Most Steiff collectors would take a tumble for an unexpected Steiff discovery! And that's exactly what Steiffgal did when an inquiry from a colleague about this great and very vintage Steiff treasure landed in her email in-box. Steady yourself and take a look at this marvelous merrymaker!
Oh baby, here we have a delightful "child-proof" item intended for the youngest Steiff enthusiasts. This is Steiff's "Roly Poly" Bear. Many of us grew up with "Weebles," those funny egg shaped character toys that "wobble but they don't fall down." This Roly Poly cub is an early version of this toy idea.
Roly Poly Bear is made from mohair with a very distinct shape - extremely round (almost ball-like) on the bottom, with a standard jointed Teddy bear head. He has jointed arms but no legs at all. His face is detailed with black shoebutton eyes and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. He retains his long trailing "f" button as his Steiff ID. Given his stitching is brown, it is safe to assume that this bear started out life with white mohair - which has aged and mellowed to darker vanilla color over time. Overall, this pattern was produced in 16, 19, 23, and 29 cm from
1909 through 1916. During that entire time, it was produced in blond mohair.
However, in 1912 it was also produced in white mohair in the smaller
sizes. So this is one rare bear indeed!
Steiff's soft Roly Polys are great Steiff novelty items. Models produced over time include rabbits, cats, and dolls. But these are not the first type of "rounded bottom" products that the company produced. It is possible that Roly Polys are based in part on the company's much older wooden bottom "tumblers," which were smaller, standard line items (usually in the sitting or begging position) that were mounted on a solid wooden hemisphere. Like the Roly Polys, they swayed and tumbled about, but did not fall completely over - unlike their wooden cousins the "skittles" - which were designed like bowling pins to fall down! The big difference between the Roly Polys and the tumblers was that Roly Polys had a rounded bottom that was integral to their body and design, while tumblers could be basically any shape - as the featured animal or doll was mounted to a rounded bottom. Wooden bottomed tumblers appeared in the line as early as 1894, and were produced on and off through the early 1940's. The photo on the left shows a very early wooden bottomed felt clown tumbler; this shot was taken at Margarete Steiff's birth house in Giengen, Germany where this item is also on display.
It is interesting to note that Steiff's Roly Polys made two distinct appearances in the Steiff line. The first was basically from around 1909 through the late 19-teens... the era of the little white Roly Poly under discussion here. These ball-like creatures came 'round again from 1937 through 1943 overall, in the form of three designs: a 20 cm mohair Roly Poly Teddy baby, a 20 mohair Roly Poly Rabbit, and a 25 cm felt Roly Poly clown doll. Most memorably, an all but pristine example of the Roly Poly Teddy baby realized almost $17,000 at auction at Christie's in London in October, 2010! This terrific Ted is pictured here on the left.
Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Roly Polys and tumblers been a well rounded experience for you.
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