Sunday, February 22, 2015

Steiff's Beagles Are Truly Best In Show In 2015!

This past week, many of us curled up on the couch with our own real pets to watch the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on television. This two night event showcases breathtaking - and usually very well behaved - dogs from all over North America and beyond. This year's "Best of Show" winner was Miss P., the Beagle. In honor of her special accomplishment, let's take a look at Steiff's versions of her wonderful breed!

Some collectors might find it surprising that the first Beagle did not appear in the Steiff line until 1958. Steiff's debut Beagle, and probably the one most favored by collectors, was its standing Biggie Beagle. This model was unjointed and made from tan mohair.  His head, body, and tail were elaborately hand-painted with delightful shades of black, grey, and brown, giving him wonderful definition. His face was detailed with a black hand embroidered nose and mouth and remarkable tri-colored almond shaped glass eyes in white, black and brown.  Standing Biggie was produced from 1958 through 1961 in 10, 17, and 25 cm. The smallest Biggie truly had the sweetest puppylike, smiling appearance.

When it comes to Steiff, there is certainly no rest for the weary! As such, in 1959, just a year after Biggie's very successful introduction, the company made a 17 cm "Floppy" or resting version of him. Steiff manufactured a great number of "sleeping" style animals during the 1950's through the 1970's. All were prone in position and referred to as "floppy" or "cosy" animals.  Many were made in two standard sizes, 17 and 28 cm; all were stuffed with soft foam. Each animal had "sleeping eyes." Like Biggie, these delightful bedtime companions were simplified versions of well-known Steiff animal designs.  Floppy Biggie appeared in the line through 1961 and is considered one of the rarer and more collectible Floppy designs based on his charming design and limited time in the line. 

Hoping to mirror standing Biggie's success, Steiff created a hand puppet version of this playful pup  also in 1959.   This item was called Mimic Biggie Beagle. He was a fully functional, hollow bodied hand puppet with an open and smiling mouth and big pink felt tongue.  He was 28 cm long and made from tan mohair which was airbrushed with black, tan, and grey highlighting all over his body. He had wonderful and long floppy ears, and like standing Biggie, had fantastic tri-colored almond shaped glass eyes. His nose and paws were hand embroidered in black. Mimic Biggie Beagle was produced in one size only in 1958 through 1959. He is pictured here on the left. At the same time, the company also produced mimic style puppets in the form of a Dalmatian and Schnauzer. 

In 1965, Steiff introduced an updated Beagle to the line - perhaps by Presidential decree! This Beagle was also called Biggie, and he was sitting and made from mohair. Like standing Biggie, he had realistic airbrushing on his body. However, unlike standing Biggie, this sitting Biggie had brown and black pupil eyes and was head jointed. Sitting Biggie was produced in 10 and 18 cm from 1965 through 1975.  He is pictured here on the left.
And what's the connection to the White House here? President at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson - who served from November 22, 1963 to January 20, 1968 - was a huge Beagle enthusiast.  His Beagles, which included Him and Her, were truly the "First Dogs" of America - often accompanying the President on visits to heads of state, hanging out in the Oval Office, and swimming in the White House pool. These lucky dogs were even featured on the cover of Life Magazine in 1964!  This great photo is here on the left.

FAO Schwarz also worked with Steiff to produce a handful of special "limited edition" Beagles for their high end toy stores.  It is safe to say that the timing of all these introductions - 1965 to 1966 - probably had alot to do with the popularity of the Presidential pets!  These treasures included a 40 cm mohair standing display Beagle; a 15 cm standing open mouthed Beagle (sort of a hybrid in design between Steiff's regular line sitting and standing Biggies); and a family of Beagles in a basket, resting on a soft cushion. The 15 cm FAO Biggie is pictured here on the left with his wonderful period red wooden FAO Schwarz tag.

More than a few dog years passed before beagles again graced the Steiff line.  In 2004, Steiff and FAO Schwarz again partnered to produce exclusive Beagles. This time they were in the form of an AKC branded mother and pup; both were made from soft plush and designed for children's fun and play. And most recently in 2014, Steiff treated collectors to another version of Biggie in the form of a 12 cm standing mohair pooch, complete with a matching collar and leash.  He was produced in an edition size of 1,500 pieces for the worldwide market. The 2014 version of Biggie Beagle is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal hopes this celebration of Steiff Beagles - like Miss P.'s win at Westminster - has been a best of show experience for you.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

This Fantastic Steiff Bully Dog is Even Cuter Than Cupid!

Given that today is Valentine's Day, how about a very special Steiff surprise - one that's even more irresistible than candy hearts or cards!  Check out this little Steiff dog that's cuter than Cupid, and has more longevity than any floral bouquet!  Steiffgal is certain you'll be saying "Let me call you sweetheart" once you lay eyes on this real head-turner. 

This precious Prince Charming is Steiff's "Bully." He measures 15 cm from the top of his head to his feet. Bully has great and unusual black striping all over his head and back - almost like those of a tiger or cat. His face is detailed with large, felt lined floppy ears; round, a shiny glass nose and eyes; and a prominent, felt lined open mouth. He also has a special feature - he's a tail moves head model! As such, a gentle twist of his tail enables his head to turn in a complete circle.  Bully's crown and collar are made by Steiff but not original to him; his nose is also a replacement and probably a little proportionally small for his size and statue. 

Tail turns head Bully was made in 11, 15, 18, 23, 26, and 31 cm from 1931 through 1935 overall.  The smaller versions (like this one under discussion today) had glass noses while the larger ones had embroidered ones; it also appears that the 11 cm version had a closed mouth.   

It is interesting to note that this exact design was only produced in this tail turns head version.  As far as Steiffgal can tell, no static or standing versions, or other novelties with his exact coloring and facial detailing and expression, were created on a commercial scale.  It is unusual for Steiff to create such distinctive "one offs" in their product design and development efforts.  It is also unusual that this design was produced as a tail moves head item.  This is so because for the most part,  other tail moves head items from the same time period - including cats, dogs, rabbits, and lambs - were based extremely popular and well known patterns in the Steiff line. 

Tail turns head Bully appears to be a variation of Steiff's beloved standard line Bully Bulldog, who was introduced a few years earlier, in 1927.   Bully was modeled on the French Bulldog—the “it” companion of those in the know all across Europe at the time.  Tail moves head Bully and the standard line sitting Bully have structural similarities, especially in their rear areas.  These include the size and proportions of their backsides and hindquarters, the curve of their paws, the placement and size of their tails, and some basic back seams.  (You can see these similarities in the picture on the left; for reference the black and white standard sitting Bully is "officially" the 17 cm version but measures 16 cm while the tail turns head Bully measures 15 cm.)

The big differences between these two models, both structurally and aesthetically, are more towards the front ends of the examples.  From the structural perspectives, tail turns head Bully has a relatively smaller head, proportionally shorter front legs, and longer torso than does regular Bully.  His chest seam comes to a "V" mid torso; on regular Bully this same seam comes to a "V" right under his neck. Tail moves head Bully also has a much longer, narrower neck area than does regular Bully.  These structural modifications were most likely made to accommodate the embedded head turning mechanism and its resultant movement.   And from the aesthetic perspectives, this tail moves head Bully has floppy ears, black glass eyes and nose, and a smiling, open felt lined mouth.  Regular Bully dogs have wire lined ears; oversized black and brown glass pupil eyes; a black hand embroidered nose; and an endearing velvet muzzle. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's unusual tail turns head Bully dog has been a real Valentine's Day treat for you! 

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

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Color Your World With This Mysterious Vintage Steiff Donkey

It's a rather gray day around these parts, and the almost four feet (that's over 120 cm for friends abroad!) of snow on the ground already is not helping things.  But this little grayish friend is just the opposite of gloomy - so Steiffgal thought it would be the perfect time to introduce you to this happy-go-lucky fellow.  Take a look at this fantastic vintage farm friend who just arrived on the east coast from Germany.  Although not technically "young" anymore - he is certainly young at heart... and will warm yours, too!

Here we have a most adorable and vintage looking donkey.  This farm friend measures 22 cm tall (top of head to foot) and 30 cm long (tip of nose to backside.)  He is standing, unjointed, and made of tan mohair which has been lovingly airbrushed with grayish-purple highlights.  His tail and mane are made from long, soft, black mohair.   His face comes to life with longer tan mohair on his "sideburns" and forehead, a shorter mohair muzzle, pert black eyes, and a black airbrushed nose and mouth.  The coloring on his face truly gives him him a youthful, playful appearance.  He retains his long trailing "F" button and illegible yellow ear tag (pictured below) as his Steiff IDs.  

Like many things Steiff, this donkey has details that make him hard to date and identify with 110% accuracy.  His long trailing "F" button initially suggests that he may have been manufactured in the c. 1933 - 1935 time period.  If that were the case, he most resembles the company's Jung Esel or Young Donkey, which was made in 22 and 28 cm from 1933 through 1943 overall.  Young Donkey is pictured here on the left; the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.  Like the example under discussion today, Steiff's Young Donkey pattern is famous for his grey-purple highlights and innocent looks.  However, it is clear that there are some key differences between the Young Donkey pattern and the donkey under discussion here.  Young Donkey is made from long grey wool plush; this example is made from highlighted mohair.  Young Donkey has grey felt (or perhaps leather) hooves; this example does not.  Young Donkey has a grey tail and mane; this example has black detailing.  And Young Donkey has his ears positioned forward; this example has the ears positioned to the rear.   

So how do his design elements and early IDs all align?  Well, only this donkey knows for sure, but here are two ideas.  

1.  The mid 1930's through the early 1950's were a really rough time for manufacturing at Steiff, and supplies and fabrics were available on an inconsistent basis.  It is possible that this donkey was indeed made to the Jung Esel pattern as best as possible, but with the materials and technology available on hand, in the late 1930's to early 1940's.  It is not unusual to see wool plush and mohair plush interchanged on items from this time frame.  

2.  Steiffgal thinks it's more probable - given his distinctive overall coloring - that this donkey under discussion today is a transitional model between the company's pre- and post- war donkey models.  As such, he may have been produced in the very late 1940's and given a long trailing "F" button... as that's what was on hand at the time.   Steiff launched its post-war donkey in 1950 in 12, 14, 22, and 28 cm; this updated pattern has several design elements of the pre-war Jung Esel, especially in the muzzle area, but no purple-grey highlights at all.   For comparison, a nice example of Steiff's postwar 22 cm mohair donkey is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of this mystery donkey has added a touch of color to your day!

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