Saturday, July 16, 2016

It's A Clothes Call When It Comes To Steiff's Turn Of Last Century Dressed Teddy Bears


All dressed up and no place to go? Or in the case of this reader's question, perhaps it is just the opposite! It's a clothes call with this very interesting inquiry from a vintage Steiff enthusiast.

Susan simply asks...

"I own a 1915 Steiff Bear and I am looking to find out what period clothes it originally wore, if any. If so, where could I obtain them please? Thank you!"

Steiffgal's got this one buttoned up. For the most part, Steiff's early bears did not leave the factory in Giengen dressed. The vast, vast majority through about 1925 were "bear;" after the mid-1920's most were adorned with colorful silk ribbons. This in part was a directive from Richard Steiff himself. At that time, he was living in the United States but frequently wrote home to his family in Germany with suggestions and ideas to improve the business both domestically and internationally. In 1925, one of these notes included...

"Our Teddies, in the showroom here in New York, appear colorless, sober, and insipid. I feel inclined to decorate all the Teddies we have left with huge, colorful silk ribbons; only then can we ask a slightly higher price.” 

However, from 1908 through 1917 overall, the Steiff did produce and distribute a series of eight standard line, fully jointed Teddy bears dressed in simple swimsuits, sailor suits, and other felt and knitted outfits. Steiffgal calls these the "B Series" as all the bears had short names starting with the letter "B." Their names were Babad, Babo Baho, Bagi, Basa, Basi, Batro and Baru. They appeared in eight sizes ranging from 22 to 70 cm in the company's traditional mohair colors. All of these early dressed animals were product line extensions of the company's regular line bears. Today, it is very hard to find original versions of these dressed bears, as the felt and knitted outfits tended to fall apart (moths, etc.) and/or would be lost to time, as children took them on and off the items as playthings. The postcard image above shows many of these dressed bears and is probably from around 1912, plus or minus a few years.

Somewhat recently, Steiff has replicated members of the "B Series" so collectors can appreciate these sweet cubs today. In 2006, one of the special Steiff club editions was the lovely girl-bear "Bagi" in a somewhat mismatched blue felt suit. Also appearing around the same time was "Basa the Baby Sailor" in a nautically themed blue suit.  He is pictured here on the left.

It is interesting to note that over the same time period - from 1908 through 1917 - Steiff was also producing a series of adorable, to-scale felt human children dolls, also dressed in adorable, well made clothing.

As for finding an original "B Series" outfit, Steiffgal thinks that might be a challenge, but not entirely impossible. These clothes very infrequently come up for sale or auction on the secondary market. But here are a few suggestions to to pursue. Of course, keep an eye out on web stores like www.rubylane.com and www.etsy.com that sometimes list antique doll/animal clothes like this. Also peruse webstores that sell antique Teddy bears and dolls, as they often have clothing and accessories for sale as well. Attend local or national doll shows with good salerooms and see what clothing is on offer - and ask dealers to keep an eye out for you. And finally, if you are crafty - or know someone who is - perhaps sew or knit one of these outfits to replicate the original. After all, even old bears appreciate a stylin' new set of threads!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's early dressed bears has suited you well.

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

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