Monday, January 30, 2012

Be A Doll And Take A Look At This Most Unusual Steiff Little Girl!

Well, hello Dolly! If that's not an enthusiastic greeting, then Steiffgal doesn't know what it. Having just returned from a magical weekend at IDEX, a very large doll and Teddy bear collectible show held each January, Steiffgal certainly has dolls on the brain. So perhaps it's the perfect time to introduce readers to "Erika", a most unusual vintage Steiff doll that Steiffgal just welcomed to her hug a few weeks ago.

Steiffgal "felt" she always wanted one of these treasures as part of her collection, but never had the opportunity until now. Erika, named after Steiffgal's paternal grandmother, is an original "pressed felt" face doll, produced from 1937 through 1943, and then again in 1949 and 1950. She is 35 cm, standing, three ways (head and legs) jointed, excelsior stuffed, and made entirely from flesh colored felt. Her arms are floppy and hang loosely by her sides. Her arms are bent slightly at the elbows, and she has very defined fingers. Her face is highly textured, with chubby cheeks, a realistic mouth, pert nose, and lifelike glass eyes embedded in eye sockets. Even her little ears are sculpted just like a child's. She is finished with a blond mohair wig, which is seamlessly integrated into her head structure.

Like all of Steiff's pressed felt dolls of the time, Erika is dressed to the nines. Her underwear consists of a white cotton "one-sie", which is trimmed with lace around the leg openings and bodice. It has thin little straps which fit over her shoulders to help keep it in place.  Her short sleeved white cotton blouse is removable and closes in the back. She wears a red cotton floral calico jumper that closes with snaps and is detailed with a ruffle around the waist area. Her footwear also is removable and consists of white cotton socks and red felt Mary-Jane style shoes. And the crown of her outfit must be her green molded felt Tyrolean style hat, which is trimmed with a light blue silk cord.

The history of these unusual dolls is pressing. Although Steiff’s center seamed dolls, introduced as early as 1903, were popular and sold well, the company had been experimenting with alternative ways of manufacturing felt heads since the 1920’s. The goal was to eliminate the center seam and substitute the face with one made from pressed felt. This proved quite challenging to do. The designers at Steiff chose to model their head mold for the pressed felt face on the sculpture of an idealized child created by Baroque sculptor Francois Duquesnois. It is interesting to note that the German doll manufacturer Kathe Kruse also based some of their doll designs on this sculpture. After years of trying, the Steiff designers finally mastered the art of creating felt pressed faces by reinforcing the molded material with a plastic backing. Soon after, they introduced a small line of these new dolls in 1936 at the Leipzig Spring Fair.

By the late 1930’s, these new seamless Steiff dolls became a significant product offering of the company
. Both boys and girls were produced in 35 ad 43 cm. All models had felt bodies and jointed heads and legs. Their faces were detailed with delicate, hand painted facial features, glass or painted pupil eyes, and mohair wigs. Their removable clothing was beautifully tailored with a look of cheery childhood innocence. They were promoted as...

“Continuing in the tradition of our early, popular, Steiff dolls, we now present our new dolls, with their sleek, long lasting workmanship and appealing, engaging expressions.” 

Instead of Steiff buttons in their ears, each doll was given a special red rubber bracelet that had the button and yellow flag attached like a charm. Overall, about 27 different versions of the pressed felt dolls appeared in the line through 1950. 

Steiffgal hopes this introduction to Erika and Steiff's pressed felt dolls has been as fun as child's play for you!

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Seeing Stripes Over Steiff's Unusual Pint Sized Tigers

It's easy to understand why so many collectors see stripes when it comes to Steiff's terrific tigers.  Although a "relative" latecomer to the Steiff line (they first appeared in the company's catalog in 1915, about 23 years after it was first published in 1892), they were an instant hit.  Today they remain one of the company's most beloved patterns, and some enthusiasts specialize in them alone.  Over the years, Steiff has manufactured tigers in just about every size and configuration you can imagine, raging from a 6 cm sitting Nomotta "woolen miniature" version to a Studio, or life sized, 160 cm model.  

One of the things Steiff has been able to do so successfully with tigers is to design them with unique features - whether lifelike, playful, or just plain adorable - regardless of their size.   Let's take a look at three very different styles of rare, handful-sized tigers Steiff created in the 1950's through the early 1970's and see what makes them so interesting from the collector's perspective. 

Our first pint sized sweetie should have you moving and grooving if nothing else.  This is Steiff's 14 cm,  five ways jointed tiger cub. He is standing on all fours, and made from tan mohair that has been airbrushed with a base of orange with black striped details all over his head, back, and tops of his limbs. Tiger's rather serious looking face is detailed with green and black slit pupil eyes, pert mohair ears, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and mono filament whiskers. He has a little red highlighting around his lips and eyes.  Tiger was produced in 8, 10, and 14 cm from 1952 through 1959. The 8 cm version had a cord tail and was a US exclusive product.  

(It is interesting to note that five ways jointed animals are labor intensive and expensive to produce, and Steiff produced fewer and fewer of them over time; by the late 1960's most previously five ways jointed designs had been converted to just head jointed (or none at all) to keep expenses under control.) 

This second Steiff tiger is anything but a "tiny terror!"  Here we have the smallest version of Steiff's distinctive and rare Bengal tiger. He is 14 cm, sitting, unjointed, and made from beautifully hand airbrushed mohair. He has green and black pupil eyes, a pink and black embroidered nose, and black airbrushed claws. You can't help but crack a smile in reference to his most distinctive feature:  his open mouth,  which is lined in peach colored felt; it looks like he is grinning broadly (or yawning, your choice!) This brave baby was made in 14, 22, and 43 cm from 1959 through 1961 only.  His older brothers come four pointy teeth:  two on the top and two on the bottom.  It is quite rare to find the larger sizes in good condition with all of their teeth remaining. 
X marks the spot of our final Steiff tiger under discussion today.  Here we have Steiff's "Ponx."  He is 17 cm, sitting, unjointed, and made from dralon.  His belly and undersides, as well as his sideburns and the linings of his ears are pure white, while his back, sides, and face are orange with black hand applied airbrushing.  His face is detailed with green and black slit pupil eyes, clear mono filament whiskers, a pink embroidered nose, and a black mouth.  If Shere Khan (the tiger from the movie The Jungle Book, produced by Steiff in 35 cm from 1968 through 1975) had a son, he probably would look alot like Ponx!  Ponx was made from 1971 through 1974 as part of a series called "der kleine tierversand" - which roughly translates into "the little animal series."  Each item in this series came in a special display box and was accompanied by a little blue booklet which told the story about the animal; the booklet included translations in German, English, and French. Details of Ponx's booklet can be found right below.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on interesting little vintage Steiff tigers has been the cat's meow for you.  

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

Friday, January 13, 2012

One Heck Of A Giant Classy Steiff Lassie!

Good golly, take a look at this huge and marvelous Collie!  That's just what Steiffgal did when she got this inquiry a reader about her "life sized Lassie."  Check out this note from Kathy, who writes on behalf of a friend who would like to learn more about her family's treasure - that just happens to have a very interesting history as well. She shares:

"Hi Steiffgal,

I found your blog on-line and was so excited to find you!  Your love of Steiff is contagious.

I've attached some photos of a large Steiff
Collie that I would like information on.  The dog belongs to a dear friend of mine and I am helping her out with her research.  

My friend bought the dog at a garage sale about 40 or so years ago.  The owner of the dog worked for Mrs. Gerber, of the Gerber Baby Food Company, as a house cleaner.  She often took her young son along to the Gerber's home when she was cleaning, and Mrs. Gerber grew quite fond of him. Whenever she traveled overseas she would bring the boy a Steiff animal.  When he was 10 she brought him the Collie.  After the boy had grown up he no longer wanted the dog and his mother didn't either so she sold him to my friend.  

I've had a difficult time trying to find information or a value for it.  Thank you for any help you can provide.


Steiffgal is certain that many Steifflife readers are thinking "Lassie come home... to me" upon learning about this dog.   Indeed, what we have here is fabulous and wonderful, and Steiffgal is not surprised to learn that Kathy could not find reference to it online as it is really, really rare.  

This best of show beauty is the studio (i.e., life sized) Collie produced exclusively for the upscale toy retailer FAO Schwarz.  He is in a lying position and made from mohair which has been realistically airbrushed with all shades of tan, brown, beige, and black.  He has a long, fluffy mohair "mane" and an equally robust tail.  His face is detailed with a prominent muzzle; large, pert pupil eyes; an open, felt lined mouth with a red felt tongue; and a black, hand embroidered nose.  He is approximately 135 cm long and was produced in 1966 and sold in the 1966 through 1967 time frame only.

One place this rarity is documented is in the FAO Schwarz catalog archives.  According to their 1967 catalog, this playful pooch is described as follows: "The distinctive looks and noble air of this popular breed are captured by Steiff in this faithful companion.  The long mohair plush coat, long nose, open mouth, and long red felt tongue give him the familiar "collie look."  53 inches long, with authentic marking and deep-throated voice".  

From the collector's perspective, this dashing doggie truly represents the best of both worlds.  

1.  First, he is a Steiff "Studio" treasure, meaning he is life-sized, and/or designed specifically for display purposes. So what exactly does this mean?  In the case of “life-sized” animals, if in nature a tiger is almost 6 feet long, then the Steiff Studio tiger would be almost 6 feet long. In the case of a display product, an item may be produced in exceptionally large proportions in order to make a statement in a window vignette. For example, Steiff has produced an almost 3-foot-tall standing Studio ladybug and a two-and-a-half-foot-tall sitting “Hush Puppies” Basset hound. 

2.  Second, he was made exclusively for FAO Schwarz.  And here's why that matters.  Although Steiff has been merchandising FAO Schwarz with items from its line since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that Steiff started producing store exclusives for its long-time American retail partner. These treasures included a Texas Longhorn, unusual puppets, unique studio pieces like this Collie, and even a walrus pajama bag, among numerous other items. Despite their “relative newness” to the marketplace, these items are all among the most sought-after Steiff collectibles because of their exceptional attention to detail, unique designs and, of course, the fact that so few were manufactured to begin with!

Now for the question that always makes Steiffgal want to head off to the dog-house - Collie's value.  As always, Steiffgal is not a formal appraiser and truly believes something is worth what someone will pay.  Kathy's photos and notes do not give much information on the dog's actual physical condition.  It would be critical to know if the Collie has any rips, tears, weak or balding spots, odors, or other structural issues before giving a firm value range, as those factors can greatly influence its bottom line.  However, IF (and that's a big IF) the dog were in very good to excellent condition, with only little play wear, at least one form of Steiff ID, and no major structural damages, he MAY value in the $900 to $1,500 range. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about Kathy's Collie has been a best of show experience for you.
Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Little Novel Mystery To Light Up Your Steiff Life!

Looking for a little something to light up your (Steiff) life? Then you've come to the right place.  The world of interesting vintage plush collectibles is quite large - but also quite interrelated on many levels.  Take a look at this note from a reader who asks about a possible novelty... could it have been made by Steiff?   Jaime writes...
Here is my dilemma... After what seems like a thousand dead-ends, a ton of time, energy, and endless "google-ing" & "bing-ing"....  I have exhausted all known avenues of search.  Can you take a look at my item and provide any information about it?

Here are his details.  He is approximately 19cm or about 7-1/2" tall, and hard stuffed with excelsior.  His body is made from mohair and is yellowish / cream or off-white, in color, with darker shaded tips and a few black, air-brushed, spots on the forehead and front paws.  His muzzle and ears are shaved or trimmed black mohair; each ear has one stitch, to help keep them held down and in place.  His nose and mouth are hand embroidered in black.  He has a pink corduroy "panting or begging" tongue.  He has a swivel head and wears a green leather collar with a silver buckle.

Here's where it gets interesting.  He has glass eyes, which are light brown/auburn with a black pupil.  Each contains  a "filament", essentially, a removable light bulb with a socket. The battery or power source is housed in the belly and is accessed by un-doing three, brass, snap-style buttons. All 3 snaps are engraved with the maker's name, "Prym."  The Prym Company, responsible for making the snaps, is located just 3 hours away from the Steiff factory in Germany.

There are no identifying marks except for the button makers name on the brass snaps. There does appear to be an "indented" area where a button would have been in the left ear.   The mohair, in that area, was matted down in the shape of a round button and there did appear to be small hole through the ear,  But I have poured over this puppy for so many exhausting months that it might just be a wishful thinking!  Please help!!  

Thank you, 
Electrifying, and many thanks for introducing us to this great item.  And, as you might know, Steiffgal is a pug fiend; two real live ones (pictured above) are right here by her side as she figures out this mystery.  

Don't mean to zap anyone's expectations, but Steiffgal can tell you right away that this item was not made by Steiff. However, it has two features that are quite interesting when viewed through the lens of Steiff history and product evolution: 1.  its design and 2.  its "novelty" qualities.  The big challenge is that there were a zillion toy companies in business in Europe and the US about the time that he was made, and little documentation or history on many of these manufacturers.  So, as a result, Jaime may never really know his origins.  And that's ok. But there are a few things Steiffgal can glean about this dog which do relate directly to Steiff.  

Let's first take a look at his dog-gone design.  It is Steiffgal's opinion that has many of the same elements of two documented Steiff dog designs.  These are Tino, who is from the early to mid 1930's, and Pug, who is from the mid to late 1920's.  They are pictured above; Tino is on the left and Pug is on the right.  Both are little known, very rare, and seldom seen on the secondary or collector's marketplaces.   

It is very interesting to note that it was (and still sort of is) really, really common that plush companies would all but replicate their competitor's lines with the slightest of modifications and call that pattern their own.  Well known examples of this with Steiff include early Teddy bear designs, tumbling animals, and even their Treff the bloodhound, who was based on the English Dalmatian "Dismal Desmond," manufactured by the Deans Rag Book Co. of London.  

So, when can a dog really be a cat?  When it's a copycat!  Despite a Steiff look, there are two design elements that strongly suggest that the item was not made by Steiff.  First, his design is too "clunky" to be made by Steiff; the pattern is very simple and the lines are not curved and elegant.  (This is not meant to be derogatory in any way, it just is what it is.)  Additionally, thinking back, Steiffgal can't think of one time Steiff ever used corduroy on any item, except way post war on some doll, bear, and character's clothing items.  So this also all but rules out Steiff as the manufacturer.   

Second, let's take a look at the novelty features of this pug.  Steiff created many early novelty items - including hand bags, puppets, pajama bags, animal dolls, dangling car mascots, and even a record cleaner - but Steiffgal is all but certain that Steiff themselves never made "electric" eyed items.  (However, she has seen "aftermarket" creations, meaning someone got creative with a Steiff Ted, some wiring, and light bulbs in their garage!) The novelties that Steiff produced were always based on their most popular and well known characters, including Bully the Bulldog, Molly the Puppy, and Charly the King Charles Spaniel.  Jaime's dog design, although adorable, would not fit into this tier of classic Steiff patterns.  Steiffgal's favorite Steiff novelty of all time, Jocko as a purse - from around 1930 - is pictured here on the left. 

It's time to plug into the topic of electrified plush!  Light-up eyed items first came on the market around 1907 or so.  They were produced as novelties and mostly seen on bears.  The eyes would light up if the bear's belly was pressed, a switch was pressed, or a limb was moved up or down.  The early ones had the batteries buried in the body so you pretty much had to take the animal apart to replace them.  Jaime's pug seems to have a much nicer battery setup, with snaps or the like, implying that it is a more sophisticated, therefore slightly younger design than the early ones, perhaps from the late 1920's or so.

So what does this all mean?  Steiffgal's best guess, and that's all she can offer here, is that this was made in Europe by one of Steiff competitors in the early 1930's or so.  The light up eyes were designed to "one up" the Steiff design, but the materials used, and the overall design details are somewhat inferior to traditional Steiff standards.   Anyone else have any ideas? 

Steiffgal hopes you got a real charge out of learning about this vintage electric-eyed pug.  

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