Saturday, April 30, 2011

Outfoxing A Vintage Steiff Mystery

Steiffgal couldn't help but want to outfox this mystery presented to her from a reader about a vintage family treasure.  Marcia from Virginia asks about a present a daughter received from a high school boyfriend many years ago.  She writes...

"Dear Steiffgal,

I have a 20 inch, seated upright fox.  His head turns, but he is not jointed other than that.  His mouth is open and the two fangs are a bit broken.  The Steiff button is in his ear but there is only a tiny piece of the yellow tag.  

He is red fox color -- reddish brown gold-- on the back, and his front or belly is white; ears are black on the back and white inside and standing up.  Whiskers are stiff and it looks like two have been cut short.  His tail is about 18 inches; it helps to balance him in the upright position.  The front paws come out at an angle and then point toward the ground.  

My questions are, how old is his and what is his story?

I appreciate your help!


Like the body position of this great find, Steiffgal is "begging" to provide Marcia with everything she needs to know about her most interesting piece.  This item is called Rotfuchs or  Red Fox.  He is 22 inches or 56 cm tall and in a standing/"begging" pose... meaning that he is up on his hind legs and has the appearance of welcoming any table scraps someone would send his way!  He has a very life-life face, including brown and black glass eyes,  an open pink felt lined mouth (which when new had a long red felt tongue and pointy teeth), thick clear monofilament whiskers, and a black hand embroidered nose. Also of note is his large and bushy tail, which in this case helps him to balance in his standing/begging position.  This fantastic fox was made from 1962 through 1971 and was a United States exclusive for the upscale toy store chain FAO Schwarz.

According to the 1962 FAO Schwarz Centennial Celebration catalog, this exact item is described as... "Red Fox, import. This life-sized fox by Steiff - 23" tall to the tips of his ears, has a bushy, long (16") tail.  In realistically colored rust and white plush, with authentic markings, red tongue, and white teeth.  Shipping weight 4 lbs., $28.50." There are two things about this description to note from the collector's perspective.  First, even though FAO Schwarz describes him as "lifesized", he is not technically categorized as a studio animal by Steiff.  Second, it is interesting to calculate that $28.50 in 1962 dollars translates roughly into a little over $200 in 2011 dollars.  So he was quite the investment, even back then!

FAO Schwarz and Steiff have had a very special relationship since the turn of last century which remains in place to this day.  Steiff made its first appearance in 1906 in the United States through the FAO Schwarz's store in New York.  Starting right after WWll in the 1950s, Steiff began creating store exclusives for its long-time American retail partner; in essence, these could be considered early "limited editions" produced by the company. These early treasures included a series of dressed mice, families of dogs and cats in pillow-lined baskets, unique studio (life-sized) pieces including a beagle and a collie, and even "Royal Dally" - a Dalmatian dressed to the nines in a jeweled crown and fancy cape - among many other items. Even though these early post war exclusives are all no more than 60 years old (which is still considered relatively new in the Steiff collector's world), they are all on the "bucket lists" of most Steiff collectors and generate much excitement when they come on the secondary market.

Like this fantastic fox, Steiffgal hopes that this overview has left you bright eyed and bushy tailed about FAO Schwarz exclusives. 

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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning, Steiff Style!

Steiffgal's German grandmother used to say that everything benefits from a little soap, water, and elbow grease And that certainly includes vintage Steiff collectibles!  Steiffgal is a very strong believer in the power of a good scrubbing - and a recent special arrival to her hug is a perfect reason to prove it!  Check out this "before and after cleaning" photograph of one of the rarer post war Steiff Teddy bears - the mohair white Zotty - and see for yourself!

Steiff's white Zotty Teddy bear, before and after a serious cleaning and refreshing.

This particular Zotty cub is one rare bear indeed.  He is 28 cm tall, five ways jointed, and made from very shaggy white mohair.  He has a peach colored mohair bib, peach felt paw pads, and a happy, smiling open mouth.  Most collectors are quite familiar with his classic caramel mohair cousins  - who appeared in 9 sizes and were beloved constants in the Steiff line from 1951 through 1978. On the other hand, this white wonder was only produced in 1960 and 1961 in 28 and 35 cm. 

Let's get white to the point about why cleaning this Zotty - and almost all vintage Steiff collectibles -  is SO important.  There are four main reasons.  First, obviously, is appearance.  Dirty items simply look worse and less cared for than clean ones, and dirt and dust "mats" down mohair.  (The "before and after" shot above couldn't be a better example of this!)  Second is structural integrity and longevity.  Dirt and dust are not good for mohair or its cotton backing and can weaken the materials over time, possibly decreasing the item's lifespan.  Third,  dirty mohair items also can attract moths and other bug pests, and everyone knows the havoc and sometimes irreversible damage these insect pests can create.  And finally, when you bring a vintage item into your collection, you really don't know most of the time the conditions in which it was loved, kept, or displayed in any of its previous lives - or what might be hidden in the mohair.  It is never a bad idea to thoroughly clean a vintage item before introducing it to the rest of your Steiff hug.

Cleaning basics (minus the elbow grease which is hard to photograph)
The steps involved in cleaning Steiff items bears repeating again.  Here what Steiffgal recommends...

You will need:
  • mohair item(s) you wish to clean
  • white terrycloth washcloths or rags
  • warm tap water
  • Woolite hand washing gentle detergent
  • Oxyclean laundry spray 
  • a spray bottle
  • a wire pet brush   
  • (optional) a vacuum cleaner
1.  Remove as much surface dirt and dust as possible by shaking the item carefully yet vigorously.  You don't want to damage the item, so use common sense here. You will be surprised how much dust floats off of most items; even more tends to come off of long haired ones.  If possible and practical, vacuum the item very gently and at a distance. 

2.  Make a solution of about one and a half cups of warm tap water and 1 teaspoon of Woolite detergent, and a few sprays of Oxyclean.  Stir this up; the water will turn slightly grey-cloudy. Pour this into the spray bottle.

3.  Dampen the washcloths or rags with the cleaning solution. Do not spray the item, just the cleaning cloths, so you can control the amount of moisture on the item you are cleaning. Do a small test clean on the bottom of the item to make sure that that the mohair reacts well to the cleaning solution. Then start at the top of the piece and rub it down with the damp cloth. DO NOT soak the washcloth or the item, this is a surface cleaning only!  You'll be surprised what comes of, so keep changing the place on the washcloth where you are rubbing, or you will be grinding old dirt into new places on your item!  Strategically work your way downward or forward (depending on the design of your item), so you can keep track of what you have done, and what's left to be done.  

(One of the reasons to use WHITE washcloths is so you can see the dirt that comes off your item, and adjust the cleaning surface accordingly.)

Wire toothed pet brush, perfect for fluffing
4.  Once you have given the item a complete head to toe cleaning, take a clean white washcloth and rub the item down once more, to remove any excess water, cleaning solution, or lingering dirt. 

5.  Let the  item naturally air dry away from the sun and heat sources. 

6.  Take a metal toothed pet brush and gently fluff up the item.  Again, before doing the entire item, do a little test on a hidden part of the item to make sure that the brushing does not pull out the mohair instead of fluffing it! It is amazing what a difference a good fluffing after cleaning can do.

Of course, if you have an exceptionally old, frail, damaged, or otherwise fragile Steiff collectible, it is recommended that you have it cleaned by a professional restorer who has experience with delicate items. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about white Zotty's spa treatment has inspired you to do a little (Steiff) spring cleaning on your own!

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wooden You Love To Learn More About This Steiff Roving Rooster?

Steiffgal couldn't help but shake a tail feather when she received this inquiry about a Steiff item which today is as rare as hen's teeth.  Take a look at this note from a reader who asks about an unusual Steiff wooden pull toy his family found on an antiquing adventure.  Rick from Maine writes: 


Very nice site! I have a few old wooden pull toys. One is a Steiff rooster, the pictures are attached to this inquiry.  My wife was wondering about its age and value... we would be grateful for any information on it.  

Thank you very much for any help.


Steiff's pre-war wooden rooster on wheels
Wooden you just love to welcome this fantastic find into your Steiff hug? What we have here is Steiff's gorgeous Rooster pull toy.  He is 20 cm high, made from wood, and on green rollers.  Although he is basically flat, his dimensional wings and glorious, realistic hand painting truly bring him to life.  His pull string is red and white twine; it may be original as photographs of similiar models from the Steiff archives appear to also have red and white pull strings as well.  Steiff reference books describe this item as "lifelike and artistical, painted in bright colors".  Overall, the rooster pull toy was in the Steiff line from 1919 through 1941.  His trailing f button somewhat narrows his production time to between 1919 and 1936.

Note the off-center "eccentric wheels"
From a collector's perspective, there are two very interesting details about this item which really makes it rule the roost.  The first is that it rides on eccentric wooden wheels. This means that the rooster bobs to - and - fro when it is pulled along... much like the real bird in action!  This is accomplished by mounting the wheels to the metal framed carriage just a little off center.  The second feature is the placement of the button.  Although CLEARLY roosters don't have obvious "external" ears, Steiff playfully inserted the "knopf-im-ohr" near where his ears would be, if he had any.

Not bad for a nonagenarian!
Although most people associate soft toys and collectibles with the Steiff name, the company also has a long tradition of manufacturing wooden playthings as well.  The first wooden items appeared around 1910 and were mostly accessories for the Teddy bears, animals, and dolls in the line.  Then in the late 19-teens and early 1920's, Steiff began producing large numbers of wooden items - in part because mohair and other softer materials were in short supply post World War l.  These treasures included block sets; wooden characters on rocking bases and wooden wheels; building sets; trains; pull wagons; and animal-themed wagons - including designs based on popular characters of the time including Bully the Bulldog and Pip the Pug. Birds on wheels, like the rooster noted above, were exceptionally popular; ducks, finches, tits, sparrows, geese, hens, chicks, swallows, and cuckoos were produced over the 1919 through 1941 time frame.  The catalog describes these pre-war models as "Top quality wood, rounded edges and smooth surface, detailed painting." Post war, wooden toys became much less prominent in the line; animal pull toys were manufactured through the 1970's but their designs were far less detailed and interesting than their pre-war cousins. 

Without ruffling your feathers, in terms of value, Steiffgal is not a formal appraiser and believes something is worth what someone will pay for it.  Rooster always seem to have an appeal to collectors - as well as interior decorators - due to the "county" or "homey" feeling they lend to any room. Given that this beautiful barnyard buddy is in very good condition, has ID, and what appears to be his original pull string, he may value in the $450 to $600 range.  A Steiff wooden sparrow on wheels from the same time frame sold recently at Christie's Auction House in London for $514.

Steiffgal hopes this roving rooster review has been the wheel deal for you.   

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

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seeing Stripes over Steiff's Stupendous Zebras!

Steiffgal thought it was time to take a walk on the wild side and look at one of Steiff's more exotic wild animals - zebras!  These striped sweethearts have been gracing the Steiff catalog since 1899 when the first ones appeared in felt and on wheels.  They have had an almost continuous presence in the line since then.  Let's "line up" a few of the more interesting and beloved post WWII models -one in wool plush, one in mohair, and one in velvet - and see what makes them so interesting from a design evolution and collector's perspective.

Wool plush:  Steiffgal could hardly believe her eyes when this first zebra example arrived at her home a month or so ago.  Do you know the feeling when something is actually better than you expected?  That's what happened with this black and white buddy.   Here we have Steiff's very early post war wool plush zebra.  He has a sweet, innocent, "old fashioned" look about him.  He is 22 cm, standing, unjointed, and made from wool plush that has been hand painted with black stripes.  He has unusual grey and black pupil eyes (which Steiffgal suspects have faded over time) and his US zone tag. Most wonderfully, he has a blank steel button, the one that was only used for a handful of years when the factory reopened for business after the war in the late 1940's.  Items with this button are quite rare and very exciting from a collector's perspective.  A close up of his blank button is shown here on the left.  Overall, this zebra was produced in 22 and 28 cm from 1949 through 1951; the exact same pattern was made in silk plush in 22 cm in 1948.

Mohair:  Mohair has been an important fabric in the Steiff line since the early 19-teens.  Mohair takes airbrushing and hand detailing beautifully, so it is no surprise that mohair zebras are particularly breathtaking.  (Take a look at a marvelous Steiff studio zebra by clicking here!)  Pictured to the left is Steiff's mohair zebra that was introduced in the early 1950's.  He is 28 cm and standing.  He was produced in 12, 22, 28, and 35 cm from 1951 through 1977. 

Looking at things in black and white, is is interesting to compare and contrast this newer zebra mohair model to the older wool plush model.  Clearly the two share many of the basic features - but with a few noticeable updates.  First, the newer design is proportionally stockier all around - his legs, torso, neck, and head are all much thicker.  Second, the newer design has a black tail tip, while the older design has a white tail tip.  Third, the newer mohair model has larger scaled ears than the older wool plush model.  And finally, the newer design has a prominent, convex chest, while the older version has a flat chest. 

Velvet:  The last post-war zebra we'll look at today is closely related to the mohair model mentioned above.  As a matter of fact, it is the smallest version of the mohair zebra design - with several subtle differences.  This fellow is 12 cm, standing, and made from white velvet which has been hand stenciled with black stripes.  He is detailed with tiny felt ears (pink on the inside, black and white striped on the outside), a simple mohair hair mane, and a little rope tail.  In comparison, his larger brothers and sisters are made from mohair, have mohair ears, a dimensional mohair mane, and a mohair tail.

It was not unusual for Steiff to produce the "same" design of an animal in different materials according to size, as seen here with the zebras.  In many cases, the smaller versions were produced in velvet and the larger versions were produced in mohair.  Steiff did exactly this with their giraffe pattern which was launched in 1953; their okapi pattern which was launched in 1958; and their fawn pattern that was launched in 1949 .  In the case of the weird and wonderful Crabby lobster pattern launched in 1963, the smaller versions were made from felt while the largest size was made from mohair. 

Steiffgal hopes she has earned her stripes with you today in reference to these beautiful bi-colored Steiff beasts!

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

Saturday, April 2, 2011

With Steiff, The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

There is the old adage, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  So is that true with Steiff designs, too?  You decide!  Over the past month or so, Steiffgal has welcomed two "new" 15 cm, blond Steiff Teds to her hug.   One is from the 1930's, and one is from the 1950's.   Let's take a look at both of them and discover their similarities, and differences, and what that means from the design evolution perspective.

Hi, I'm Nemo from around 1950.
This first little fellow, whose name is Nemo, is just a ray of sunshine - literally.  He was discovered at a West Palm Beach, Florida antique fair.  He was hiding in a booth with some other non-Steiff items, but Steiffgal has a nose for finding "buried treasure" like this!  Nemo is 15 cm standing, five ways jointed, and made from Steiff's traditional blond mohair.  He has brown and black glass pupil eyes and and a simple black hand embroidered nose and mouth.  Overall, this popular and beloved design and pattern was produced in gold, blond, caramel, brown, and white mohair in the 1950 through 1966 time frame in 10, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 28, 35, 40, 43, 50, 65, and 75 cm.  

Hi, I'm Oliver from around 1930.
It wasn't so clear that this second Ted, whose name is Oliver, was meant to be part of Steiffgal's hug originally.  He was listed on an online auction, and Steiffgal missed originally adopting him by only a few dollars.   Then, a few weeks later, she received a notice from his owner that he was still available!  Good things - or in this case great things - come to those who wait!  Like his younger brother Nemo mentioned above, older Oliver is 15 cm standing, five ways jointed, and made from blond mohair. He has brown and black glass pupil eyes and and a simple black hand embroidered nose and mouth.  This earlier Ted was produced in light blond, light brown, and white from 1905 through 1933 in 10, 15, 18, 22, 25, 30, 32, 35, 40, 46, 50, 60, 70, and 115 cm. 

Nemo and Oliver - check out the similarities - and differences - two decades can make!
It it clear that Nemo and Oliver are certainly close branches on the Steiff family tree.  Their similarities are quite clear - same construction, same mohair material, same basic facial detailing.  But there are also some obvious as well as subtle differences, too.  Starting from the top:
  • Nemo has a much rounder, fuller face and muzzle than does Oliver.  
  • Nemo's eyes measure 5mm, while Oliver's are 4mm.  
  • Nemo has a much larger, rounder, prominent nose than does Oliver. 
  • Nemo has just the tracing of a back hump while Oliver's is much more pronounced.
  • Nemo's waist measures 15cm while Oliver's is 13.5cm.
  • Nemo's thighs measure 3cm across while Oliver's are 2cm.
  • Nemo's feet measure 3.5cm heel to toe while Oliver's are 2.5cm.
So what does all this mean in term of Steiff's product evolution?  Even though these little fellows were most likely made no more than 20 or 25 years apart in time, those years were critical relative to the company's place in the world.   When the factory reopened for business in the very late 1940's, management was eager to not only return to manufacturing prominence, but to also grow the business in ways not considered just a few decades ago.  One of the ways that they did this was to start creating new lines of smaller, very well designed and manufactured, and relatively affordable collectible items.  These included the now well known dogs of the 1950's, including Sarras the Boxer, Peky the Pekingese, and Snobby the Poodle.  

Brothers in arms from now on.
Steiff's second strategy was to take a close look at their traditional designs, and figure out ways to "update" them to the marketplace of the times.  Such is the case with this basic "Oliver" Teddy bear design, which was "relaunched" at the Nuremberg Toy fair in 1951 as "Nemo".  This very early post-war Ted was designed to be more toddler-ish than the previous pre-war generation design, including his very round head, much more rounded muzzle, stubby and chunkier limbs, and minimized back hump.  Even the newer model's larger eyes hint of youthfulness. These differences are quite clear when you line up Oliver and Nemo, and even more so on larger Teds of the same model and generation. 

Steiffgal hopes meeting Nemo and Oliver has given new meaning to the famous Albert Einstein quote: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once!"

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