Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Steiff Mystery of Olympic Proportions

Now this latest Steiff find may just test your mettle - your Olympic medal, that is!  Steiffgal recently acquired a most unusual Steiff purse, one that she had only read - and dreamed - about.  The item itself is sort of interesting, but its possible history and origins just might be world class!

Hold everything and check out this sports-themed handbag.  This round purse has a diameter of 18 cm.  It is basically made from two circles of white plush which are sewn together on a blue and white canvas fabric edging. On one side of the bag is the five ringed Olympic logo in black. The other side is detailed with the words "1980," and "Lake Placid" and that game's mascot logo, Rocky the Raccoon. Rocky is grey, white, and black, with white and black pupil eyes. All decorations on the bag (except the inserted eyes) appear to be stenciled. The bag strap is a long blue cord which matches the color of the fabric edging. The bag closes with a simple silver metal zipper.  In terms of Steiff ID, the purse has a generic, unnumbered late 1970's style yellow ear tag, but no chest tag or button.

Here's where the mystery kicks in. According to Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Steiff Sortiment, this item - called a "disco bag" - was in the line in 1979 and came in two color themes. These include the blue one as described above, and a similar one with red and white canvas edging and a red cord bag strap. The red version did not include the date "1980" on the Rocky logo side of the bag. The purse's article number is noted as 6354/18. For the most part, items that appear in Pfeiffer's Steiff books have been produced and distributed on a commercial scale.

However, according to beloved Steiff authority Dee Hockenberry's reference book, Steiff Bears and Other Playthings Past and Present, this item, and a plush Rocky raccoon logo toy never went into production. Specifically, for the purses, she says...

"Olympic Pocketbook Prototypes: 7 inches in diameter. Plush with zipper closure. Never in production. The only examples ever made."  

The photo on the left of the purses is from the Hockenberry book. 

And for the Rocky logo toy, she notes... 

"Prototype Raccoon: 11 inches. In 1978 and 1979, Steiff, through their US representative, made presentations to the American Olympic Committee in order to obtain a licence to make 1980 Olympic souvenirs. Three prototype were made incorporating the Lake Placid mascot and Olympic logo. Although the samples were attractive, an official licence was never granted.  These are the only examples ever made."  

The photo on the left of the Rocky logo toy is from the Hockenberry book. 

Just how rare are Steiff 1980 Olympic souvenir handbags? The Pfeiffer and Hockenberry references seem to suggest opposite sides of the story. What Steiffgal does know for sure is that in 40+ years of collecting Steiff, she has never seen or even heard of another example of a Rocky Lake Placid Olympic item. And this item's generic yellow Steiff tag without numbering does suggest that this particular example may be a very early example or prototype. However, Rocky's face painting on Steiffgal's version does not exactly match up to the painting on the one pictured in Dee Hockenberry's book. As such, the ones pictured in the Hockenberry book are NOT the only examples ever made. It seems that the mystery behind this unusual "disco bag" - like many Olympic achievements - is one for the record books.  

Steiffgal hopes you've taken this discussion on Steiff's Rocky handbag quite purse-sonally.

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

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