Sunday, September 18, 2016

This Remarkably Costumed Steiff Doll Is Rarer Than Hen's Teeth!

How egg-citing is this?! That was egg-actly Steiffgal's response when she was presented with this most remarkable Steiff rarity.  Check out this not so "Spring Chicken" doll and see what makes her so egg-straordinary from the design and historical perspectives.

Bird's the word with this fantastic Steiff doll which dates from the early part of the 20th century.  She wears what can only be described as a fitted "mohair chicken suit." This most unusual costume cannot be removed from her body and is detailed with sleeves finished like wingtips and a hood featuring a red felt comb and a top and bottom yellow felt beak. Her legs are bare, and it is unclear if she is wearing any undergarments. Steiffgal has never seen anything like this before, have you?

This costumed cutie appears to be one of Steiff's "children" style dolls that debuted in the line around 1908-09. These beloved dolls are best known for their realistic proportions, charming personalities, and angelic faces. They are made from felt, solidly stuffed and fully jointed, and have youthful facial details - including a center seam, pert expressions, rosy complexions, mohair wigs, and black button eyes (the earliest models) or glass pupil eyes (from about 1910 onward.)  Both little boys and little girls were produced, in sizes ranging from 22 to 75 cm over time. All of these standard line children dolls were dressed head to toe in handmade outfits that ranged from school clothes to sporting attire to “Sunday best”; for the most part, girl models also came with matching hats.  Except, of course, for this novel example!

Although Steiffgal has only seen this doll through pictures, and not firsthand, it is her thinking that the chicken suit is most likely original to Steiff. This suspicion is based on three somewhat random and historical facts and coincidences.  These include:

Time frame and concept. There is historical precedent for Steiff to make childlike dolls in mohair suits and costumes, especially in the early 1900's. For example, the company produced a series of fully jointed felt Eskimo dolls from 1908 through 1919. These were made to piggy-back on the commercial excitement surrounding Admiral Peary's race to the geographic north pole. An example of an early Steiff Eskimo doll is pictured here on the left; you can see the similarities in appearance, materials, and presentation between this model and the one under discussion today. 

Materials: The mohair used on the costume is perfect in terms of its scale and texture to resemble feathers. It is also quite playful, and gives the piece a most delightful appearance. It is interesting to note that the same yellow mohair was also used for the same "lighthearted" purpose on another beloved Steiff character doll of the time, Puck the Gnome, who is pictured here on the left. This petite treat was made in 20, 30, and 40 cm from 1914 through 1943.  Although his clothing changed and evolved over his three-decade long appearance in the line, his cheerful yellow mohair cap remained a constant in his design. 

Culture:  For some reason that Steiffgal cannot exactly figure out, dressing up like barnyard fowl was a popular trend in the 19-teens and early 20's. Both adults and children seemed to enjoy doing so, with costumes ranging from simple head wear to head to toe feathers! In 1919, Ladies Home Journal featured an article on party costumes designed after chickens, owls, and peacocks!  This remarkable story is pictured here on the left for your enjoyment.  Net-net, dressing a Steiff doll as a chicken - although a little out of the ordinary today - was not out of the question almost 100 years ago, and Steiff indeed has a strong legacy of reflecting what's happening in the popular culture in its products and designs.  

Another chicken and egg question is, "what's the back story to this adorable doll?" As far as Steiffgal can tell, she does not specifically appear in any Steiff or doll reference books, and there is no formal history on her.  As such, we can only speculate how she came to be.  Here are a few possible scenarios. Perhaps she was created as a sample or trial, and never put into production.  She could have been originally made as part of a one of a kind special order or window display.  She also might have been made as a "whimsy" or "end of day" item - these are one of a kind pieces that Steiff employees created on their own on work breaks or before or after formal work hours just for fun.   Unfortunately, only she knows for sure!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this fantastic Steiff dressed doll has been more entertaining than a chick flick for you.

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

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