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.

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