Saturday, March 17, 2018

Go To The Head of The Class With This Amazing Steiff Student Doll

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Well, when it comes to Steiff, there is always something new to learn, no matter how old you are - or how many years you've been studying all things button-in-ear! Such is the case with this marvelous and extraordinarily rare black doll, best known through a Steiff schoolroom display from the turn of last century. (But more about that in a bit!) This "head of the class" little fellow belongs to a dear friend of Steiffgal. And boy does she have a schoolgirl crush on him indeed! Come see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

This delightful doll is cataloged as "Negro Boy" in the Steiff literature. He is 35 cm, standing, fully jointed - including special knee joints - and made from light brown felt. These knee joints allow him to sit easily and comfortably. He has the typical Steiff vertical facial seam and a quilted, set-in mouth and red painted lips. He comes to life with very unusual tri-colored, almond shaped glass eyes, prominent and dimensional ears, and distinctive hair made from black curled wool material. His outfit, which is correct in design but not original to him, consists of a striped shirt, red vest, and plaid pants. Unlike many of the Steiff dolls of his time, this pattern is purposely barefoot. He was produced in this size only from 1912 through 1918.

Now for a little history lesson on him. This boy was produced at a key time in the company's doll history. Starting in 1911, the company began manufacturing dolls representing different far away countries and dressing them accordingly. They were referred to as "nation types." These included a Mexican cowboy, a Sinhalese girl from Sri Lanka, and a man and a woman from Argentina, among several others. These were all idealized as well as stereotypical in design, with exaggerated facial features and detailing, dramatic skin tones, and perfectly-to-scale national outfits. It is very possible that this line was designed by Albert Schlopsnies, Steiff's creative consultant who was hired to help grow the company's doll line and marketshare starting around 1910.

Prior to Steiff's nation types doll series, Steiff did make dolls in local attire (like their series of German farmers starting in 1908) as well as dolls dressed in regional outfits (like their Dutch children also starting in 1908.) However, unlike the nation type dolls that had specific ethnic features, coloration, and distinctive outfits, the dolls in local attire or regional outfits were standard line dolls dressed in outfits that were slightly modified in shape, form, or proportion - not entirely new patterns.  The Dutch girl, Alida, is shown here on the left. She was She was made from 1909 through 1919 in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm.  She is described as "felt, jointed, Dutchwoman, original costume, Sunday best." "Sunday best" most likely meant she was wearing special or more upscale clothing for church - not an everyday outfit.

It's a clothes-call when it comes to Negro Boy's outfit. It is based on the clothing worn by schoolboys in a c. 1911 display. A photo of this display appears above, the picture is from the Cieslik's Button in Ear The History of the Teddy Bear and His Friends. In the photo you can see a black teacher giving a multiplication lesson to a classroom of black schoolboys. In the front rows are boys in yellow vests and red and white striped shirts; behind them are boys in orange vests and green and white striped shirts. Perhaps these different "uniforms" reflect the the boys' ages or grades. This one room school display is almost identical in theme to the company's one room school display featuring white children. You can read more about that display here.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this adorable Steiff schoolboy has you feeling like a genius!


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