Friday, May 28, 2010

Give A Hand to Steiff For These Great Vintage Puppets!

Hands in the air!  The wonderful long weekend that heralds summer has finally arrived here in the USA!  To celebrate this most welcomed seasonal occurrence - usually accompanied by "hands on" gardening and BBQing -  let's take a look at some of Steiff's finest handiwork, puppets from the 20th century! This article originally appeared awhile back in Teddy Bear and Friends, Steiffgal's favorite collector's publication. If you are not a subscriber, sign up today!

Primarily known for their classic and endearing Teddies, animals, and dolls, Steiff also has a vibrant legacy of creating charming and beautifully made hand puppets. Some designs are based on popular Steiff patterns, some reflect heroes and heroines from folk tales and traditions, while others are original products of sheer creativity. As a lifelong collector and student of the Steiff brand, Steiffgal has always been fascinated by classic vintage Steiff hand puppets – those produced from the turn of the 20th century through the end of the 1960’s. So, let’s put a spotlight on some of these great players from Steiff’s “golden era” of producing hand puppets!

First, let’s get on the same page of the program about what Steiffgal means by pre-1970’s “hand puppets”. Most interestingly, the basic design of these puppets hasn’t changed since their debut almost a century ago. They all are basically 17 cm, plus or minus a bit. Most have a relatively simple “glove-like” body with two floppy unjointed arms. Almost all have a hollow but hard, fully detailed, excelsior stuffed head. To use the puppet, a person would insert their hand into the glove, put their pinky into one arm, their thumb into the other, and their middle finger into the hollow head, which is supported by a cardboard tube up the center.

Now onto the puppets themselves. Although the first Steiff catalog was produced in 1892, Steiffgal's research shows that hand puppets did not appear in these publications until 1911. However, the designs for a puppet bear, cat, and dog had all been registered in a German patent office since 1909. Steiff used the adjective “Punch” to describe their earliest puppets; perhaps in reference to the traditional “Punch and Judy” puppet shows which regularly appeared across Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. The earliest Steiff puppets produced included punch bear, punch Charles (a King Charles Spaniel), punch cat, punch fox, punch chimp, and punch fox terrier. Each was made from mohair and based on the most popular animals in the line at the time. Pictured on the left is a series of early punch chimps from 1911 onward.

Many of Steiff’s most beloved classic characters were “born” in the 1920’s, so it is not surprising that most of them were produced as hand puppets around the end of that “roaring” decade. This allowed the company to meet the public’s growing demand for these wonderful “branded” characters as well as to expand their audience for these items. Models that made the transition from toy to hand puppet include Molly the puppy, Bully the bulldog, Petsy the blue eyed baby bear, Teddy baby, Siamy the Siamese cat, and Treff the bloodhound. As these items were all made for active play, very few have survived to this day; all are considered treasures and exceptionally rare – especially in good condition!

Steiff had the license to manufacture several internationally known characters in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Two of these included Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse. Of course, Steiff seized the opportunity to produce each as a hand puppet as well! Felix the Cat was produced from 1925 through 1926; he was 20 cm and made from felt and mohair. A 24 cm velvet Mickey Mouse was produced from 1931 through 1933. Both are extremely rare today and coveted among vintage Steiff collectors, puppet fans, as well as Felix and Mickey aficionados.

The early post war years were a time of great creativity at Steiff, and this energy and “out of the box” thinking is evident in their hand puppet designs, too. The word “Hand” was substituted for “Punch” when describing these puppets manufactured after 1949, perhaps to “rebrand” the line as a modern plaything. As expected, production resumed on several pre-war hand puppet classics, including Jocko the monkey, Teddy baby, Molly the puppy, and a tabby cat. However, many new named designs were introduced as well, including Sarras the boxer, an updated Foxy fox terrier and Bully the bulldog, Dally the Dalmatian, Wittie the owl, Loopy the wolf, Snobby the poodle, Gaty the crocodile, Mungo the baboon, and Leo the lion. These “new designs” were made as toys as well as puppets; all were made of mohair. Steiff also introduced the first PVC/rubber headed puppets in the early 1950’s; these debut items included a dwarf, Santa Claus, and Mecki hedgehog. Most of these items were produced in large quantities and were distributed broadly; as a result they are relatively accessible to collectors today. 

In addition to these post war hand puppets, Steiff also briefly produced a new style of mohair puppet from 1958 through 1959. Called “Mimic”; these items were five finger hand puppets with four posable limbs and a movable mouth. Three models were produced: a 28 cm Mimic dally Dalmatian, a 28 cm Mimic Biggie beagle, and a 17 cm Mimic Tessie Schnauzer (pictured to the left with a 1960's-era Peky Pekingese puppet). Their short appearance may have been the product of a complicated and expensive manufacturing process and less than expected sales. As a result, the short supply of these puppets translates into a high demand among collectors. 

The 1960’s were a very playful era at Steiff in terms of hand puppets. Several more “unconventional” designs were introduced, including Hucky, a black raven; Hopsi the squirrel; Peky, the Pekingese; a penguin; a rooster; and a hen (pictured here on the left). Surprisingly, several hand puppets from this decade – despite their relative “newness” – top the “wish list” of many Steiff collectors. These include Snaky Snake, a gloriously airbrushed puppet with an unusual snap mouth and felt tongue; Sneba, or Snowman, a white dralon snowman with a carrot nose, a black top hat, and “coal” buttons; and Blacky the Chimney Sweep, a rubber headed character with a black mohair body, black top hat, and ladder. Each was produced for less than two years. As a result, they always generate a lot of interest when they come up for sale.

For a firsthand account by Claire Steiff Meisel - the granddaughter of Richard Steiff - on her experience in the Steiff factory as a child helping to make some of these classic puppets, please click here!

You’ve got to hand it to Steiff, whatever they do, they do it just right. Steiffgal hopes you give thumbs up to this salute to vintage Steiff hand puppets… and a high five to the creative teams at Steiff who brought these precious playthings to life over the years. 

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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Mane Attraction, Steiff Style!

Steiffgal's not lion when she says she's roaring to answer this reader's question about a wonderful thrift store find. Liz from Michigan City, Indiana writes:


So glad to have found you! My sister found this Steiff lion at a thrift store and snatched it up it was so cute. We have had Steiff animals for years. We were wondering if you could give us some information and value on him.  

He is 10 1/2" from nose to hind end and 6" standing.  He has amber glass eyes, and a stitched dark pink nose; all his claw and mouth stitching is in good condition. 

His head and his four legs are jointed. He feels like there may have been a speaker box in his torso. He can stand on his own and in very good condition. He has his whiskers and part of a frayed tag, but no ear button. 

Sorry the pictures don't do him justice but that's what I could get. Thank you very much. 


Liz, what you have here is one of the "mane events" in Steiff's early post war production!  This is Loewen-Papa or Papa Lion.  As you mentioned, he is five ways jointed and made from tan mohair.  He has an elaborate brown-tipped mane, which skinnies downward to his belly into a thin strip.  He has this same tipped mohair on the tip of his tail.  His eyes are brown with a black pupil and he has an almost red colored hand embroidered nose which is outlined in black.  His mouth is outlined in black embroidery, and he has a white mohair chin.  And yes, he did come with a squeaker. Papa Lion was produced in 14 and 22 cm from 1949 thorough 1961.  

There are a few things about this design that make it very interesting from the collector's perspective.  

First of course is his "US Zone tag" sewn into the seam of his leg.  This tag was included on every Steiff item that was produced in the Giengen factory from 1947 through 1953.  Given your lion has this tag, we can pinpoint his production somewhere in the 1949 through 1953 time frame.  

The second is his legacy.  Papa Lion very closely resembles a Steiff lion that was produced pre-war from 1910 through 1943.  This turn of last century lion was produced in 22 cm, was five ways jointed, and had a very similar face, mane, tail tuft, and body appearance.  It is extremely likely that Papa Lion is the direct descendant of this classic and historic Steiff design.  

And finally is his jointing.  Besides Teddy bears, five ways jointed Steiff animals are actually quite rare.  It is not unusual for an animal to be head jointed, or even head and arm jointed.  Very few five ways jointed animals are made even today as jointing is a very labor intensive - and therefore costly - endeavor.  It is interesting to note that shortly after Papa Lion was retired from the line, a new standing lion design was introduced in 1964.  He was produced in 10, 17, and 28 cm through 1975.  He had many of the same general characteristics of Papa Lion, minus his jointing.  

As for value, as always, Steiffgal is not a formal appraiser and believes something is worth what someone else will pay for it.  This is a wonderful item from an aesthetic as well as a collector's perspective, and its US Zone tag and five ways jointing help make him a kingly find.  Except for missing his button, he appears to be in very good condition.  Assuming that he doesn't have any smells, rot, rips, or other issues, Steiffgal has seen similar items sell recently in the $75 to $150 range; Steiffgal has a very similar Papa Lion and paid about $125 for it. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about Liz's lucky find has encouraged you to add a lion or two to your growing Steiff den.

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

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Great Ox-idental Steiff Find!

Sometimes you find great Steiff items just where you would expect.  And sometimes, at least for an astute reader in a land far away, you find them quite by ox-ident.  Take a look at this note from Emmanuelle, from Dublin, Ireland who writes about her wonderful Steiff treasure.

"Dear Steiffgal,

What a lovely blog you have! I only knew of Steiff toys and happened to find one but since I visited your site, I feel like falling in love! :D
So this is the little treasure I found at a car boot sale in England. It looks like it's a classic cow on wheels. It's in fair condition but as one says, 'well loved'!

Would you be able to date it? I'm also looking at insuring it with another set of treasured items, what do you think is the value range? Lucky me, I only got it for 5 pounds!!

Many thanks in advance.

All the best,


Well, Steiffgal would like to say "Holy Cow" to your remarkable discovery, but that wouldn't technically be correct.   What you have here is actually a Steiff Ochse, or Ox on wheels. This barnyard beauty is unjointed and made from brown and white mohair.  He has black button eyes, felt horns, and when new, light nostril stitching.  She is relatively rarely seen, despite being in the Steiff line for 46 years.  Pre-war, he was produced in 14,17, 22, 28, 35, 43, 50, 60, and 80 cm from 1909 through 1943.  Post-war, he was one of the first items manufactured by the company once the factory reopened again in the late 1940's; he was made in 43 and 50 cm from 1949 through 1961. Depending on his size and years of production, he came on metal wheels, wooden wheels, and metal disk wheels with rubber tires.    

Like most Steiff treasures, the secret to this Ox's age lies in his button.  He sports the pre-war "trailing f" button, meaning that the bottom of last "f" in "Steiff" trails backward in a large arch.  This button was used approximately between 1906 and about 1934/1935.  So, if you overlay his pre-war production dates:  1909 through 1943, and his approximate button dates: 1906 through 1934/1935, he must have been made between 1909 and 1934/1935.  This is still quite a big time frame, however.  One way to skinny this down even further is to measure the actual button; Steiff used a 4 mm trailing f button until around 1927 and an 8 mm trailing f button from 1925 through 1934/1935.  Given the proportions of the button to the ear in the picture above, Steiffgal estimates that his button is the 8 mm size, dating him in the 1925 through 1934/1935 time frame.

Now for the question that always puts Steiffgal out to pasture... what is he worth? As always, Steiffgal is not a formal appraiser and strongly believes that something is worth what someone else would actually pay for it. So technically he may be worth the 5 pounds (about $7.23 USD) that lucky Emmanuelle paid for him!   Steiffgal has seen this ox on wheels in collector's reference books, but never   actually in person, for sale, or at auction. With that in mind, Steiffgal would venture to say that he would be valued in the $300-600 range, given his rarity, relatively good condition, and the fact that he still has his button after all this time. Overall, quite the return on investment!

Steiffgal hopes that you have enjoyed this cattle-tattle - and that's no bull!

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures, from the farm or otherwise? Let's talk! Click here to learn more.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Surprise Steiff Finds at Auction

It's always so much fun to hear where Steiff enthusiasts find their next big, well, find! Check out this question from a reader who is wondering if she has scored big with Steiff at a recent local auction. Leslie writes:


I picked up two s
tuffed animals at an estate sale that were touted as "Steiff" by the auctioneer; but when I purchased them I saw that neither had an authentic tag of any kind, the one simply had a handmade white hang-tag that had 'Steiff' written on it.

Here's the pair
: a cute fawn and kitty. I'm thinking the kitty isn't Steiff but that the fawn might be. I don't know a lot about Steiff other than the ones I've seen in antique stores and the fawn looks more in keeping with the fabric and style that I've seen. I did some hunting online and didn't find any critters that looked like either to use as a reference so I am clueless.

The fawn is 8.5" high and 8.5" tall. She appears to be made of velveteen with what I assume is mohair in the ears, under the tail and on the c
hest and tummy. The eyes are a solid black/dark brown rounded beads with a white leather piece attached behind the bead. The nose and mouth are stitched, though the one side of the mouth stitching is missing on part of it. The feet and ear tips appear to be painted or dyed on the velveteen. Seems to be stuffed with excelsior and have a wire frame as her long legs and neck/body are very sturdy.

The cat is 10" nose to tail and 3.5" high. She seems to be made of mohair with a fiber stuffing, possibly excelsior in the legs as they sound a little "crunchy" when I squeeze them. She has stitched slits for eyes in black and an aged light pink stitched nose and mouth. Her eyes appear to look "closed" and she is sleeping face-down.

Any information or advice you can give would be grea
tly appreciated. Either way, they are clearly old and sweet.

Best, Leslie"

Leslie, yes, this sweet set is definitely made by Steiff and congratulations on your great score! They were both produced basically in the same time frame, so Steiffgal wouldn't be surprised if they were purchased together for a lucky youngster maybe 40+ or so years ago. It is always nice to keep sets like this together, like old friends.

Let's take a look at each item, and the interesting histories that accompany them.

First of course is the dear deer. But this isn't just any forest friend, this is Steiff's Bambi Reh or Bambi deer. She is standing, unjointed, and mostly made from light brown velvet with lighter tan spots on her back. Her chest, tail, and ears are light tan mohair. She has mile-long legs and the most precious face imaginable. Her eyes are huge almond shaped peepers with detailed white and tan painted backings. Bambi was produced from 1951 through 1972 in 14 and 22 cm. She was manufactured under a license from the Walt Disney Company. When Bambi was new, she had a special chest tag noting that partnership arrangement.

It is interes
ting that the Walt Disney Company released their now famous animated feature, Bambi, in the summer of 1942. This was just a few months before the time that Steiff temporarily stopped producing playthings due to the war, in 1943. Steiff began toy manufacturing again in the late 1940's. This Steiff Bambi model was one of the very first licensed items in the line post-war, in 1951. And given that it can take months or years to secure a co-branded license, work on bringing a Bambi to the Steiff line probably was one of the earlier Steiff initiatives undertaken once the factory was open for business in 1948 or so.

It appears that the next treasure entered Leslie's life o
n little cat's feet. This cat-napping cutie is Steiff's Floppy Kitty Cat. Kitty is made from tan mohair which has been hand-airbrushed with black stripes. She is in a flat, lying position. She is unjointed, and very soft - after all, she was designed as a sleeping companion for children (or people who used to be children!) Kitty has closed black embroidered eyes and a pink embroidered nose and mouth. She left the factory in Giengen with a bright red bow around her neck. Kitty was made from 1953 through 1969 in 17 and 28 cm.

Kitty is one of Steiff's beloved "sleeping" style animals. Steiff produced a great number of these precious animals during the 1950’s through the 1970’s. These included a Zotty Teddy and panda bear, fox, Cocker Spaniel, Siamese cat, tabby cat, seal, and elephant, among others. They were all prone in position and referred to as “floppy” or “cosy” animals. Most were made in two standard sizes, 17 and 28 cm; all were stuffed with soft foam. Each animal had one of a number of “sleeping eyes” designs. All of these bedtime companions were simplified versions of well-known Steiff animal designs. Most, if they had legs, had them splayed out from their torsos like a “V”. The picture above on the left shows Steiff's sleeping tiger and baby lion, other well known floppy "cats" from the same time frame as Leslie's Kitty.

Steiffgal hopes that all readers, like Leslie, run across Steiff treasures with great legacies in the most expected - and unexpected - places!

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

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Smile, and the Whole Steiff World Smiles With You

Steiffgal is nothing but a big toothy grin this week after receiving a positive report about a family member who soon will be returning to good health. No one can disagree that a smile certainly looks better, and feels so much better, than a frown! In celebration of good news - and the hopes that some is also headed to each and every SteiffLife reader - the time is certainly right to quick look at some vintage Steiff collectibles known especially for their distinctive smiles and gleaming pearly whites!

Let's first give a hand to terrifically toothsome Hand-Wolf Loopy or Loopy wolf puppet. Loopy is 18 cm and made from white and gray mohair . His face and the tips of his paws, ears, and nose are detailed with lightly applied black airbrushing. Loopy has green glass pupil eyes and a black stitched nose. His most prominent feature is certainly his mouth; it is open and lined in peach colored felt. He has a pinkish colored tongue and four not-so-sharp plastic canine teeth. Loopy as a puppet appeared in the Steiff line from 1956 through 1978; this model was also produced in 1964 as a full fledged standing item in 25 and 35 cm.

This next item is "long in the tooth", both literally and figuratively! Here we have Paddy Walross or Paddy walrus, with his remarkably long white wooden tusks. Paddy is 14 cm and made from dark tan mohair that has been airbrushed with brown shading and spots. He is in what Steiff refers to as a "begging" position. Paddy has black and white googly eyes, a pink stitched nose, and mono-filament whiskers. His "moustache" is made from longer, stiff mohair, which has the look and feel of the mohair used on Steiff hedgehogs over the years. Paddy was made from 1959 through 1965 in 10, 14, and 22 cm.

Care to share a "spot" of tea with this smiling Englische Bulldogge or English Bulldog? This champion canine is 18 cm, standing, and head jointed. He is made from tan mohair that has been very carefully hand detailed with multicolored airbrushed "spots" over his body and tail end. He is has the most "sturdy" look and feel about him! 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. And just to prove he's top-dog, he sports a red leather collar and a horse hair ruff. This English Bulldog was made from 1956 through 1961 as a United States exclusive, most likely appearing on the shelves of high end retailers such as FAO Schwarz.

Steiffgal always likes to end on a high note, but in this case our final item today is truly out of this world - both in terms of looks and scarcity! This majorly-toothed martian is Steiff's Gruenes Maennchen, or Little Green Man. He is 35 cm tall and made from green colored trevira velvet. His proportions are much like Steiff's iconic "lulac" animals, with their long torsos and dangling limbs. His arms and legs have wire armature so they can be posed in playful ways. His face is utterly charming. He has enormous black and white googly eyes, one thick black strand of "hair" on his forehead, pert ears, a prominent bulbous nose, and an open mouthed ear-to-ear grin. And of course... a huge set of white felt buck teeth. Little Green Man was designed for Steiff by the Belgian artist Mallet and was in the line from 1982 through 1984. It is most unusual for Steiff to produce items designed by people outside the company so his pedigree, in combination with his limited time of production, puts him on the "wish list" of many collectors around the world.

Mother Teresa once said, "Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing." Steiffgal hopes this column gave you a smile, and that you pass that goodwill onto someone else today, too!

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

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Tall Steiff Order

Steiffgal felt as if she had reached new heights when she received this tall order from a reader from the country's heartland. Miriam from Kansas City, Missouri asks about her recent Steiff find, a very vertical giraffe. Through a series of correspondences she writes:

"Hello Steiffgal:

I just purchased an 8 to 9 foot Steiff studio giraffe from a school sale in Kansas City. They were asking $875; I paid $500.

We used to have an FAO Schwarz store here (about .5 miles from where I purchased the giraffe.)

The giraffe has a yellow tag that I think has the number 0759124 on one side and 57/49 on the other side. She has a raised script style button in e

I love Steiff animals. They were part of my childhood; I spent my girlhood in Austria during the early to mid 1960s. I am a collector but not as a serious collector; I love them with or without tags and my husband calls me "Steiffwife."

What do you know about the giraffe? How can I find out more about it? Any sources to direct me toward?

Many thanks,


It is no stretch to say that Miriam's giraffe is a timeless treasure! What she has here is a Steiff Studio giraffe. She is standing, made from hand-stenciled mohair, and had delightful facial features including dramatic, lifelike eyes with mile long eyelashes; realistic horns, pert ears; and a open, felt lined mouth with a dimensional tongue. The article number of this giraffe is actually #0759/24; this particular model was made from 1968 through 1990. Her script button in ear indicates she would have been actually made between 1953 and 1969. So, if you overlay her production dates and button dates it appears that she was exactly made in the 1968 through 1969 time frame.

Giraffes are a legacy species for Steiff. As a matter of fact, a handsome felt giraffe - available with or without metal wheels - appeared in the debut catalog of 1892 in 17, 22, 28, and 35 cm. In 1909, this model was updated a bit - and grew in size as well as popularity! He was available in 28, 35, 50, 80, 100, 110, 120, and a whopping 260 cm over the 1909 through 1941 time frame. The larger sizes were reinforced with a metal interior skeleton for strength, and also were available with a steering feature, leather saddles, and foot rests. Interestingly, these pre-war life sized giraffes were frequently sold to shoe stores, where they were used for sizing and fitting children's shoes. The company also produced a charming, wool-plush giraffe in 28 and 35 cm from 1936 through 1943.

Right after the factory reopened after the war, Steiff began producing these long legged lovelies again. The company reintroduced the pre-war wool plush giraffe model in 1949, and had him in the line through 1953 in 28, 35, and 50 cm. This design was updated in 1953 and produced in mohair in 14, 28, 35, 50, and 70 cm though 1974. Since then, giraffes have been a mainstay in the Steiff catalog; in the past four decades or so they have been produced in trevira velvet, mohair, woven fur, and microfiber fleece.

On a
bigger scale, Steiff starting producing life sized giraffes again in their annual line in 1960. Over the past 50 years, Steiff has made mohair life-sized, or studio giraffes in 110, 150, 240, and 255 cm on and off from 1960-2003. Today, Steiff offers a 110 cm soft woven fur Studio giraffe in the line for enthusiasts who want to add a little altitude - and attitude! - to their Steiff collection. This gentle giant is pictured here on the left.

So, you might just be wondering... what exactly is a Steiff "studio" item?
Well, technically, a Steiff studio item has to meet two key requirements. First, it is either "life sized" (like Miriam's giraffe) or a special, large size designed for display (like this Hush Puppy Basset Hound) or authenticity (like this gorilla). Second, it needs to be manufactured in a special area of the factory, a building towards the back of the campus where these spectacular showpieces are assembled and detailed one by one. Often times, vintage Steiff studio animals have unusual hand written ear tags due to the rarity of their production. All in all, studio animals are unique, hand made treasures that truly are iconic to Steiff.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff giraffes has given you the long view on why these collectibles are so spectacular!

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