his red ear tag, it is entirely possible that he was designed and produced at the same time as the beloved - and childlike - Teddy Clown, Teddy Baby, Bully, and Molly models.

Today's last auction highlight is pretty as a postcard. Literally! This lot, #66, is simply cataloged as... "Original Steiff postcard with Steiff felt dolls, motive, Dutch village, 1912, very good condition, very rare."

Steiff's wonderful dolls, bears, and animals have always been as attractive in print as they are in real life. Steiff has used this to their advantage in terms of advertising, marketing, and promotions from about the early 19-teens onward. The company's charming center-seamed felt "children" and "student" dolls were used in many classic photo shoots including circuses, skiing vignettes, cultural and "small town" local settings, toy rooms, Christmas celebrations, and other playful and imaginative displays. These shots were intended as illustrations for catalogs and postcards, among other printed items. (If this is of interest to you, check out the book Advertising Art of Steiff Teddy Bears & Playthings by Dottie Ayers and Donna Harrison. It features many of these beloved images and is one of Steiffgal's favorites.)

The postcard itself is delightful in so many ways - the theme, layout, composition, and attention to lifelike detail are simply charming and universally appealing. However, on a more personal note, Steiffgal noticed that the card also features two Dutch children dolls that she has in her own personal collection - Alida and Harry, who are pictured here on the left. Alida, who is featured in the front and relative center with a boy and a rabbit on the postcard, was made from 1909 through 1919 in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm. She is described as "felt, jointed, Dutchwoman, original costume, Sunday best." Harry, pictured in the left of the postcard talking to another boy, was made from 1908 through 1925 in 28, 35, 43, 50, and 60 cm. He is described as "felt, jointed, Dutch fisherman, original costume." By "original costume" Steiff means that the dolls are dressed in apparel that is traditional to a country - in this case, the Netherlands. And by "Sunday best", that would imply "fancier" clothing for going to Church on Sunday, which makes sense in the case of Alida given her elaborately embroidered dress bodice and red cuffs.

Steiffgal hopes this review of some long-ago auction highlights has been as fun as a time travel adventure!  And be on the lookout for more additional highlights from this great catalog in next week's blog edition!

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