Monday, August 21, 2017

Hat's Off To This Absolutely Amazing Early Steiff Lady Doll!

Hold onto your hat - literally! What Steiffgal has to share with you today just might be head and shoulders above anything that has ever appeared in this blog before! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of viewing a collection of absolutely outstanding pre-war Steiff dolls. Each was breathtaking in its own way, and she will feature a few in this blog over the coming weeks. She wanted to give the first tip of the hat to this particular one - and after seeing her, you will certainly understand why!

It's a hat-trick when it comes to this lovely Steiff lady. Here we have a magnificent lady doll with an elaborate hat built into her head. She is fully jointed and stands about 42 cm tall; her hat adds another 15 cm or so. She wears fabulous, hand made leather lace up shoes, thigh high socks, a purple felt skirt with orange and green flowers printed on it, a white cotton apron, and a black lace shawl with a matching black lace hanky. Her core body is made from orange felt, and that is how her upper torso appears. Her face comes to life with blue and black glass pupil eyes and very delicately hand painted facial features. 

Her "proper topper," Steiffgal suspects, maybe based on some regional or traditional European design. It is literally built on her head. The core of the hat is made from felt and is stuffed with excelsior. It is trimmed with three bands of brown velvet ribbon. The top and bottom of the hat are made from soft white fabric that has been pleated and folded in the most charming and interesting way possible. She does not have a mohair wig or any indication of painted hair.

There's no question that this doll would be a headliner in any Steiff collection. It is suspected that she was produced in the early to mid 19-teens, given her presentation and materials. After extensive searching, Steiffgal could find no mention of this doll and her remarkable "hat-head" in any of the standard Steiff reference books or materials. However, she was able to locate a photograph of a similar doll sold in 1990 at a Theriault's doll auction; it is shown here on the left and the photos is from Theriault's. It is possible that only a handful of these dolls were produced (the construction is so elaborate and therefore time consuming and expensive), that they were only manufactured in extremely small numbers for a special display, or that she was a prototype of some sort. Any of these factors may in part help explain why there is a dearth of information available about her.

Let's button up this discussion with a quick peek at her ID, which is also quite interesting. It turns out this lovely lady had not one, but TWO small trailing "f" buttons in her left ear. She also has a small hole in her right ear - just the perfect size for yet another button. Although the double buttoning in her left ear could be an accident, her ear is so small, and the button is so well placed, that the second button truly looks intentional. In the past, Steiff used multiple buttons to keep track of which items were samples, prototypes, and versions of items under development. In the 1920's, this usually took the form of a regular button in one ear, and a "muster" button in the other. It is entirely possible that this doll's multiple button system is an early form of this tracking system. Unfortunately, only she knows for sure!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this incredible lady doll has given you something to hang your hat on!

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Vintage Steiff Find of Possibly Titanic Proportions

Hey, what's black and white and read all over? Hopefully this post on this remarkable Steiff rabbit! Steiffgal found this bouncing beauty in Orlando, Florida in the salesroom of the 2017 United Federation of Doll Clubs annual convention. Here's what makes him so outstanding from the design and historical perspectives.

This honey-bunny is called Steiff's Dutch rabbit. He stands 28 cm tall (not including his ears) and is made from black and white mohair. He has early Steiff rabbit proportions, including a chunky torso and limbs. His pattern is relatively basic and more playful than realistic. He is fully jointed, meaning his head, arms, legs, and ears can be rotated 360 degrees. His face comes to life with pink and red glass pupil eyes and a very simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. This pattern was produced in white, brown and white, and black and white overall from 1907 through 1916. The black and white version was produced overall from 1912 to 1916, with the 28 cm version appearing only in 1912.

There are three key details about this rabbit that make him the ultimate Dutch treat.

The first is his eyes. They are hand blown, red and pink glass pupil style eyes. You can see tiny air bubbles in the glass if you look at them closely under a loop. Steiff used these eyes on a number of rabbits from the c. 1907 through 1943 time frame. Glass eyes started appearing on a wide scale on Steiff items around 1908, so these really are an early and elegant example of this detailing. It is also interesting to note that the example of this black and white rabbit pictured in the Steiff Sortiment book has black eyes backed in red felt. But it is not unusual for Steiff to produce the same item with slightly different features, and that is probably the case here. But more on this in a bit.

The second is his jointing. This bunny really gets around - pun intended. He is fully jointed, which is not terribly unusual. However, the fact that each of his ears can be rotated in a full circle is quite rare. This is different than having the ears poseable because they are lined in metal wires. As early as 1904, Steiff started to experiment with a number of designs that really took advantage of emerging joint movement technologies. In some cases, these animals were six or even seven ways jointed. Franz Steiff was very interested in creating and patenting a system that would help to replicate the natural movement of an animal's ear. After several years of trial and error, he finally designed such a specialized joint and received a US patent for it on September 8, 1908. Over time, Steiff used this technology on items including cats, squirrels, and this rabbit pattern.

Finally, it is key to mention this rabbit's material and coloring. He is made in part from black mohair. Steiff made only a handful of items from or with black mohair at the early turn of last century; these included a crow, a goat, a few dogs, and black mohair patches on their early guinea pig and rabbit patterns. The company also introduced a black mohair Teddy bear in the early 1900's but it was not commercially successful. Early black mohair items really are few and far between, and seldom if ever seen on the secondary market. 

The black and white version of this rabbit debuted in 1912. This is the same year that the Titanic disaster struck, and Steiff responded by producing black mohair "Mourning Bears" with red felt backed eyes. An example of Steiff's Mourning Bear is pictured above on the left; the photo is from James D. Julia. These black bears from 1912 are considered the "holy grail" for many Steiff collectors. Although the Holland rabbit under discussion here has "albino" style glass eyes, the one pictured in the Sortiment has the same red-backed eye detailing as the company's Mourning Bears of the identical period. Given the timing of all of this, it is possible that the company's black and white mohair Holland rabbits from 1912 were made from the same lots of black mohair as the Mourning Bears, and that perhaps the red felt backed eyes that appear on some examples are a nod to this tragedy as well. It certainly is a mystery of Titanic proportions!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's black and white Holland rabbit has been a hop, skip, and a jump for you.

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