Saturday, September 30, 2017

Purr-haps You Recognize This Unusual Steiff Cat ?

Guess who just walked in on little cat's feet? This charming Steiff kitten! Do you recognize her classic design? She's from a very interesting production era at Steiff. Let's take a closer look at this pretty kitty with an eye towards her period features and place on the Steiff cat "family tree."

This purr-fectly lovely girl is an early version of Steiff's Susi cat. She is 17 cm tall, sitting, and head jointed. Susi is made from artificial silk plush. Her muzzle, front feet, and chest area are (were) white while her body, head, and tail are (were) grey. The grey areas are hand airbrushed with black stripes. Her face comes to life with back painted green and black slit pupil glass eyes and a pink embroidered nose and mouth. Her clear monofilament whiskers and her red claws have been lost to time. You can feel the squeaker in her belly, but it is not working now. This version of Susi was produced in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1948 to 1949 only.

Let's paws for a moment and take a peek at the history of this fabulous feline. Steiff debuted its original Susi cat in 1936. Prewar, she was produced in mohair in 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm through 1943. In Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment, she is described as "mohair plush, gray tabby, sitting, very pretty model, round shape." It is very unusual to find subjective or "flattering" descriptions in the Sortiment books as they are almost always entirely factual and literal. So Susi's design must have really caught someone's eye!

Given cats do have nine lives, and taking into account her date of introduction, it is possible Susi's updated pattern was designed to replace the company's legacy sitting, head jointed "Fluffy" cat pattern. Fluffy was introduced in the mid-1920's and reflected the "roaring 20's" aesthetic ideal of that era. Items designed for that period were often "fat, fluffy, and feminine," and sometimes featured "unnatural" color - like the blue on Fluffy's backside. But the times had clearly changed in the interim. You can see a photo of Fluffy here on the left; this example is from the collection of Shelley Smith.  

Post war, Susi remained the cat's meow.   She was produced in mohair from 1949 through 1978 overall in 10, 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm. Almost 40 years onward, she is still a classic favorite, with the smallest versions especially in demand among Steiff and doll collectors alike.

Now let's get into the meow-mix of Susi's period features.  This Susi is made from artificial silk plush.  This substitute fabric was used in the place of mohair during times of material shortages at Steiff.  It was seen on popular line items from the mid-1930's through the very early 1950's - just before, and just after WWII.  It is safe to say that Steiff items made from artificial silk plush were produced during very difficult political and economic times in Germany. Artificial silk plush wears out and get dirty easily, so its initial shine and good looks fade almost immediately. It is not a very durable or attractive fabric in the long run.  However, it was available for toy production, and to their credit, Steiff always found a way to get their job done - making fine playthings for children. 

This Susi cat's construction also has several "old fashioned" details that are not seen on later versions of this pattern.  These include a prominent white "triangular" shaped forehead and inset white front feet.  It is possible that these seams were eliminated for cost and labor saving reasons as the design evolved over time.  And early Susi's - like this one - were made from distinctly grey and white fabrics, while those produced years or decades later were all white with grey and black airbrushing to produce the same "fur" effects. 

And to button up this discussion, it's important to note artificial silk plush Susi's ID.  She proudly wears the somewhat rare STEIFF all capital letters button.  This button appeared approximately in the 1947 through 1952 timeframe, perfectly aligning with her actual production time.   
Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's rare early post war silk plush Susi cat has you feline groovy.

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

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