Saturday, March 11, 2017

This Unusual Steiff Curled Wool Pachyderm is Simply Ele-Fantastic!

Oh baby!  A new vintage friend has arrived from overseas and Steiffgal can't wait to introduce you to him. Steiffgal was checking out some online auctions and came across an interesting find on offer from an auction house in The Netherlands.  The stars aligned and she won this somewhat rare prewar Steiff elephant.  And, it turns out, he has several very charming and unusual design features that are not obvious from photos or cataloging.  Let's check out this petite pachyderm and explore his interesting assembly. 

Steiff calls this beautiful baby "Play Elephant." He is 14 cm tall and 20 cm long, standing, and unjointed. His body is made from an interesting material called "curled wool plush."  This fabric has the look and of bumpy Persian lamb material, but with a softer, friendlier feel to it.  The backing is a dark grey or black, and the front is light grey in color.  He has red airbrushed highlighting on his ears, as well as nails on each of his feet. His distinctly babylike face comes to life with simple black button eyes that are backed in pink-airbrushed felt; an open, peach colored felt mouth; and a posable, wire lined trunk.  He is excelsior stuffed and has a working squeaker  Play Elephant retains his long trailing "F" style Steiff button. When he was new, he had a colorfully striped blanket; sadly, this has been lost to time.  Play Elephant in this unusual material appeared in the line from 1935 through 1941 overall in 14 and 17 cm; the 17 cm version was also produced as a pull toy on eccentric green wooden wheels.  

Above on the left you can see a c. 1935 German print advertisement featuring Play Elephant; also pictured is the little known "Dream Baby No. 103" which appeared in the line from 1934 through 1936 and a mohair ball duck, which appeared in the line from 1932 through 1943.

So let's take a closer look at three subtle features that make this elephant a jungle gem.  

The first is the use of additional, unusual fabrics on this period item. Elephant's paw pads, tail, and ear backing material is not felt, but another light grey material that has a cotton backing and a soft, velvet-like nap to it. It feels very much like the flesh-colored material used on the bodies of the company's pre- and early postwar animal dolls.  The tip of his tiny tail is also detailed in long, soft black material. It looks somewhat like mohair fabric that could be used to represent the mane on a horse or zebra, but it is much softer, easily bendable, and doesn't feel like wool in any way.  

The second is some unique stitching detailing on his oversized, floppy ears.  Each ear has six simple grey seams which fan out from where the ears join to his head.  These are both decorative as well as hold the front and back fabrics making up the ears together.  Because of the texture of the curled wool plush, the stitches are not visible on the front of the ears.  Steiffgal has several prewar elephants in her collection based on this "Play Elephant" pattern - including a 22 cm silk plush version - and none have this distinctive ear stitching detailing.   

The third is a mouthful - literally!  Steiff is famous for how the company inserts and secures the eyes on its bears and animals.  This is usually done by inserting the eyes into the front of the head, pulling the threads to the rear of the head, and knotting them firmly in the back at the base of the neck.  In the case of this particular pre-war curled wool plush elephant, this distinctive knot is located right inside the baby's mouth. This was really hard to photograph but hopefully you can see this feature here on the left. It is the first time Steiffgal has seen this assembly detail on any Steiff item. 

Steiffgal hopes you find this sweet baby elephant as unforgettable as she does!

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

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