Saturday, February 24, 2018

Spinning A Yarn Over This Unusual Steiff Woolen Miniature Teddy Bear

Are you ready for yet(i) another Steiff treasure? This one is so unusual that its hard to believe it was really made by Steiff - but it was, and at a really challenging time in history. Take a look at this small white Teddy bear that Steiffgal recently purchased on eBay. Despite its obvious condition issues, its rarity and unusual form make it simply irresistible!  Come take a look at what makes this "blizzard baby" so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

This "abominable snowman" looking sweetie is actually Steiff's woolen miniature Teddy bear. He measures 22 cm tall standing and is made from white wool yarn "pom-poms" supported by a small wire skeleton in his torso. His coloring has aged to a mellow vanilla over time - perhaps to match his laid-back personality today! His arms and legs are probably string jointed; they hang loosely at his sides but can be moved about. His two half-circle shaped ears are made from white mohair. His very simple face comes to life with two brown and black glass pupil eyes. When he was new, he had a very small black hand painted nose and mouth. He retains his short trailing "f" Steiff button in ear. According to the 1892-1943 Sortiment, this really unusual design was produced in 22 cm from 1936 through 1938. 

It is clear that Old Yeti today has a face only a mother (or a diehard Steiff collector) could love. But it was not always that way. He started out life looking like the bear pictured here on the right. The photo is from Christies, from their October 2010 Steiff sale. He is cataloged here as "A Steiff Wool Pom-Pom Teddy Bear, (5522), standing, white, brown and black glass eyes and FF button with yellow cloth tag, 1936-1938 - 9in. (23 cm.) high." The catalog also notes, "Only 955 examples of this bear were made between 1936 and 1938." This tissue-new example realized GBP 5,250 at auction.

Despite old Yeti's appearance today, you can still make out some of the traditional Teddy bear features Steiff was trying to capture in this woolen miniature version. These are most prominent in the shape of his limbs. His arms do feature clearly curved wrists and suggest small hand paws. And his legs are also defined with proportional feet. These shapes are not wired and it is hard to figure out how Steiff pulled this off using pom-poms, but they did. Steiffgal suspects that the ears are mohair as they would be able to support and sustain a button-in-ear while a pom-pom version could not. You can see a close up of Old Yeti's button in ear here on the left. 

Old Yeti has a great yarn to spin.  He is a part of the company's long history of woolen miniature production. The very first woolies, introduced in 1931, were a series of six birds. Each was a different color and made in 4 or 8 cm. They had metal legs and feet and felt beaks and tails. They wore their buttons and earflags as tiny “ankle bracelets” around their sturdy legs. Soon after, Steiff added rabbits, cats, mice, monkeys, ducks and other animals to their line. Despite their proportions, most had jointed heads and, where appropriate, charming details that included tiny metal legs; felt beaks, wings and ears; colorful slippers; and headwear, including bonnets, top hats and lacy veils. Most of the standard line woolies were made in the 5 to 15 cm size range; this Teddy bear was among the largest if not the largest sized "miniature" produced. You can see a small collection of Steiff's prewar woolen miniature birds here on the left.

Collectors can certainly admire Steiff for trying to create a Teddy bear in the woolie style.  And, given his years of production - when mohair fabrics were in short supply but wool threads less so - could understand why the company would use this type of material in its Teddy bear production strategy.  

Steiffgal hope this discussion on Steiff's prewar woolen miniature bears has added a few Teddy hugs to your day.

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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Steiff Lesson In Love!

Talk about a class act! In addition to collecting interesting Steiff dolls, Teddy bears, and animals, Steiffgal also has a warm place in her heart for vintage Steiff ephemera - old catalogs, photographs, advertising materials, and other paper items produced by Steiff or featuring Steiff products. There is so much to learn from these snapshots of history capturing one brief moment of time. Check out this antique postcard featuring Steiff dolls in a one room schoolhouse.  It has a alot to teach us! 

It's easy to mail in the basics about this tiny treasure. It measures 5.5" wide and 3.5" tall overall. In terms of its image, its front features about 16 Steiff dolls - one tall teacher and probably 15 students, both boys and girls. It is hard to exactly count the students as some are fuzzy towards the back. The card has the company's circular logo and the words "Steiff Original" printed in red in the top left corner. 

This postcard's cream colored back is set up like a standard postcard. The stamp is red and cream and cost 10c; it is interesting to note that in France at that time it did indeed cost 10c to send a postcard within the country and 15c to send one abroad. All the words on the card are in French. On its left size, the words roughly translate to... "Fine toys of all kinds, specializing in animals and fabric dolls. Max Dieckmann, 24 Paradis Road, Paris. My representative Mr. Buat will be by with samples in late July." On the right side, the words translate to "French Republic, Post Card" and then the recipient’s address in Toulouse. Although it’s hard to make out exactly, the stamp appears to be cancelled out on 10-7-09, meaning July 10th, 1909.

It is Steiffgal's best guess that Max Dieckmann was either a toy company or distributor, and that they made this card from a Steiff company image for their own marketing needs, given its imprint.  Steiff also produced their own advertising postcards, but they would usually have Steiff company information imprints. The postage date and message on the card also perfectly aligns to the era of the featured Steiff schoolroom vignette, which was available via special order in the c. 1909-1910 timeframe. 
This delightful display has its design origins in the still beloved "Max and Moritz" book by Wilhelm Busch. One of the famous lines from this tale reads, "Good children in pursuit of knowledge apply themselves at school or college." According to the Cieslik's Button in Ear, The History of the Teddy Bear and His Friends, this village school scene came in two designs, "40" x 29" x 29" with nine 11" dolls as pupils and their teacher; the second display was 65" x 50" x 40" with 13 pupils and teacher. All school furniture and accessories could be ordered from Steiff. In 1910 Steiff sold 45 complete school displays.”  The photo of the village school display above - which appears to be a smaller version of the one shown on the advertising postcard - is also from the Cieslik's book. 

So let's take attendance here. The teacher is Teacher Lempel, a key character from Max and Moritz, who was made in 35 and 43 cm from 1909-19. The students are a mix are the company's delightful youngsters, who appeared in the line in standard sizes ranging from 22 to 75 cm from around 1909 through 1926. The boys are in the front desk grouping; you can recognize "Hans" right in front in his red vest, black paints, white socks, and tie shoes. The boys for the most part seem to be paying attention to the teacher. The girls - except one in the front left clearly on a "time out for misbehaving" - are in the back rows of the classroom. They seem more interested in napping or chatting with each other. The student doll pictured here on the left wears her original Steiff backpack and would be of the style used in this display. Like many of Steiff's first quarter of the 20th century advertising, this photograph is a visual treat - absolutely charming, full of warmth and humor, and shows the characters interacting in lifelike and playful ways. 

The display's details bring it even further to life. It is decorated with a back coat and hat rack; various perfectly to scale framed paintings; a map and globe; a chalkboard on a wooden stand; a light; furnace; and clock. Today, complete, or almost complete Steiff village schoolroom displays seldom appear on the secondary market and generate a pretty penny at auction when they do; Steiffgal knows of one that sold for $50,000 at a Theriault's auction in 2012. 

Steiffgal hopes postcard review has been a lesson in (Steiff) love for you.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Getting All Ruffed Up Over This Steiff Studio English Bulldog

Dog-gonnit! It's safe to say you're barking up the wrong tree if you feel you've seen everything ever made by Steiff! A reader shared this supersized, smiling rarity and asked about his background and history. Jennifer writes,

"I have been unable to find this piece (except for smaller versions.) He is 36" long and 24" tall. He's got wooden eyes and teeth, appears to be hand painted, and has scrunched up mohair wrinkles on his face. Thank you in advance for any insights!"

As Jennifer suggests, this proper gentleman appears to be a larger-than-life version of Steiff's English Bulldog. Many collectors are familiar with the "pint" sized version of this very desirable Steiff canine, pictured here on the left. Steiff's standard line English Bulldog is 18 cm, standing, and head jointed. He is made from tan mohair that has been hand detailed with multicolored airbrushed "spots" over his body and tail end. His face is also painted with "wrinkles" on his forehead. He has black and white googly eyes, a black stitched nose, and outstanding mouth-area "jowls", much like a real bulldog. He has an open, peach colored felt mouth with two lower pointy canine teeth. He left the factory in Giengen donning a red leather collar and a horsehair ruff. He was made from 1956 through 1961 as a US exclusive, appearing on the shelves of high-end retailers such as F.A.O. Schwarz.

It is no bull that Steiff's US exclusive English Bulldog was based on the company's post war, standard line Bully Bulldog. This dog, pictured here on the left, was produced in 10, 17 and 22 cm from 1951 through 1974. The company's English Bulldog has the same basic body as the standard line Bully, but sports a far more elaborate head. It was not uncommon for Steiff to make design tweaks to its standard line, postwar dogs and present them as exclusives to F.A.O. Schwarz. Among others, Steiff produced a standing Dally Dalmatian (the standard line version was sitting) and an open mouthed Biggie Beagle (the standard line version had a closed mouth) as specials for this high end retailer.

Now let's try and figure out big Bully's age in dog years. Shortly after the conclusion of World War II, the company was determined to regain its prewar status as a premier, global toy maker. One arm of this strategy was to produce a number of very interesting (but not cataloged) "over the top" display pieces for trade fairs - including a lifesized, "begging" zebra Steiffgal has recently learned of. It is possible that Jennifer's large English Bulldog was produced during the very early 1950's as part of Steiff's "let's wow them!" production emphasis. If that was the case, it is likely that Jennifer's English Bulldog has, or had, a linen US Zone tag sewn into his leg seam like other items produced in the c. 1948-1952 time frame. 

It is also possible that Jennifer's model was made in the 1960's - often considered Steiff's "blue ribbon" period of display animal production. Given the standard sized, 18 cm version was available from 1956 through 1961, it would not be out of the question that this display version was made at the "tail end" of that timeline. From around 1960 through 1967, the company produced dozens and dozens of different types of lifesized animals, often in different sizes and positions. For example, Steiff's 1967 Display Animal Catalog has almost 80 individual pages of these marvels, including five "kingsized" canines! Like big Bully, several of these 1960's era patterns had prominent hand painted eyes (like the Basset Hounds) or open, felt lined mouths with wooden teeth (like the the lions and tigers). Many of are simply hugely scaled up versions of the smaller pieces many of us have in our collections. Others, like the display open mouthed Snobby Poodle pictured here on the left, look quite different than the closed mouthed, standing Snobby we all know and love. 

So let's paws and consider all of this and what we can fetch from it. First, given the facts surrounding this uber-dog's design and historical context, it is Steiffgal's best guess that Jennifer's Bulldog was made sometime in the very early 1950's through the mid-1960's. Second, i
t is clear from its elaborate design, detailing, and features that big Bully was extremely labor and time intensive to produce (read: EXPENSIVE and COMPLICATED), reducing its manufacturing appeal and business/sales potential.  And third, Steiffgal also knows of one other example of this pattern, located in Connecticut. So this Big Bulldog is not a one of a kind, but probably one of a handful produced at the time.  And that's about all that Steiffgal can dig up on this top dog. 

Steiffgal hopes you enjoyed sinking your teeth into this great Bulldog mystery.

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

Saturday, February 3, 2018

This Steiff Honey Bear Is Certain To Sweeten Your Day!

How sweet it is to find a really unusual Steiff treasure? Especially one you've only viewed in photos or read about. So check out this amazing Honey Bear Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of handling. There's no sugar coating it - this rarity truly is the bee's knees!

Have you ever seen anything like this merry mashup before? If an anteater, raccoon, and a Teddy bear all had a love child together, Steiffgal suspects this is what the baby would probably look like. Honey Bear is 40 cm tall, unjointed, and probably designed to sit. His body is made from brown soft knitted plush. His belly is orange soft knitted plush, and his facial mask and nose area are light tan soft knitted plush. His paw pads are brown trevira velvet. His face, which only a mother could love, comes alive with a long pointed snout, brown and black pupil eyes, a peach colored trevira lined open mouth, and light brown airbrushing. He has a long, floppy, raccoon-ish tail. This item was made from 1976 to 1977 and is quite rare, despite its "relative" newness. 

Steiff's Honey Bear is based on a type of real-life animal called a "kinkajou." These mammals live in the Central and South American rain forests and are extremely nocturnal. They range in size from about 3 to 10 pounds. They really enjoy sweet fruit (that's why they are called "Honey Bears") which they eat with the help of their extra long tongues. Like Steiff's version, living kinkajous have an incredibly long tail and a prominent snout. They use their tails to hang from tree branches and as a "fifth hand." They are sometimes kept as pets, but are a bit challenging to domesticate as they dislike sun and daylight and only really go about their business at night. (The real-life one pictured here on the left is clearly only mugging for the camera in daylight conditions in the hopes of scoring a grand treat.)

So the sticky issue here is, why would Steiff ever make a Honey Bear as part of its product line? Well, that's a trick question because the company has actually made two - in 1995 they also produced a 45 cm standing, unjointed version made from woven fur. It does seem that over the years, Steiff has manufactured practically every animal on the planet. With this Honey Bear, things may have more to do with timing than anything else. Looking back, the mid-1970's seemed to be a period of great experimentation in terms of "unconventional" animal production. Other plush "uglies" of that era included the company's 25 or 35 cm "Wizzi" ferret made from imitation fur, a 14 cm "Putty" Turkey made from knitted fur, a 30 cm "Cosy Orangutan" with a plastic face and a very long crylor body, a 28 cm trevira velvet kudu, a 20 cm trevira velvet gnu, and many others. It is interesting to note that like the Honey Bear design, none of these "oddities" lasted for more than a handful of years in the line, either!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's Honey Bear has helped to sweeten your day.

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