Friday, December 31, 2010

Welcoming 2011 With A Parade of Steiff Studio Animals!

Hey, baby New Year is knocking on the door, but you still have a little time to make big plans to celebrate the arrival of 2011. This year, Steiffgal had the pleasure of meeting a collector who specializes in Steiff’s largest treasures, their studio items. Needless to say, this Steiff enthusiast doesn’t need to leave his home to celebrate this new decade in a “larger than life” way! Please meet Denis, a lifelong Steiff collector who lives with a Steiff – and real! – menagerie of “friends for life!"

Steiffgal: Hello Denis and thank you for sharing your story and breathtaking Steiff collection with us. Tell us a little about yourself.

Denis: I am 51 years old, live in California, and am an animation director by profession. I have 3 dogs; a lab/pit mix who looks like a Dingo; a Border collie mix named Frieda; and a Chihuahua names Elroy. I also have 4 miniature goats and 6 chickens. All of these “pets” are named after friends and family, meaning that they'll never be eaten!

Steiffgal: Please tell us about your overall interest in Steiff. How many items do you currently own, and what got you interested in the brand?

Denis: I started collecting Steiff around 20 years ago. When I was a kid, I had a white Pieps mouse, a small kangaroo, and a small Jocko. Pieps and Jocko are long gone but I managed to hang onto my kangaroo. I'd scour the thrift stores, sidewalk sales, and flea markets for Steiff and ended up with a small collection to keep my kangaroo company. I think the first one I ever found was a little velvet pink pig. Then I found a small Rocky mountain goat, a swimming duck, a larger sized Leo lion and a handful of animals that I had "thought" might be Steiffs. These were the early years of collecting and there were few books about Steiff for identification. Once I found out about the elusive "exotics", including bats, spiders, lobsters, lizards, snails, etc. - I became hooked. It was those pieces specifically that pushed me over the edge and deep in the hunt. I always thought it to be very odd that they made toys like this for kids at that time.

That small group of childhood Steiff items has grown to around 500 of them, give or take 50 or so; an actual number is a little tricky to pinpoint.

Steiffgal: Tell us about your studio collection. How did you get interested specifically in Steiff’s lifesized items?

Denis: I think a lot of Steiff collectors my age remember going to FAO Schwarz and other fancy stores that sold Steiff studio pieces when they were kids. It was kind of an unobtainable fantasy for most of us to have such a thing as an 8 foot tall giraffe. To me, the BIG Steiff animals were like having a "real" live exotic pet. Of course, I had to settle for Pieps, who spent a lot of time in my pocket. Once I became an adult, I realized that these were "sometimes" obtainable and they weren't always outrageously priced.

Today, my studio collection includes a bison, standing, jumping, and sitting tigers, an oryx, a zebra, a giraffe, a sitting lion (in the picture on the left), an owl, an alligator (in the picture on the left), a two humped camel, a one humped camel, a goose, a rabbit, a penguin, a German Shepherd, a golden pheasant (in the picture on the left), a hen, a baby wild boar, a coco monkey, a Xorry fox, a reindeer, and many other larger, but not technically “studio” items including a very large Jocko monkey and the the “snuggy” (i.e., footrest) versions of Steiff’s elephant, starfish, and frog. 

Steiffgal: What is your most favorite studio item in your collection?

Denis: I think my absolute favorite studio (and possibly all-time favorite Steiff) is the FAO exclusive, standing Xorry fox. He's just beautiful, the expression, the posing, the color - an all around amazing design - in my opinion. My other favorites include the studio snake, which is pretty great too, with his purple and gold airbrushing and creepy yellow eyes. The only problem with him is that he can be a bit hard to display. He's usually around my studio giraffe's neck, strangling him.  He is pictured here on the left doing just that. Another favorite is my studio owl, which needed a few repairs when I got him but is now in great shape.

Steiffgal: Give us a “blue ribbon” example on how you find these Steiff rarities to add to your collection.

Denis: My biggest prize was finding out about an auction of studio animals that were in an old hotel or casino back east. I bid over the phone and the auction house told me flat out that it wasn't highly publicized and I'd probably get a pretty good deal. The auction house was located near where some of my family lives and they picked the items up for me on site and shipped them out here to me in California. My brother-in-law worked for an airline at the time, so that made things VERY convenient. In that auction I got the giraffe, standing tiger, and zebra (with all id, including a BIG chest tag) and they were all in great condition. You can see a few of these treasure in the picture on the left.

Steiffgal: What would you consider the “rarest” Steiff studio item you have ever owned?

Denis: The rarest Studio animal I ever had was the Studio Tysus tyrannosaurus. My sister found him at a sidewalk sale - sort of. I think he originally came Wanamaker's in Philadelphia. I wanted him very badly but he was very expensive at the time. I took out a small loan to get him. A Steiff representative told me there had been only 5 of them ever made! I believe he now lives in that toy museum in Basel Switzerland. Years ago, he was featured in an article in Teddy Bear and Friends. He is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal: I hear you have a very special Steiff studio bison in your collection. Tell us a little about it.

Denis: Though not necessarily my favorite, the bison is probably the most impressive of my studio animals. He is pictured here on the left with my studio Renny reindeer. When the seller told me over the phone that he was 8 feet long and 6 feet high, I really couldn't grasp how big he was. I had to borrow a friends hefty truck since he wouldn't fit in my Toyota pickup.

Years ago I had seen him in a local toy store. He was up on a wall overlooking the shoppers. I inquired about the possibility of a purchase. They said he wasn't for sale and probably would never be. Many years later, a friend told me that the store was going out of business and I should contact them about adopting their bison. But I was too late and he had already been donated to a children's museum.

Fast forward almost a decade later, I found him listed for sale on Craigslist! He was VERY reasonable priced but the ad had been up for 3 days. I was nervous that he was no longer available. A few days later the phone rang and it was the curator of the museum who said that he would be delighted for me to have him. At that point I thought, he is really meant to be with me after all these years!

When I got him home, he was dusty so I stood him on my front lawn and vacuumed him off. Thankfully, his head comes off. It's hinged to sway back and forth. His head was lying in the corner of the yard while I vacuumed his body and I notice large shadows on the ground. I look up and there are two turkey vultures circling looking for a quick bite!

Steiffgal: Clearly good (Steiff) things come to those who wait! The readers and I appreciate you sharing your wonderful world of studio animals with us!

Steiffgal wishes you a very Happy New Year and hopes that your big dreams for 2011 all come true!

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Capping Off 2010 In A Prehistorically Large Steiff Way

Steiffgal hopes all her readers had a "larger than life" Christmas and that everyone enjoyed good times with family, friends, and those most special to them.  Not that it's a big deal or anything, but Steiffgal finally did get one of her dream Steiff items this holiday season, a large vintage dinosaur!  As many collectors can attest, these seem to be as rare of a find as a real dinosaur discovery!  The picture on the left shows the "mother" version of Dinos, Steiffgal's holiday "prize" of 2010! Let's take a look at Steiff's versions of these gentle giants and see what makes them so special.

Early Steiff dinosaurs appeared in the catalog in 1958 and only stuck around through 1959. Steiff produced three models:  Tysus, the T-Rex; Brosus, the Brontosaurus; and Dinos, the Stegosaurus.  Each was made in two sizes, a larger "mother" version (which ranged from 45 to 60 cm) and a smaller "baby" version (which ranged from 12 to 17 cm).  Each was made from mohair, had an open felt lined mouth, felt detailing, and remarkable, colorful airbrushing.  Only Tysus had movable arms, the other models were unjointed. The picture on the left shows the "baby" versions of Brosus and Dinos.

These six models were produced exclusively for the US market for the Loucap Company.  This was one of the two companies that distributed Steiff in the USA in the 1950's and 1960's.  The other distributor was Reeves International.  Reeves became the exclusive distributor of Steiff in America in the mid-1960's. The picture on the left shows the "baby version" version of Tysus.  Don't you just love his silly smile and jumbo feet and toes? 

One of the things that make these fossilized finds so interesting is their eyes.  To keep things light and playful, Steiff used green and black or white and black glass google-style eyes on these standard line vintage dinosaurs. From the design perspective, this is the company's way of saying these beasts were created to instill fun - not fear - into the hearts of their lucky recipients.  

In addition to these playful toy sized models, Steiff also created "almost" lifesized studio versions of several types of dinosaurs in the late 1950's and early 1960's.  These included a 305 cm studio Pterodactyl and Dinos dinosaur.  The Pterodactyl was made from tan and red mohair, had an open leatherette beak and claws, green glass eyes, and was stuffed with excelsior.  The Dinos was made from mohair, had an open felt lined mouth with a prominent red felt tongue and fangs, brown glass pupil eyes, was neck jointed, and had rubber claws.  Unlike their smaller cousins, these big beasts were designed to be as "realistic" and authentic as possible.  

Steiffgal hopes that this review of Steiff's delightful vintage dinosaurs helps to cap off your 2010 in a very big way!

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Steiff's Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town...

Ho ho hope you are in the holiday spirit where ever this posting finds you! As you probably have heard, "Santa Claus is comin' to town..." and hopefully will soon leave one or two Steiff treasures under your holiday tree.  In honor of the big guy in red, let's take a look at the history of Steiff's Santa Claus dolls over the past half century or so.

From a historical perspective, the figure of Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, has its roots as far back as the 4th century. And Santa as most of the world now knows him has been around for around 150 years.  His "modern day" appearance was the vision of Thomas Nast, an illustrator and cartoonist who lived from 1840 to 1902. His rendition of Santa Claus, which appeared in a 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly, effectively created the chubby, happy, bearded, red-suited man we all know and love today. Nast's Santa is pictured here on the left.  Based on this timeline, it is interesting to note that it was not until the early 1950's that Steiff introduced a Santa Claus doll into its general line, especially given the company's long and successful history with felt character dolls starting from the early turn of last century!

Like Santa tumbling down the chimney, the arrival of a Steiff Santa doll in 1953 was a very welcome sight indeed.  This initial doll was 31 cm, five ways jointed, and had a rubber head, felt body, bright red felt suit and cap, and white fluffy mohair beard. By 1955 this design was also being produced in 13 and 18 cm as well as a special order 150 cm display piece. (From the collector's perspective, it is interesting to note that Santa's head was created from the same molds and patterns used for Steiff's three lucky dwarfs, Gucki, Lucki, and Pucki.) The standard size Steiff Santa dolls appeared in the catalog through 1963. This original beloved Santa Claus doll was reissued in 19 and 28 cm as a US exclusive from 1984 through 1988.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, Steiff created a Santa hand puppet based on its successful Santa doll. This puppet was 21 cm and had a molded plastic head, detailed felt hands, and a felt body. He was a little larger in scale than other hand puppet of the time, which generally measured 17 cm. He was dressed in a handsome red felt jacket and hat.  His outfit was detailed with real white mohair trim down the front of his coat, around his hat, and around his cuffs; the hat was "topped off" with a white woolie pom pom. As expected, Steiff's Santa puppet had rosy cheeks, a reddish nose, and a very long, white full mohair beard and hair.  This seasonally spectacular hand puppet was produced from 1954 through 1961. 

Speaking of "hands", Steiffgal would like to use this opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to the collectors all over the world who make Steiff an important part of their lives at this universal time of peace and love.  A sincere thank you for your readership; it is most appreciated. Happy holidays to you, your family, and your Steiff hugs.  Here's to a great 2011 filled with health, happiness, and of course, a few wonderful Steiff finds.  

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

No Downside to This Most Uplifting Steiff See-saw Toy!

Thump.  Did you hear that?  That was Steiffgal's chin crashing to the floor when she started studying this note from a reader from Tennessee.  Take a look at this inquiry from Season, who asks about a family treasure that she already wisely keeps behind glass.  All bets are that you've never seen anything quite like this, either!  Through a series of correspondences she writes:


Can you please help me figure out what we have here?  This was my husband's grandfather's toy.  He was born in 1922 in Rome, Georgia and received it when he was a young child. My husband's mother indicated that it was in a closet while she was growing up.  My husband has said that he and his brother used to roll it down the hill on the street and watch it crash (I know, I'm sure you are cringing right now). 

As the years passed, it was played with by most of the grandchildren and some of the great grandchildren. My husband's grandfather passed away in May 1999 and it was placed in a shadow box for his wife. She passed away in 2007 and it landed at my husband's mother's home.  She had it displayed in the living room for many years and somehow it ended up in the basement.

My husband and I just had our first child in December of 2009.  With her birthday approaching, I saw it in the basement at his parent's house and wanted to have our daughter's picture made with it in remembrance of his grandfather. 

As for the details of the item, I have looked everywhere and cannot find anything that looks exactly like what we have.  I have of course found similar items but the details are just not the same.  The bear does have a button in his ear but there is nothing that I can find on the monkey.  CAN YOU HELP??  WE WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE IT! 

Thanks so much for you time.


Wow, what a wonderful, complete history of this treasure which leaves no room for tongues a (wig) wagging!  What Season has here is called a Wiwag, and it was produced by Steiff from 1922 through 1927. The overall size of the toy is about 39 cm.   The carriage is made from metal and has wooden wheels.  Very possibly when it was new, it had a knob at the end of the pull string that was wood with a Steiff button in the top.  When the wiwag is pulled along, it goes up and down like a see-saw.    

Steiff used two "standard line" animals as its wiwag "riders."  The first is a blond, five ways jointed mohair Teddy.  His article number is 5310, meaning he is 10 cm.  The second rider is a felt monkey wearing a hat and neck ruff; his article number is 4112,0 (12 cm) or 4117,0 (17 cm).  The overall article number for the item is 1008 or 1012.  Steiffgal cannot find any other versions (meaning different species of riders) of a wiwag in her literature library; however, it is very possible that Steiff also experimented with other animals on this charming and innovative pull toy design.

Steiffgal is certain that there is no "down"-side to this most "up"-lifting see-sawing toy! And Season is quite wise to keep it as something to look at as opposed to a plaything. But the wiwag design didn't start out that way. In the 1920's, the Steiff brothers were under major of pressure to fill the product line with very innovative, novel, interesting items as competition in the toy industry was really heating up all over the world. On February 6, 1925, Richard Steiff -who was living in the US at the time - wrote to his brothers in Giengen saying:

"I am asked almost daily for new products, and I always have to answer that we do not really want to develop new products, since we can hardly cope with the delivery orders we receive for our old toys. However, the stiff competition here means we must be on our toes. Our customers here are not simply satisfied with "good German quality" and they are not interested in our problems with fulfilling our orders. They insist on new designs, cheaper products, and more attractive inventory..."

In part to these market pressures, Steiff produced this wiwag and several other models of moving and rolling toys that are most beloved by collectors today. These included record animals, cycling toys, clockwork toys, roly drolys, and gallop pull toys.  Because of their relatively short time in the line, all of these items always generate much interest - and high hammer prices - when they come up for sale.  A wiwag almost identical to Summer's was recently sold at the Christie's Steiff auction in London for $2,770.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff's rare wiwags has you nodding in agreement that they are simply marvelous in every way.  

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Shepherding You Through The History Of Steiff's Wonderful "Arco" Dogs

Dog-gonit, Steiffgal just can't get enough of Steiff's wonderful canines!  And apparently collectors from all over country feel the same way about these delightful four legged friends.  Check out this note from a reader in California about her "rolling Rover".  Marie writes...

"Dear Steiffgal,

I have a Steiff dog on wheels.  I was told it was from 1880s...  but I think this is wrong. Did Steiff make dog that was big enough for small child to get on and ride?  

(He has) no ear tag of course. he is very old with straw fill and rubber tires that swivel. I've not been able to find anything about it.  Do you have some guideline on dating these dogs? I am including a picture for your review.

Thanks, Marie"

This blue-ribbon beauty is none other than Steiff's Reit Arco, or Riding Arco German Shepherd.  This particular model was produced in 43 and 50 cm from 1957 through 1970.  Arco is standing, stuffed with excelsior, and made from long and short mohair which is realistically hand airbrushed with black and brown to resemble the coat of a real German Shepherd.  He has attentive black and brown pupil eyes, a hand embroidered nose and claws, and an open, felt lined mouth with a pink-red felt tongue.  Arco has an internal metal frame, which when new, could support the weight of an average adult!  (But Steiffgal doesn't suggest "testing" this out today - joints and connectors tend to weaken over half a century!)  He glides on four red wheels with white rubber tires. 

German Shepherds are one of Steiff's beloved "Best in Show" dogs that have been in the line since 1923.  German Shepherds were given their "pet" name of "Arco" in 1937 with the introduction of an updated breed design.  The "new" Arco was made from mohair and had prominent, felt lined ears. The previous model was made from wool plush and had smaller, wool plush lined ears.  Pre-war, Arco was made standing on wheels (in 35, 43, 50, 60, and 70 cm), standing (in 14, 22, 28, 35, 43, 50, and 60 cm), and sitting (in 17, 22, and 28 cm) from 1937 to 1943.  During this time, Arco was sometimes also referred to as "The Police Dog."  A well loved, faded, pre-war 17 cm mohair Arco is pictured here to the left. 

Early post war, Arco reappeared in the line to sit and stay with collectors who continued to admire his sturdy good looks and solid build.  Steiff produced a standing version of Arco in 10, 17, and 22 cm from 1951 through 1956 which strongly resembled the pre-war version.  A 43 and 50 cm standing version on wheels was also manufactured from 1949 through 1956.  

In 1957, classic Arco had his final "makeover" designed to modernize his appearance.  The most noteworthy changes included an overall lightening of his mohair and airbrushing, and the addition of a pink-red felt tongue on larger models. The presence - or absence - of a tongue on Arco is one of the key clues collectors use to date Steiff's German Shepherds!  The "newest" classic mohair Arco was produced standing (in 10, 17, 22, and 35 cm), lying (in 22, 35, and 50 cm - pictured here), and on wheels (in 43 and 50 cm... this is Marie' model) and appeared in one form or another in the line from 1957 through 1976.  

Steiffgal has really enjoyed shepherding you through the history behind Steiff's Arco and hopes that you have a new appreciation for the legacy behind this wonderful classic Steiff design.  

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The "Professor" of All Steiff Puppets

Whhoooo doesn't like to stumble upon a surprise treasure, especially when it was made by Steiff!  Check out this note from a reader who asks about a Steiff puppet found unexpectedly in a high-up hiding place.  Pippa writes:

"Hi there!

I have a vintage Steiff owl hand Puppet that we found in my in-laws attic.  I found your blog and thought I would drop you a quick line to find out more about it. 

The puppet has been kept safe and sound since it was purchased. However,  we are not 100% sure of the year it was purchased or for that matter its manufacture. It does, however, still have its stock tag on and it is perfectly intact. The puppet itself is made of 51% wool and 49% cotton as per the tag.  

Thank you in advance for any information on it, and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.



Well, let's all give Pippa a big "hand" for her delightful surprise, a vintage Steiff hand puppet What she has discovered is Steiff's wonderful Wittie owl puppet.  Wittie is 17 cm and made from mohair.  He has two "wings" that can be moved about, a soft pocket-style body, and a solid, excelsior filled head.  His face is finished with a realistic beak, stunning green and black pupil eyes, and little black tufts on the top of his head.  (In nature, these tufts are neither ears or horns; scientists suspect they are aids in a complex series of non-vocal communications amongst the species.)  Overall, this puppet has amazing and beautiful detailing, including colorful, whole body airbrushing. Puppet Wittie was in the Steiff line from 1954 through 1978.

Pippa's puppet is a line extension from a beloved Steiff design introduced in the 1950's.  Shortly after the Steiff factory reopened for business in the late 1940's, the Steiff designers really "went to town" in the shear number of innovative designs they brought to the new global marketplace.  Perhaps the "smartest" was the brainy bird called Uhu Wittie, or Wittie Owl. Wittie as a toy was produced from 1954 through 1977 in four sizes: 10, 14, 22, and 35 cm; a family of Steiff owls are pictured above in a photo taken by collector Michael Lucas. Wittie's body and wings are mohair and his feathers are designed from carefully cut and detailed felt. Like the puppet mentioned above, the original Wittie has marvelous airbrushed detailing on his body, green pupil eyes, and charming tufts of black hair on his forehead. One of the things that is quite remarkable about Wittie as a toy, is that in any size, he has proportionally enormous wired feet.

In terms of value, well, this puppet can help feather your nest, at least a little. As always, Steiffgal is not a formal appraiser and feels something is worth what someone else will pay for it.  Puppet Wittie appears to be in very good condition and retains some Steiff ID, which is important.  Steiffgal guestimates, based on other recent sales of like items, that he may value in the $75 to $125 range.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's wise old bird has raised your Steiff IQ by a few points!

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