Thursday, November 29, 2012

Picture This: Exquisite Steiff and Madame Alexander Photography

It goes without saying that most Steiff treasures are pretty as a picture.  And today's special guest couldn't agree more!  He uses Steiff dogs, cats, and other pets as accessories in his exquisite doll photography.   Come meet a terrific artist who really brings our favorite things to life!

Please tell us your name, where you live, and how you spend your days.
Cissy by Madame Alexander, 1957

My name is Bruce Allen de Armond - I use my middle name to hopefully alleviate the confusion of my last name which sometimes becomes Armond - thinking the de is a middle name. Computer reservations and TSA can be very unforgiving. I live in Olde Towne, Portsmouth Virginia. I moved back to Tidewater VA after living in the Las Vegas for 18 years and Southern CA before that -  all polar opposites from each other. I'm retired from designing casinos and hotels around the world. Now that our parents and sister are deceased, I work with my sister Jenny on family issues. I've picked up our parents beloved doll business where they left off once Mom's Alzheimer's took over in 2000.

Tell us a little about your doll photography.  How long have you been doing it? How did you get started?

Jacqueline & Caroline by Madame Alexander, 1962
I come from a long time doll family. I started my own collecting in the mid 1980s - but dropped out in the mid 1990s and came back to collecting in 2005. I started with Barbie, and sold my collection to a friend who went on to become a very prominent Barbie collector. He was an art director for a magazine which started giving me ideas on how to photograph my own dolls. I had discovered Madame Alexander and Cissy - and started taking photos with my first 35 mm camera. They were pretty bad for the most part, but I was learning about lighting and backgrounds… and what was complimentary to my subject.

What made you think of using Steiff items in your work?  What was the inspiration behind this?

Winnie Walker by Madame Alexander, 1953
One of the single most inspirational things about using Steiff was seeing the window display Steiff did for FAO Schwarz for their Las Vegas store when it first opened in 1997 (now closed). I love mixing vintage, antiques and history with technology. That window was a masterful blend of all those elements. I saw Steiff in a new light, and started looking at their considerable story to appreciate more of what they had done and were doing.

What is it about Steiff items that makes them good complements for doll photography?

Bill by Madame Alexander, 1957
Both Steiff and Madame Alexander have compelling histories. Both make beautiful products for a discriminating customer. This makes them a natural for collectors to gravitate towards. Also, both companies have long histories with FAO Schwarz. So, in a way, they are intertwined on several levels. One of my biggest elements of design is scale. Steiff came/comes in numerous sizes, so getting the right size to complement what I'm trying to do on my end is not a problem. Also, the textures and colors used by Steiff are a wonderful complement with vintage dolls. Most of all is the Steiff sense of whimsy - which makes a natural fit with vintage dolls. 

Are there other artists or photographers or authors who use dolls and/or Steiff in their work that you admire or follow? For example, Dare Wright used a small Jackie bear in her Lonely Doll books.  

(L) Cissy and (R) Elsie by Madame Alexander, 1959.  Wearing FAO Schwarz Exclusive Skirt and Sweater Sets
As a child, I was totally in love with Dare Wright's Edith the Lonely Doll. The photography and layouts held me captive for hours.  When you add props and other elements, the work for a photographer becomes vastly more complicated. She made it look so effortless, simple and elegant. There have been other artists that have shaken things up - Billy Boy and Mel Odom have done beautiful work giving their muses rousing images to enjoy. In a different format, some of the auction catalogs are wonderful inspiration for mixing Steiff, dolls and a few accent pieces.

Thank you so much for sharing your fantastic and wonderfully creative work with us today!

Steiffgal hopes this conversation and photo exhibit has added some beauty to your day!

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Honoring A Very Special Veteran and His Steiff Guardian Angel

Every Steiff treasure has a story, but the one Steiffgal is about to share with you is simply astonishing.  A few weeks ago, a woman named Donna Bell contacted Steiffgal to get a little more information about a Steiff lion cub she had seen on a website.  Apparently the one online was identical to one that had helped her father, Don Bell, a US soldier in WWII, survive his tour of duty despite horrendous hardships and near death experiences.   Don was one of the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 and fought heroically in Europe for the allies during the war.  During his early days in France, Don found a little Steiff cat that would be his companion - and guardian angel -  from that moment forward.  Donna, Don, and the Steiff cat are pictured above. 

Don documented the story of how he found his cat and their relationship during the war.  He shares in part...

"Three sleepless nights into the fighting, I came upon a bombed out farmhouse. I dropped to a crouch and studied it carefully. It was an eerie scene. The yard was full of toys and an overturned tricycle. There was a sandbox, but no people anywhere that I could see. I crept closer. That's when I spotted him sitting in the sandbox. He was an orange stuffed toy tiger cat - just sitting there looking at me with shiny glass eyes. Without thinking, I reached out. Maybe it was a combination of fear and exhaustion, but I wanted that tiger cat. I snatched him up and slipped him inside my shirt.  

(The cat pictured above, which was made about 1951, shows what Don's toy most likely looked liked when he found him in the farmhouse.)

I remember saying to him at the time, "Me and you are gonna make it parnder."

We battled through June. In July, we faced elite German paratroopers. The fighting was ferocious. During a break in the siege, I was sitting alone behind a hedgerow eating cold beans from a can. What happened next I don't remember. They say you never hear the gun that gets you, and it's true. Next thing I knew, I lay in the weeds, unable to get up. My right ankle was shattered and my right shoulder didn't work. I looked at my tiger cat peeking from inside my bloody shirt and said, "Looks like we're done for, cat."

I lay there for some time staring at the stuffed toy. Suddenly I remembered Sunday school classes from my childhood, and Ma reading Bible stories to me at bedtime in our little shack on the Colorado plain. I remembered how simple it was to pray back then. I just sat back and talked to God. Nothing fancy. Just talk. Squeezing the tiger cat in my left hand I closed my eyes and tried to bring back that long ago feeling.

The medics didn't find me until after dark. They hauled me back to Omaha Beach for evacuation to England. I was taken to a hospital and prepared for surgery. My cat was black with blood and a nurse took him away from me. Then it was lights out.

My first thought when I came to was for that tiger cat. Sure enough, there was my mascot, washed clean and sitting on a nightstand, staring with those same shiny eyes that had caught my attention back at the farmhouse. I sure was glad to see him.

Months later, I was back in action at the Battle of the Bulge, tiger cat and all.

When I learned I would be heading home, I looked my tiger cat right in his glass eyes, and then yelled into his ear, "We are going home to America, cat! We are going to that freedom loving country called the United States!" I boarded the troopship Liberty for the journey back to the states. When we sailed past the Statue of Liberty, whistles were blowing all over the harbor. I felt so lucky and I gave my toy cat a squeeze through my shirt. I came out of the war with a couple of Bronze Star Medals and returned to Colorado in one piece. After I married and had kids, my cat became my daughter's favorite plaything. Today, he sits on a mantle in her house."

If that story doesn't win medals for bravery, courage, and loyalty, Steiffgal isn't sure what would!  Donna's father's cat is actually a lion, not a tiger and is Steiff's Junglowe or Young Lion. Many people think this model appears more "tiger-ish" than "lion-ish" because of his coloring and stripes. Young Lion debuted in 1938 and was produced in 17 and 22 cm through 1943.  After the war, this king-in-waiting was manufactured in 10 and 17 cm from 1950 through 1954. Both pre- and post-war Young Lions are sitting and head jointed.  Steiffgal has seen examples in both wool plush and mohair  All are carefully hand airbrushed with light and dark stripes, spots, and highlights and are detailed with brown and black pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and his clear monofilament whiskers. Larger sized Young Lions are detailed with long white mohair "sideburns;" you can see this feature on the Young Lion pictured to the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this salute to Don Bell's lion cub encourages you to be a hero to somebody today.

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stand and Deliver With This Huge And Unusual Steiff Surprise

Panda-monium has absolutely broken out in Steiffgal's house over the most recent addition to her ever growing hug.  Here's the story of the arrival of a larger than life new Steiff companion worthy of the red carpet treatment!

Good things come in all size packages... and the courier arrives around 10:00am with one extra-large sized delivery!  He personally drove the item from Indiana to Massachusetts, so the two of them got to be good friends crossing the country together. 

The anticipation builds as the surprise makes its way towards the house...

Just bear-ly fitting up the narrow, curved staircase....

At last landing at its final destination, the bedroom (which is in the process of being painted in honor of his arrival.) 

Now for the great unveiling... just what do we have here?  Click on the arrow on the photo above to view the video and find out!

This bit of advice doesn't suck... always thoroughly clean your new Steiff arrivals carefully, including a light vacuuming...

...and a gentle scrub with a white cotton washcloth and a dilute solution of Woolite in warm water. 

So just who is this prehistorically sized panda?  In reality, Steiffgal isn't 100% certain, as she can find no reference to him in any Steiff reference book.  And his previous owners don't know a thing about him either; they found him in a storage bin in Indiana and put him up for auction shortly after.  Here's what we DO know about him:  he's 190 cm, standing, unjointed, and made entirely from long shaggy mohair - except for his ears, which are made from black dralon.  His face, which is made from slightly shorter white mohair, is detailed with large brown and black pupil eyes and a hand embroidered black nose and mouth.  His mouth has a little additional grey airbrushed highlights around his jaw.  Panda's foot pads are made from heavy plastic material, while his paw pads are made from trivera velvet material.  They are carefully airbrushed with authentic looking hand prints.  He has four rubber claws on each of his hands and feet.  Panda keeps his standing balance via a metal support stand attached to his backside. 

It's not so black and white when it comes to identifying a rarity like this.  However, it is Steiffgal's best guess, given panda's size, appearance, and body shape, that he is a modification of Steiff's Studio standing Braunbaer or Brown Bear that was in the line from 1972 through 1980.  Brown bear is pictured above; his full story can be found here. Brown bear is also standing and 190 cm tall.  His body is made from a brown knitted fur material.  His face is made from short tan colored mohair and is detailed with brown and black pupil eyes, a black leather-like nose, and a few airbrushed highlights.  And, like Studio panda, his paw pads are made from a trivera velvet like material, have airbrushed "paw prints" on them, and are complemented by lifelike claws.  Studio Brown bear was made from 1972 through 1980; in 1972 only he was sold exclusively in the United States.

And, just in case you were wondering, ALMOST everyone here was excited to welcome new Studio panda to the hug.  

Steiffgal hopes this unveiling of her Steiff studio panda has been a larger than life experience for you!

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Steiff Love Story In Three Chapters

Is it possible to fall in love over and over again?  Well, when it comes to Steiff, the answer is a resounding YES!  Over the past few months, Steiffgal has been amazingly fortunate to add a few Steiff treasures to her collection that continue to make her heart a-flutter.  Take a look at these Steiff sweethearts and see if you fall victim to love at first sight as well!

Sweetheart #1:
All panda-monium broke out when this huge black and white buddy arrived at Steiffgal's home.  Here we have Steiff's largest sized post war panda, affectionately called "King Panda." Panda is 50 cm, five ways jointed, and made from really thick and long black and white mohair.  The tops of his flat feet are made from shorter black mohair.  Panda's face is detailed with large black and brown pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, and an open, peach colored felt lined mouth.  He truly appears to be smiling! His foot and hand paw pads are made from taupe colored felt.  This pattern was produced in 15, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm from 1951 thorough 1961; the company used a suede-like grey rubber material instead of felt on this panda’s paws and soles from 1956 onward. This particular example, with a US Zone tag and felt feet, dates from the very early 1950's.  His crown is a gift from a friend from England, who purchased it at the gift shop at Buckingham Palace in London.

King Panda was discovered on eBay with a very reasonable "buy it now" price.  And Steiffgal did... with no regrets whatsoever!

Sweetheart #2:
No clowning around...  nothing wins a woman over more than a sense of humor!  Here we have Steiff's most unusual Larifari Kasperl (clown-like) doll.  Larifari is standing and five ways jointed.  His head and arms are made from rubber while his body and legs are made from felt.  He is handsomely dressed in brown felt boots, tan cotton pants, a white frilly collared shirt, red felt jacket, and green felt hat.  He wears brown leather suspenders and a belt.  Larifari's hair is made from very short grey mohair. His face is simply adorable, and highlighted by big blue eyes and a sheepish smile.  Swoon!  Larifari is based on a German book and movie character created by Ferdinand Diehl, the same creative genius who designed the beloved Micki and Mecki hedgehog characters. Larifari only appeared in the line from 1955 through 1957 and is seldom seen on the secondary market - especially in North America.  

Steiffgal found Larifari at a Boston area doll event.  He was on display with a number of other non-Steiff dolls in the very last booth Steiffgal visited on her way out of the show.  The dealer, who had owned Larifari for close to 50 years, was delighted to learn that he was going to a Steiff loving home. 

Sweethearts #3 and 4:
Oh baby... check out these very early 1950's era Steiff Teddy babies.  Little brother is 22 cm and blonde.  Big brother is 28 cm and brown.  Both are five ways jointed and have distinctive, well defined muzzles; flat, broad, clawed feet made for standing; and sweet, toddler-like features including open, smiling, peach colored felt lined mouths.  Post war, Steiff produced their beloved Teddy baby pattern in blonde or brown mohair in 9, 22, 28, 30, and 40 cm in the identical pattern made before the war. All sizes over 9 cm came with a leather collar with a bell.  Teddy Baby remained in the Steiff line until 1957, although due to his popularity with collectors, has been replicated many times in numerous limited edition series.

Steiffgal purchased these brothers from a collector who was moving and downsizing her collection.   Steiffgal was delighted to make it a family affair and adopt the duo.

Steiffgal hopes this love story helps to fan your flames of passion for this delightful brand!  

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

Sunday, November 4, 2012

This Vintage Steiff Polar Bear is One Head Turner Indeed

There's a chill in the air, but in this case, it's not a bad thing at all!  Check out this note from a reader who asks about a recent really cool Steiff find!  Over a series of communications, Diane from Florida (of all places!) shares:


Check out this adorable polar bear!  He is over 14 inches long and about 8.5 inches at the height of his rump.  His head seems to be bent, I am not sure if this is his original pose.  He retains quite a bit of mohair, which I think was white at one time.  

The bear retains his small underscored Steiff button.  I'm thinking mid 1920's.  His paws need to be replaced for sure. Could this be the early polar bear on wheels? It may be my imagination, but I think you can see an indentation on one paw where the wheels may have been. I sure would appreciate any information on this adorable piece.

Do you think he should be restored, or should I keep him as is?



It's white-out conditions over this great bear for sure!  What we have here is Steiff's Polarbaer or Polar bear.  He is standing, six ways jointed (more on that soon!), and made from white mohair.  His detailing includes black claws, a simple hand embroidered black nose and mouth, and little black shoe button eyes.  This is a great design that did appear with and without wheels.   He was produced with wheels in 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, 50, 60, 80, and 100 from 1910 through 1919, and without wheels in 14, 17, 22, 28, 35, and 80 cm from 1908 through 1928.  Diane's bear has the 4mm button, which dates him before 1925.  The photo on the left shows an excellent example of this polar bear design; this particular bear sold for close to $2,200 at the 2010 Steiff auction at Christie's in London.  

So is this item the "wheel deal?"  It's hard to tell from the condition of his paw pads if indeed he originally had wheels.  In general, larger items were mounted on their wheels and carriages, not sewn on.  The frames had a little "thumb" that was inserted into the foot of the animal to secure the item to the carriage.  You can see an example of this here on the left, on a 1920's era lion on wheels. Much smaller and lighter items were stitched to the wheels and carriages, as the stress and pull was not as great.  It is Steiffgal's best guess that items with felt paw pads would in general not be stitched on to carriages as this would not be a strong and durable connection for the long run.  

One really head turning feature of this Steiff polar bear design is his "ball jointed" neck.  This feature enables the head and neck to be twisted and rotated into different lifelike positions.  This proprietary movement was invented by Franz Steiff and registered on May 24, 1908 in the German patent office as a "toy animal with movable head."  According to company records, this was accomplished by... "attaching a swivel jointed mechanism to the head which was then secured to the body by means of a tube running from the neck to the torso."  Steiff used this feature on a few models of their polar bears, begging poodles, pigs, cats, and opossums.  Here on the left you can see the engineering behind this movement feature; this illustration is from the Cieslik's wonderful 1989 reference book, "Button in Ear The History of The Teddy Bear and His Friends."  

Let's sew up this blog posting with a brief discussion on restoration.  Every collector has a different opinion about whether to repair a piece or not.  Here is Steiffgal's thoughts... if an item is very rare, and the chances of ever finding another are slim to none... and/or the piece has amazing sentimental value or a family history... and/or if the treasure is at great risk for falling apart or becoming more damaged if it is not secured... then yes, Steiffgal would probably suggest restoration.  Of course, it is critical, and ethically essential, that if you do have a piece restored and then move it along at some point, that you let the new owner know about the work.  

Steiffgal hopes that this conversation on this delightful jointed polar bear has really warmed your heart.

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