Saturday, January 9, 2010

Discovering A Hidden Steiff Family Treasure

Steiffgal is certain that she is not alone in believing it not too early to start thinking (or perhaps the better word in January is DREAMING) about spring and all its niceties... warm weather, the first flowers, and of course, Easter! And speaking of dreamy, and Easter, take a look at this question from Charles from the UK about a very special family rabbit. Through a series of correspondences, he writes...

"I live in the UK and have discovered an 8 inch Steiff Peter Rabbit in a locked jewel box. It has probably been there for 50 years.

I inherited a load of stuff including this box fro
m my mother and have only just discovered a key!

Mom was born in March 1909 and the youngest of 3 siblings. She lived in Cork, Ireland when very young then moved to NE Scotland. She came from an aristocratic family where money was no object.

Here are some details about the rabbit:

  • His eyes are black buttons which are backed by red felt.
  • His tail is velvet and is an appendage to his body.
  • His entire body is made from white and grey velvet.
  • He is wearing red felt slippers with leather soles. On the bottom of the left one it says "Resistd no 423884 (or close to that), made in Germany."
  • His ears are made of velvet and are lined in the same material; he has a rust iron disk in one.
  • As for his nose and mouth stitching, it appears to be white and the stitching pattern is basically very simple and is a small "v" for his nose, a small vertical stitch connecting the nose and mouth, and a larger upside down "v" for his mouth.
Any help you can provide on its history and value would be most appreciated!"

Charles, thanks for sharing this remarkable treasure with Steiffgal and the Steiff Life readers! Let's hop right to it and talk about your wonderful family find.

First, a little St
eiff rabbit history to help put everything in context. Rabbits are a legacy item for Steiff probably because Easter is such a major holiday in Germany. They appeared in at least 7 different varieties in the debut catalog of 1892 alone! The design of Charles' rabbit - sitting up, begging, with unjointed arms, and a flat bottom - first appeared in 1894. At the turn of last century, this very popular design was produced in sizes ranging from 10 cm to 35 cm, and in materials including felt, short pile plush, mohair, velvet, wool plush, and coat plush. Besides a toy, this pattern was also produced as a rabbit pincushion with a basket on his back and as a skittle.

Then, in 1902,
a "little book" written and illustrated by English author Beatrix Potter hit the market in a big way. This book, Peter Rabbit, became a worldwide sensation due to its simple, universal story and beautiful illustrations. Ms. Potter created a little Peter Rabbit doll and registered it in the London patent office. Despite numerous attempts, she could not find a manufacturer in England to produce her toy. Steiff got wind of this, and soon became the producer of the "official" Peter Rabbit doll for the English market.

Here's where it gets a little "fuzzy" from the archival perspective.
As far as Steiffgal can tell, there is no readily available description of the original "official" Steiff Peter Rabbit. How big is he and what does he look like? What is he made from? What are the details of his clothing? As a matter of fact, Steiffgal can't even find the words "Peter Rabbit" in Gunther Pfeiffer's Steiff 1892 - 1943 Sortiment, the book recognized by collectors as the Steiff gold standard catalog reference. So it is not exactly clear what Beatrix Potter wanted Peter to look like as a toy!

It is generally understood by collectors that a "Steiff Peter Rabbit" is standing and wears a felt topcoat and slippers. The Sortiment book pictures two versions of standing rabbits wearing felt topcoats and slippers, but does not identify them as "Peter Rabbit." The first is a
spotted white velvet version wearing a red or navy topcoat and red slippers; he was produced in 10, 22, and 28 cm from 1904 through 1919. The second is a white wool plush version wearing a green felt topcoat and red slippers; he was produced in 22 cm from 1904 through 1918. Interestingly, during the same time frame, Steiff also produced a white wool plush cat, poodle, bulldog, pig, and elephant - all were 22 cm, sitting, flat bottomed, begging, and dapperly attired in felt topcoats and slippers identical in design to the one worn by the rabbit.

So in the 1904 through 1919 time frame, what's the difference between a dressed Steiff rabbit and a Steiff Peter Rabbit?
In the big picture, not much. Purists would say that a "real" Steiff Peter Rabbit must have a blue topcoat, as pictured in his namesake book. However, further research reveals that the "Peter Rabbit" design proved so popular that Steiff dressed many of their standard standing, flat bottomed, begging rabbits in variously colored felt topcoats and slippers. This is a very early example of Steiff's tradition of taking standard line items and customizing or altering them to meet new market opportunities.

So what about Charles' rabbit? A grey painted velvet rabbit is not specifically mentioned in the Sortiment as a Peter Rabbit. However, it is Steiffgal's best guess that he is a "big brother" version of the documented spotted w
hite velvet Peter Rabbit. And the collecting world seems to agree! At the 2005 Steiff Festival auction in Giengen, Germany, a pristine 28 cm version of a rabbit cataloged as "Peter Rabbit" - larger but identical in appearance to Charles' treasure - sold for 19,000 euro! At this same auction, a pair of matching 10 cm spotted white velvet Steiff "Peter Rabbits" in immaculate condition sold for 24,000 euro!

Now that's what Steiffgal calls "the money bunnies!"

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