Friday, January 28, 2011

No Lion - This Steiff Story Deserves An Academy Award!

There's no question that a great Steiff find or story is a "mane event" for collectors all over the world.  If that is the case with you... then this posting will be the (very big) cat's meow.  Take a look at this note from Andrew, who writes about recreating a famous movie scene with a few props, including his Steiff studio (lifesized) lion!  He shares:

Andrew's Steiff lion reenacting a scene from "Born Free"
"Hi Steiffgal,

I thought you would like to see a couple of photos of my Steiff studio lion who recently made a very rare trip outside for some photographs in the
"Born Free" style with my 1963 Land Rover. This is only his second trip outside in 41 years!  
The original movie scene from "Born Free"
This lifelong friend has been an important part of my life from practically the beginning.  He appeared in my childhood home on Christmas morning in 1969 when I was four years old.  Needless to say, it gave me quite a shock to find him under the Christmas tree!

My father acquired him from the FAO Schwarz store in New York City.  The lion was accompanied by several small Steiff lions, all male; some were standing and some lying down.  These "smaller" cats have long since wandered off with children and grandchildren. 

For many years my lion had a very rare companion, a Steiff studio okapi which also came from FAO Schwarz. The okapi pre-dated the lion by several years and was in poor condition when I adopted the lion. It was the only Steiff okapi that I have ever seen.

I have attached pictures of George Adamson of 
"Born Free" fame and of my lion and Land Rover. 

Best regards, 

Andrew and Lion"

An "outtake" in the reenactment
And the Academy Award for best supporting actor goes to.... Andrew's lion for sure!  Here we have a stunning example of Steiff's craftsmanship at its finest.   This studio lion is standing, 100 cm, excelsior stuffed, and made from mohair.  Like most studio animals, he has an internal metal skeleton that helps to support his enormous size and weight.  When new, this skeleton could support the weight of an adult man (but don't try this now, as time can loosen the joints and internal integrity).  This lion model was made in 1960, 1966, and 1967 only, so his production timeline dovetails just right with Andrew's history.   A sitting version of this same mohair studio lion was produced in 60, 90, and a whopping 120 cm in the 1953 through 1967 time frame as well.  

Ok, who has heard of an okapi - and in this case, a Steiff studio version?  This most unusual animal looks approximately like a deer from the torso up, and a zebra from the legs down.   Andrew's studio okapi was produced in 120 and 200 cm in 1960 and 1967 only.  This jungle jem is standing, mohair, and gorgeously detailed with hand airbrushing in black and many shades of browns and tans.  This is a rare and spectacular piece indeed. Steiff also produced smaller velvet okapis in 14, 28, and 43 cm from 1958 through 1970.   

A lion steals the scene -again- in "Born Free"
Although Andrew's lion is clearly house trained, he certainly appears to be enjoying his new found freedom and outdoor adventure - much like the four legged stars of the 1966 film, Born Free.  This well known and beloved movie told the story of Joy and George Adamson, a British couple who raised an orphaned lioness named Elsa from cub to adulthood, and then released her into the wilds of Kenya.   The movie was based upon Joy Adamson's 1960 book of the same name. According to the movie review in the New York Times:

"Almost from the opening shot — a vast expanse of corn-colored African plain where lions feed on the carcass of a freshly killed zebra — one knows that Joy Adamson's best-selling book "Born Free" has been entrusted to honest, intelligent filmmakers. Without minimizing the facts of animal life or overly sentimentalizing them, this film casts an enchantment that is just about irresistible."
Clearly moviegoers and critics agreed; the movie and its musical score won numerous accolades, including Academy Awards for Original Music Score and Best Song; Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Actress, and Best Original Song; and a Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture.  Several book and movie sequels followed the success of the hit movie.  The award winning album is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal's not lion to you when she says Andrew's story really made her day... and hopefully yours as well.

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

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A True Tail of Steiff Stewardship

Steiff's well known motto is "Friends for Life" and this recent exchange that Steiffgal experienced could not be better proof of how true that promise really is.  Take a look at this note from George, who writes from California about an item that has been an important part of his family for over eight decades.  Over a series of correspondences in late December, 2010, he shares:


I just found your interesting web site. I am in the process of selling items for my 91 year old aunt. Needless to say she has many interesting items. 

My aunt's name is Edna Neely and she now lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.  She is 91 years old. As for work, she was employed by the Southern California Gas Company from 1938 through 1981.  She started as a clerk and retired as the office supervisor.

While sorting through her belongs recently, I found a 5" tall Steiff Treff dog stuck away in her closet.  He has the Treff neck tag on his chest and a tag in his right ear.  Treff was awarded to her as the first place prize in the Saturday, March 8, 1930 doll parade which was sponsored by The Long Beach California Amusement League.  The prize ribbons are still pinned on him.  Edna would have been 10 years old then and like most girls enjoyed dolls.  I'm not sure if Treff was her doll, or if it was a prize for her doll.  I can not prove she won the doll, but in my mind I feel sure she did.

Treff is in very good condition for his age.  He has lost a little fur on his ears, but there are no cuts, holes, or other issues.  My aunt took good care of everything.  I don't believe she discarded anything. She and her husband never had children so things were well cared for. She loved animals, especially dogs. She had a dog from the time she was about 2 years old.

Please let me know if you or someone you know would be interested in adopting Treff.

Thank you, 

PS: It just struck me that Treff is 7 months older than me; 1930 must have been a very good year."

Most collectors would agree that knowing the complete provenance of a precious collectible is about as good as it gets!  And yes, Steiffgal does know of three people that would jump at the chance of adopting this Treff, namely... me, myself, and I!

Edna's Treff is a handsome example of Steiff's delightful and classic “Treff the bloodhound.”  Treff debuted in the Steiff line in 1928, so Edna's 1930 prize was one of the earlier ones produced.  Treff is sitting, head jointed, and made from light brown mohair.  He was also produced in velvet around the same time.  Every Treff left the Giengen factory adorned with a large pastel-colored silk ribbon; Edna's Treff has the light blue version. Sitting Treffs were produced in 7, 10, 14, 17, 22, 28, 35, 43 and 50 centimeters. Treff proved to be a very successful design and was produced in a number of sizes, materials, and models through 1938. 

Steiffgal's not making this up... Treff has remarkable facial and head detailing that could only be described as "classically Steiff". All of Steiff's Treffs all have long, floppy ears which are lightly stitched down; brown and black pupil eyes which are set in eye pockets; hand embroidered black noses; dainty muzzle “freckles"; and red facial highlights on their lips and under their eyes. (You can see these details on Edna's Treff if you zoom in on her facial area.) It's no secret why many enthusiasts want to sniff out this beautiful bloodhound for their own collection. 

Like all good stories, this one too has a beginning, a middle, an end... and in this case, another beginning.  Just a few days after adopting Treff, Steiffgal received this email from George dated January 1, 2011.  He writes:


My aunt passed away this afternoon. 

I am so glad we found a home for her Treff.

I hope you will enjoy it as much as she must have when she won it 80 years ago.


Steiffgal hopes that all collectors someday can experience the honor that comes with the unexpected stewardship of a remarkable Steiff treasure. 

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

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Building an Old-Fashioned Steiff Collection in a New Fashioned Way

Almost all collectors would agree that the legacy of Steiff is without boundaries.  And with the onset of computer technologies and social media channels, it now transcends most geographical locations as well!  Please meet a Steiff enthusiast from Southeast Asia who has built a spectacular collection of Steiff treasures in a "long distance" sort of way. 

Steiffgal:  Loon, thank you so much for speaking with us today about your Steiff collection and sharing your remarkable new addition to your hug. To start, can you first tell us a little bit about yourself?

Loon:  Absolutely.  I am from Singapore and have been a high school teacher in music and mathematics for the past 5 1/2 years. I am a trained pianist, and will leave my current job for the Royal Academy of Music in London this fall to pursue my dreams of being a professional performing musician. I can't have pets because I can be rather allergic to their fur, so my interest in Steiff animals is a good substitute I suppose!  Some of my favorite "nonshedding" vintage friends are pictured here on the left. 

Steiffgal:  Yes, the Steiff - pet connection makes perfect sense! So how long have you been collecting Steiff, and what got you first interested in the brand? 

Loon:  I have been collecting Steiff for about 2 1/2 years and currently own about 20 new and vintage Steiff items, amongst bears and animals from other German brands as well as a few rare artist bears. I have always known about Steiff, but as a student it was too expensive for me. In the summer of 2008 I visited Germany, during which I spent a lovely day in Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber with lots of friendly people and wonderful teddy bears, and that was how my collection started - I bought my first limited-edition bear. On subsequent visits to Germany I also went to various toy museums around the country as well as the birthplace of Steiff in Giengen, to learn more about the history of these exquisite toys. To me, every handmade toy is a work of art with its own individuality and expression - something you don't get nowadays in this age of mass-produced plush items.

Steiffgal:  You recently added an exceptional, antique Steiff treasure to your collection.  Can you tell us about the piece?

Loon:  Yes, the item is a 30 cm Steiff wool plush young fox terrier from 1906, and I purchased it at the October 13th Steiff auction held at Christie's in London.  The dog itself is detailed with brown patches, brown and black glass eyes, brown facial and claw stitching, a squeaker, a ribbon with a bell, and an elusive blank button!  

Steiffgal:  What was your auction strategy to win this collection showstopper?

Loon:  I did not attend the auction personally because I have a day job which I can't leave (it was term time), but thanks to the time difference between the two countries, I was able to follow the entire auction via video conferencing - I made sure I was home and in front of the computer when it started!

As for why I decided to bid on that item, well, I was looking through the Christie's catalogue (which I had ordered well in advance) for something nice AND affordable, and Lot 19 caught my eye within the first few pages. I have a weakness for Steiff dogs and cats with a sweet and vulnerable 'take-me-home' expression. Considering what a picky collector I am when it comes to the condition of an item, and that Lot 19 is over 100 years old, I was also amazed by its pristine quality (the wool plush cover is near perfect!). The thought of owning an all-original Steiff item with blank button for under 1,000 pounds was simply too tantalizing to resist.  

Overall, I did not have any particular bid strategy for it - after looking through the Pfeiffer book I thought that Christie's estimate was very reasonable and that I would buy it as long as the actual bid price did not go beyond the maximum amount.

Steiffgal:  Congratulations on winning this wonderful find! Did you purchase anything else at this auction?

Loon:  This was the only item I got from the auction - there were other animals such as a pre-button 1904 velvet Dachshund and a 1908 velvet Ox (with a white tag) which I would have loved to get due to their rarity, but unfortunately I was outbid. I would also have loved a really old and decent-sized teddy bear, but most of the estimates were already way beyond my budget, and I could only drool with envy as I saw their prices hit the roof.

Steiffgal:  You have many other lovely vintage Steiff treasures in your collection.  How do you display them around your home?

Loon:  I live in a rather small apartment and I have just one glass display case for all my items (both Steiff and non-Steiff) in a dehumidified room away from the heat and light of the tropical sun. The items are grouped on different shelves according to whether they are teddy bears or animals, and new and vintage items are also separated. As you can probably guess, I am already running out of space! I hope to have glass exhibition cases custom-made in the near future for my more valuable items, as this current display case is not dust-proof and I have to clean my items very carefully now and then.  A few more of my favorites are shown here on the left. 

Steiffgal:  Is it challenging to build a Steiff collection in Singapore?

Loon:  Steiff is way overpriced in Singapore and you can't get any vintage items anyway, so I buy mainly from online dealers and shops that I trust (in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK), and occasionally from eBay (especially the German site) from sellers with a good reputation - being able to speak and write German is a huge plus when it comes to locating the best Steiff items from private collections. Admittedly, I am a very picky collector and will only buy mint condition items within a reasonable budget, and these do not appear very often, in Singapore or elsewhere!  The best (and rarest) item in my collection, at least today, has got to be my 1906 terrier from Christie's; I don't think I'll ever see anything so old yet so pristine for quite awhile!

Steiffgal:  Loon, danke and enjoy your new old friend - and good luck at the Royal Academy!  

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Looking For "Blues Clues" On The Legacy Behind This Unusual Steiff Ted

Make 'em laugh, Make 'em laugh, Don't you know everyone wants to laugh? These famous lyrics were originally sung by Donald O'Connor in the classic 1952 movie hit, Singing in the Rain. But in the case of this reader's inquiry, they also could be performed by her remarkable 1920's era Steiff bear! Take a look at this note from Holly from Hawaii, who asks about her most unusual Ted. Though a series of correspondences, she writes:


I wanted your help to confirm the identity of a bear I bought a little while ago. He has a hole in the ear where the button would have been. He has now very faded, once brown tipped mohair, copper colored (now pinkish in places) stitching on his face and claws, and bright blue eyes. He measures about 13"/32cm and is stuffed with excelsior. I believe him to be a Teddy Clown.

As for his details, I don't feel wire in the ears, though they are a bit thicker at the edges than on my other bears. But they don't fix into positions. He has four claws on each paw; all but one on the left foot is still fully attached. The nose stitching is original but most of it is gone--and the string or two of what's left has faded to pink. I'm sure the eyes are original--they are firmly and deeply attached, and appear never to have been moved--the brown tipped mohair around them has not been disturbed and there are no sewing marks on the head.

In addition to his unusual constitution, he also has a most interesting provenance. I purchased this bear from the daughter of his original owner, who passed away in 1994. Her mother was born in 1923 to a family who emigrated to the US from Germany. They lived in rural Pennsylvania where the father was a homebuilder; the family later moved to Oklahoma. A letter was included with the bear from the family, identifying the cub as having had a clown outfit originally, and that ownership of it was a point of sibling rivalry for decades. This letter, which contains an exchange between the two feuding sisters, reads in part...


This was NOT easy! Alan thinks I’m nuts to part with it – however something you said several visits back made me think you were the original owner – not me. So for you and your grandchildren…Thanks for the loan. I loved it like my own.


On reverse side of the same paper:


Wrong (double underlined) You were and are the owner. However I think he had a collar and white felt hat – not a red ribbon...
Yours forever,


When the older sister died, the younger sister gave the bear back to her sister's daughter, to sort of end the rivalry. The seller - this daughter - expressed to me that she was very glad the bear, after serving as a point of sibling rivalry for so long, was going to have a relaxing retirement in “paradise.” Perhaps she was hoping the same for her mother and aunt… I’m very happy to have the chance to provide a loving place for this VERY well loved teddy to find his peaceful retirement at last!

Thank you for allowing me to share his story and I look forward to any insight you have on his identity and detailing.

Best, Holly"

Steiffgal's not clowning around when she says this little comedian is a keeper! Yes, this is a Teddy Clown, and a rare one at that. Teddy Clown debuted in the Steiff line in 1926 and was featured in the catalog through 1930. He was the identical pattern of the sweet, feminine, childlike Teddy Rose who was introduced in 1925. Teddy Clown was produced in brown tipped mohair in 15, 17, 20, 22, 25, 28, 32, 35, 43, 50, and 80 cm, and pink or gold mohair in 23, 26, 30, 33, and 36 cm. Every Teddy Clown was detailed with a felt hat with two pom-poms and a colorful neck ruff.

One of the things that can't help but catch your eye about Holly's Ted is his fabulous set of blue peepers. The "typical" Steiff Teddy Clown has very large brown and black pupil eyes. Steiffgal searched high and low to find another vintage example of a blue eyed Teddy Clown - or even blue eyed Teddy manufactured prior to 1925 - but could not find one - although interestingly Steiff produced a blue eyed Teddy Clown as part of its "Historic Miniatures" series a few years ago. Have you ever seen a vintage pre-1925 blue eyed Ted?

Steiffgal thinks that these "baby blues" may reveal a secret about Steiff's product development legacy. Holly's Teddy Clown is stuffed with excelsior; Teddy Clowns were stuffed with kapok from 1926 through 1927 and excelsior from 1928 through 1930. So Holly's Ted was manufactured in the 1928 through 1930 time frame. It is also interesting to note that Petsy, the Steiff Ted most famous for his big, beautiful blue eyes and light nose stitching, was introduced in 1928. Holly's late Teddy Clown and Petsy have several similar features, including brown tipped mohair (pictured on the left), coppery colored facial embroidery, and blue eyes. It is possible that Holly's Teddy Clown was a trial for some design elements of Petsy, or a sample of a possible transitional bear design between the Teddy Clown and final Petsy pattern. Having worked at Steiff, Steiffgal knows this is typical for product development at the company - take the best elements of a successful item and apply those details to a "new" item.

Steiffgal hopes this story about a very unusual Steiff Teddy clown has been more fun than a three ring circus for you!

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

Drawing A Blank Over A Mysterious Steiff Button

Steiffgal literally "drew a blank" when she got this note from a reader from Massachusetts who asks about a modern looking Steiff bear with a plain button in ear.  Check out this inquiry from Robert, who asks about a new friend with a somewhat unexpected configuration of Steiff ID.  He writes:

"Dear Steiffgal:

I have a bear which I believe to be a Steiff, but I am not sure. This bear is 16" tall, and appears to be in like new condition. 

The button in the ear is blank and there is no ear tag.  There is a chest tag that is red and yellow.  I am not sure how else to describe the bear, please take a look at the pictures.

Can you help?

Thank you, 

Steiffgal's got this mystery all buttoned up for you.  What Robert has here is a modern "blank button" bear.  (He somewhat resembles Steiff's Papa bear, pictured on the left, which was produced in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Steiff company in 1980.  What do you think?) Since the 1980's, Steiff has used a plain metal button on items that are considered "seconds" or part of an overproduction.   Usually with Steiff, an overrun simply means that too many of a limited edition item were produced. So, for an example, if the edition size was 5,000 - and the company made 5,200 - 200 of those produced would be "seconds."  Overall, Steiff's quality control is really good and they would not put out in the market anything that wasn't really Steiff quality, at least when it comes to the collectibles lines in their product portfolio.  What these products lack in ID, possible future value, and rarity they more than make up for in charm.

These "blank button" Steiff items are usually sold at company outlet stores, like the one in Giengen and Raynham, Massachusetts (which recently shuttered.)  And there usually isn't anything physically or structurally wrong with them at all.  For example, on a 2006 trip to Giengen, Steiffgal purchased a blank button version of the  1994 Steiff Circus Bear Replica, which was produced in an edition size of 4,000 pieces.  This delightful cub is 12" tall and has a neck mechanism to position his head in different ways by turning his tail, and is fitted with joints that snap into position so that he can sit, crawl, or stand upright.  He has a "generic" red and yellow chest tag, identical to the one worn by Robert's blank button bear.  There is nothing "second" about him... except that too many of his model were made!

Of course, Steiff has used a "blank button" several times in its product production history.  This plain button made its first appearance roughly in the 1904 through 1906 timeframe.  The specific button measured 6 mm in diameter and was made from iron and plated with nickel.  It goes without saying that most collectors would bend over backwards to welcome a Steiff treasure with this form of ID into their hug!  The blank button appeared again very briefly from 1948 through 1950, right after the company resumed production post WWII.  This button was made from nickel and measured 5 mm in diameter.  This button is also quite rare; Steiffgal only has one item in her entire collection of 500 vintage item with this ID.  The sweet 18 cm bunny from on the left is from 1949 and has the very early post war blank button.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion concerning blank buttons has deleted any questions you may have had about this unusual form of Steiff ID.

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