Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Tree-rific Collection Of Vintage Steiff Woolie Birds

What a "tweet" it is to receive really interesting inquiries from readers! On a wing and a prayer, Renee - from central New Jersey - contacted Steiffgal about her unusual Steiff "bird tree" to learn more about its history and design. She writes:


About a year ago, I bought a Steiff tree full of 13 wool birds on Ebay. I didn't really know much about it, but I just fell in love with it and had to have it. I always wanted a collection of the Steiff birds, and this was an easy way to get an instant collection.

The tree has a foam-type core and is wrapped in tissue paper painted to look like bark. It is 18.5 inches high by 12 inches wide. The trunk of the tree fits into a painted wooden base with the words "Made in Germany" stamped on the bottom.

There are 13 wool birds, with plastic feet, perched on the tree, including the beautiful little dove. There are no Steiff markings or tags anywhere, but t
he birds are obviously Steiff. The birds are so artfully perched on the branches, peering down in all different directions, that I feel the tree was professionally created, possibly as a window display or the like, but as I mentioned I really have no idea.

Can you tell me anything about it?"

Wow, thanks for writing and what a very cool item! Steiffgal vaguely recalls seeing this on eBay awhile back and being tempted as well! This bird tree is a fabulous item with a great history.

Let's first take a look at the tree itself. Not unexpectedly, Steiff calls this item Vogelbaum or Bird's Tree. According to Pfeiffer's reliable Steiff Sortiment 1947 - 2003 reference, Renee's item is cataloged as appearing in the line from 1957 through 1960. It is described as being made from "imitation birch"; the corresponding photo shows a white birch looking "tree" covered in assorted woolie pom pom birds with plastic legs (meaning that they were produced from 1956 onward.) The birds are attached to the tree by thin metal wires. The tree also has a few random yellow leaves and is mounted on a green circular wooden base. This Vogelbaum came in two models, a larger 12-bird version, and a smaller 5-bird version.

Renee's Vogelbaum is the most "recent" in a long history of Steiff bird trees. Going way back, a 20 cm version, with three standard line woolen birds, green leaves, and blossoms, was produced from 1936 through 1940. A similar 40 cm version, with a whopping 28 woolen birds, leaves and blossoms, was in the catalog from 1935 through 1939. Then, post war from 1953 through 1956, Steiff produced a Vogelbaum made from four primary colored birds perched on a blue wooden stand that sort of looked like a tree, from a "modern art perspective." Whatever the era, these showcase-worthy displays have always been a favorite with collectors.

w let's ruffle a few feathers and talk about two quirky details of this Vogelbaum. The first unusual feature of this tree is the inclusion of three "higher end" birds. The first is the very distinct Woll-Taube or woolen dove (the light blue and white bird with the light blue and brown felt tail feathers pictured here on the lower branch on the left). The second is the Woll Exoten Vogel or red woolen exotic bird with his red felt head feathers (pictured here on the upper branch second in from the left.) The third is a yellow woolen exotic bird with yellow felt feathers. So why is this noteworthy? According to photographic records of the bird tree, it should be "populated" with standard, relatively simple (read: less elaborate, less expensive) birds from the Steiff product line. These include red robins, green woodpeckers, multicolored finches, blue tits, and mostly brown sparrows.

The second unusual feature of Renee's tree is the actual number of birds on it.
Her Vogelbaum sports 13 birds. Recall that the larger "cataloged" version had 12 birds on it. So, what's with the extra bird?
Steiffgal, having worked with great pleasure at Steiff for several years knows that Steiff would NEVER advertise 12 birds but include 13... that's simply not the German way! So perhaps a previous owner added it on to the tree under their stewardship. It would be Steiffgal's best guess that if that indeed was the case, then the woolen dove was the late addition to the tree for two reasons. First, it doesn't really "fit" with the other species on the tree. More importantly, the dove did not appear with plastic legs until 1964 - four years after Steiff stopped making this model of Vogelbaum! And speaking of bird-brained mysteries, here's another puzzler... the picture of the Vogelbaum in the literature only features 10 woolies!

Wooden it be tree-rific if all Steiff collectors had such an interesting collectible to feather their nests?

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