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.

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