Sunday, May 20, 2018

Heavens To Betsy!

Collecting, and the way we learn about the things that we love, has changed so much over the years. Alot of this is the result of the Internet and social media. These "invisible" resources enable seamless information exchange as well as facilitate new and often unexpected relationships. This is entirely true in the case of Steiff, where mysteries are solved, information shared, and great finds are celebrated worldwide with just the click of a button. Check out this note from a new friend as a case in point here. Judy from St. George, UT shares,

"I saw a YouTube video recently where you were presenting some of your Teddy Baby Steiff bears, and lo and behold, there was the sister to my Betsy Bear, who has been with me for 72 plus years now. I've never seen another one like her, but I knew a little. She has excelsior stuffing, measures 10" tall, and had a Steiff ear tag in her left ear for many years, but it fell out.

I received her for my 5th birthday on Dec. 23, 1945 when I lived in military housing in Mannheim Germany. My Dad probably bought her at the Army PX. I have never received a better birthday present in all my 77 years! 

I even wrote a book about her for my grandkids and family, The Life and Times of Betsy Bear, because her story is really the story of my life as well. In my little book about Betsy's life, I showed her sitting with other dolls that have the same body but with different animal heads. I don't know exactly why I thought that Steiff made interchangeable animals during that phase, but my Dad may have mentioned that he had a choice of dolls and he picked the bear for me.  

I want to give her to my granddaughter, Emily, but so far I can't seem to part with Betsy. I've always told my husband if the house burns, SAVE BETSY! That's how much I love her.

Betsy's mohair is very scant and patchy now. There's still a little color of pink in her open mouth. She has shoebutton eyes. Her original body was like stocking material with mohair paws and I think I remember her original feet as being a little longer, but my mom had to resew her body, arms and legs after Betsy went through a typhoon when we lived on the island of Okinawa in 1948. Later in about the 1960's I hand sewed another set of arms and legs. Like I said, she's had an adventurous life!"

Heavens to Betsy! What a great note, and a wonderful story. Yes, what Judy has here is an example of Steiff's WWII-era silk Plush, rayon, and stockinette animal dolls. They are 22 cm tall, standing, and head jointed. Their bodies are made from stockinette (which looks and feels just like a thick lady's stocking), while their hands, feet, and heads are made from artificial silk plush. They are dressed in simple and inexpensive rayon outfits made from checked or floral prints. They left the factory in Giengen with a button and yellow ear tag as their Steiff IDs. Steiffgal has never seen any company specific cataloging on these items. Given their production timeline, it is most likely that Steiff did not advertise or thoroughly document these dolls in their records. Here on the left you can see a photo of a little boy and girl version of this doll pattern, the photo was taken at the Puppenhaus Museum in Basel, Switzerland.

These animal dolls are extremely ephemeral, and as such, quite rare.  They are based on the company's most popular designs of the time, but every element of their construction was done in very low end, substitute fabrics. This is understandable given the absolute dearth of materials available for toy manufacturing in the 1940's in Germany. Steiffgal actually can't think of any other pattern Steiff item made from this stockinette material. Here on the left is another picture of one of these rarities, it is from our friends at Teddy Dorado.

Given that there is no official documentation, the question that many collectors have about these dolls is when exactly they were made - before, during, or after WWII. The power of the Internet has answered this question, sort of. Judy received her doll in late 1945, just a few months after the conclusion of WWII. According to company records, Steiff announced that the government forbid them to manufacture toys of any form as of 4/15/43.  We also know Steiff started producing a very small number of artificial silk items as early as 1945, and that these items could only be sold to American troops - not to stores or civilians. Given Judy's dating, where Betsy was purchased, and Steiff's manufacturing history timeline, it is Steiffgal's suspicion that these floppy dolls were the first, or one of the absolute earliest, toys produced once the Steiff factory slowly started emerging from the WWII imposed shutdown.  

Another very interesting tidbit shared by Judy is her drawing of Betsy and her friends.  You can see that illustration here on the left. Steiffgal has seen and handled several Teddy Baby style animal dolls.  She also has a rabbit stockinette and artificial silk plush animal doll in her personal collection.  But Betsy's illustration also shows a cat and a dog version of these dolls - in addition to the known versions.  How cool is that?  Is it possible that Steiff also made cat and dog dolls at the same time as the Teddy Baby and rabbit versions?  Well, with Steiff, you never know... but if Judy's father's purchase choice recollection is true... then maybe yes!  

The next great Steiff hunt has begun!

Steiffgal hopes this information on Judy's Steiff friend-for-life and book has been a great read for you!  

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

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