Saturday, December 29, 2012

Living The Steiff Life On German Television

If you love something, why not share it with the world?  Especially when it comes to Steiff!  Over this past summer, Steiffgal had the once in a lifetime experience of working with a TV crew from Germany on a half-hour television documentary about Steiff collectors and the Steiff Summer Festival, which is held the first week in July every year.  The program ran on German prime time television in mid-December.  

You can click here to see the show Perhaps you will recognize a face, or two, or three! Even if you do not speak German, it is quite entertaining.  After all, the love of Steiff is a universal language we can all understand. 

Petra Peters at the 2012 Steiff Auction
The documentary was produced by Petra Peters, a talented and experienced film maker.   She and Steiffgal really hit it off, and Petra agreed to be interviewed about making the film.   Come and learn a little about her, and what it takes to make a program which millions of viewers will see!

Steiffgal:  Tell us a little bit about yourself: Your name, where you live, and your profession.

Petra:  My name is Petra Peters. I am 44 years old and I live outside of Hamburg in the countyside of Northern Germany. I´m a film director and author and as for this I have been working for German Television for 20 years now.

Steiffgal:  Are you interested in Steiff? If so, do you have a collection, and if you do, tell us a bit about your collection. 

Petra:  Actually I just have a few Steiff animals, which my parents gave me, when I was a child. And then I have this little, sweet pony, which you gave to me. After making this film, I am really considering to build up a collection step by step. I think it is such a nice hobby and passion.

Steiffgal: How did you come up with the idea of making a documentary about Steiff and Steiff collectors?

Petra:  I read something in the Internet about the Summer Festival in Giengen. And then I searched online for further information and I found Carsten Eßer and his company Teddy Dorado. After a few interesting and funny talks on the telephone, I was sure, that this would be a beautiful great subject for a film. I thought, that there might be a lot of crazy, interesting, and passionate Collectors and Steiff Enthusiasts coming to Giengen in the summer. And this from all over the world and the Teddy bears connecting them all together. What a wonderful story!

Filming in the Steiff Sales Tent During The Festival
Steiffgal:  Who did you choose to feature in the film, and how and why did you choose those particular collectors?

Petra:  First of all I connected Carsten Eßer. It was pretty clear soon, that he would take part in the film. He gave me several contacts to collectors in Germany. I choose the Eichel family, because they live with Steiff animals for more than three generations and they are completely crazy about Steiff. Furthermore they have a very exclusive collection at home. Then Carsten told me about you and your friends coming the long way from the USA to this year's Summer festival. What a gift and luck for the film, I thought. Carsten then recommended you to be a part in the film, as you have a very special collection, too, and your whole life is Steiff. And, you are of course an open-minded person and a real Steiff expert.

Steiffgal:  How did you study or prepare for the filming and interviewing?

Petra:  I read a lot and studied everything about Teddy bears and their collectors I could get. Internet, books, and so on. I visited the Eichels and also Carsten Eßer and we talked a lot. You and me, we talked on the phone and we Skyped.

Steiffgal:  What were some of the surprising or unexpected things you saw or learned about Steiff during the filming process?

Petra:  I was very surprised, that the worldwide connection really works out. You met so many friends on the festival – that was amazing. I think I never met such a lot of crazy, but very likable people in such a few days. We really had a great time. And we learned that collecting Steiff is a real passion and love.

Steiffgal:  Looking back, what was your favorite moment overall during the Steiff filming process?

Petra:  There were so many favorite moments, so many. For example: To see, how the Eichels live with their collection. Then, when your arrive and you meet Carsten for the first time. Or, when you meet your friends on the festival. And, of course Othello: A beautiful bear. And the auction was very exiting.

Steiffgal: How do you decide what ends up in the film and what ends up on the cutting room floor?

Petra:  That was the most difficult thing. The film can not be longer than 30 minutes at the end. During the editing process we first had a version that took 90 (!!) minutes. So we had to shorten it more and more. I had to separate from good pictures – that wasn´t easy. At the end I decided for the almost best scenes and those which are important to tell the story.

Steiffgal:  How long does it take to go from the raw footage to the finished project?

Petra:  After the shooting I always have to watch picture by picture and make lists about the raw footage. That takes about three days. Then the editing and finishing (including speaker and voice over) takes about 10 more days.

Steiffgal:  Petra, many thanks for your time.  It was a pleasure to work with you on this project!

Steiffgal hopes this interview with Petra has made you feel like a TV star!

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

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"So Many Caring (Steiff) People In this World"

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." 
-- Mister Rogers

In this season of love and hope, Steiffgal wishes to share a remarkable and inspirational story - which of course has a Steiff connection! It goes without saying that you have heard of the horror that visited the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA. Come hear what two Steiff superfans did when they heard the news that 26 innocents were killed in this unprecedented school shooting.

Steiffgal: Please tell us your names, where you live, and a little bit about yourself?
Jamie Prata-Gomes: My name is Jamie Prata-Gomes and my husband is Adam Gomes. We live in East Freetown, MA. Adam spends most of his time working in IT, specifically network security. Due to my current health issues, I am unable to work right now. I spend my days caring for our dachshunds and cats, reading, staying current on IT industry advances, helping to run South Coast Innovator Labs, and loving my stuffy collection! Adam and I enjoy seeking out Steiff collectibles and other stuffies any way we can when we have the time.

Steiffgal:  Can you tell us about your interest in Steiff?  

Jamie:  My interest in Steiff began very young. I've always loved and collected stuffed animals and knew of Steiff from as far back as I can remember. When I was a child, finances were tight. It was much easier for my family to find deals on other brands of stuffed animals and I never went without.  Fast forward a few years, and I hit a very rough patch and I lost my beloved mother and adoptive father.  We also had some house issues and I was diagnosed with a rare interstitial lung disease; today I am in chemotherapy for it. Adam was very supportive and asked me to find a new stuffy I wanted and we would go buy it. On a whim, I looked up Steiff online and found that the warehouse was a few towns over in Raynham, MA and they had a small store right there! We took the short drive to Raynham and entered one of the happiest places on earth!  I went back to the store weekly and bought many wonderful items that helped me through a difficult time and has continued to bring a lot of happiness to me and to Adam.  

Steiffgal:  Tell us how you heard about the shootings in Newtown, which took place on Friday morning, December 14th.

Jamie:  Because of my lung condition and treatment, I had been really sick Thursday night.  As a result, I stayed in bed and napped most of Friday.  Adam was working from home, but he hadn't had the television or radio on.  Around 3 PM, I was feeling better and I got up to shower and dress.  I noticed that a friend sent a message on Facebook about a tragedy in Newtown, CT. My maternal grandfather was born and raised a few towns away. I have many fond memories of visiting him when I was a small child, and visiting his grave and the general area with my mother in later years. All of this was in my mind when Adam and I ran to turn on the television.  When we saw the news accounts, our hearts just broke and I actually started crying.  Adam was speechless and I was so lost that I was shaking.  I just kept thinking, "These poor children.  This poor community.  Things like this don't happen in New England.  These poor children." 

Steiffgal:  What happened next?

Jamie:  I realized I had grabbed one of my stuffed animals, and was holding her tight like I do so much. That's when it hit me:  Anytime something bad happens in my life, I miss my lost loved ones, or I just don't feel well, I grab one of my stuffies.  I can't even begin to imagine losing a child or being a child in this situation.  These children who have just survived the horror of what happened in their school and community need something to hold on to.  They need stuffed friend to hug while they try to process what has happened, while they try to grieve, while they try to make sense of this, and while they try to find a new normal.  

Steiffgal:  And apparently you immediately got to work in making that happen.  Tell us how.

Jamie: I started searching through my collection for stuffed toys that still are still new and have the tags and such and that I thought children aged kindergarten through fourth grade would enjoy.  In a few minutes I had gathered about 50 such stuffed toys from my collection.  Poor Adam was having a hard time keeping up with my thoughts and I had asked him to try to find out where we could bring them in Newtown, CT... that night!  He talked me out of that one because it would take about 3 hours just to get there.  Adam made a lot of phone calls and finally reached the Newtown police department.  They thanked us and asked us to call back in the morning for directions on where we could drop off the stuffed toys.  I was already on to a new evolution of the plan.  I had heard on the news that there were approximately 600 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I decided we should reach out to anyone we could get a hold of and ask them to help us gather up 600 new or like new stuffed toys for us to drive to Newtown, CT on Saturday. At this point, it was already 5:30 PM on Friday and I didn't know if we'd even come close to our goal but I wasn't going to stop until we brought as many stuffies as possible to those children.  

Steiffgal:  This truly was a team effort between you and Adam.

Jamie:  Yes, Adam, who had worked all day, was right there making phone calls, organizing my thoughts, making plans for the trip, and budgeting our money to buy as many stuffies as we could. At his suggestion, we both started posting on our Facebook pages to try to reach as many people as possible.  We weren't sure we would be able to reach anyone:  it was a Friday evening, Hanukkah, and so close to Christmas.  We knew a lot of people would be shopping and celebrating the holidays.  Many friends and family members did see our posts on Facebook, our text messages, and our phone numbers on their caller IDs.  Many, many wonderful people donated new stuffed animals and many handed us money or sent money to our PayPal account and asked us to buy stuffed animals from them.  

Steiffgal:  Tell us how you managed to get 600 stuffies to bring to Newtown.

Jamie:  Adam and I immediately set out to buy stuffed animals. We decided to start at Kohl's (a major US department store) because they have the "Kohl's Cares For Kids" stuffed animals. Our reasoning was that we could buy a lot of stuffed animals for $5 each, the proceeds from those stuffed animals go to children's charities, and they are really cute. We ended up buying just about all of the Kohl's Cares stuffed animals in Taunton, MA, which is near our hometown.  Our dear friends met at another local Kohl's.  We bought most of the stuffies from that store as well.  The Managers at each Kohl's looked for extra stock to give us, cleared the way for us to check out quickly so we could do as much as possible, and promised to spread the word about what we were doing to encourage others to reach out to Newtown and help anyway possible.  At that point, we had reached close to 300 stuffed animals!  Adam's parents were also involved in our efforts; they had gone to a Kohl's in their area bought most of their Kohl's Cares stuffies.  They also went to another store and bought more stuffed animals.  Then we headed off to Ocean State Job Lot (a New England based discount store) where we bought about 100 more stuffies.  By 11PM on Friday night - just 8 hours of first hearing of the news - we had reached almost 500 stuffed toys, thanks to our wonderful friends and family members, and some wonderful strangers! Late Friday night, we started planning for the trip to Newtown in the morning.  

Steiffgal:  Then it was time to hit the road.

Jamie: Yes. At 7 AM on Saturday, we loaded up our SUV and headed to Newtown.  We stopped in Providence, RI to pick up donations that had come available overnight.  We also stopped at another Ocean State Job Lot on our way and bought another 100 stuffed animals to meet our goal.   After about 3 hours of driving and a few stops we reached Newtown, CT. I wasn't feeling all that well, but we were on a mission and nothing would stop me from getting those stuffies to the children of Newtown.  Adam had been in touch with the Newtown Police Department and the Newtown Social Services people during our trip out there and we were welcomed into the police department/social services building.  

Steiffgal:  What happened when you arrived in Newtown?

Jamie:  Many people came to our aid and unloaded all of the 600 stuffed toys from our truck.  There were many thank you wishes, moist eyes, and hugs from those grieving community members.  We just wanted to get these stuffed friends to the children as quickly as possible because they need something to hold on to and hug.  The children need to know that there are so many people who care and want them to have a childhood in spite of this unimaginable tragedy. 

We didn't stay long because there was a lot of chaos as everyone tried to get through the shock of what had happened the day before and figure out what to do for his or her community next. Adam and I didn't want to be in the way.  We did take a few moments to view the town as we were leaving it - I hadn't been to the area in over 5 years and Adam had been through the area, but never to the area.  It was a difficult ride home because Adam and I wanted to do more, but at least the children have these stuffed toys to hug.  We will continue to stay in contact with Newtown, CT to offer whatever support we can. 

Steiffgal:  You are both truly heroes.  If other people want to contribute, how can they do so? 

Jamie:  Probably the best way is through a donation drive by the United Way and the Newtown Savings Bank. Click here to learn more.   

Steiffgal:  Your story is awe-inspiring.  Thank you from all of us for your kindness.  

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fawning All Over This Tiny And Unusual Steiff Treasure

It's pretty easy to fawn over Steiff treasures - especially the tiny ones - and that is certainly the case here!  Check out this note from a reader who asks about an unusual Steiff item she found in a box of family treasures.  Through a series of communications, Betsey writes in part:  
I was looking online to try to identify an antique Steiff fawn and found your site - so here I am. 

I found this item in a box of my deceased parents personal belongings - my father and mother were born in 1910 and 1915, respectively.  The fawn in question stands 4.75" tall and is 4.5" long if standing fairly straight up.  He is a kind of deep cinnamon/pumpkin color with 'age-darkened' white spots on his body and around the front of his chest.  He also has white detailing on the top part of his rather rounded, permanently-tucked-in tail.  His hooves and snout are black.  He has dyed-to-match pumpkin colored triangular felt ears; his left ears is still adorned with a tiny silver colored Steiff button. He has round black button eyes.  His coat is very woolen like, similar to the pom pom bunnies.  He is only wired, not at all jointed, and the wire can be seen when you part the wool of his belly.

I have hesitated calling him a fawn because his ears are not big and tall like real deer ears and his nose and hooves are not fine, but nearly the same width as his head and legs.  Of course, this may merely be simplicity of his design. He looks a bit more like pictures I've seen of alpacas, shorn all one length, like a poodle with a puppy-cut.

He is quite darling, and just now as I smell him...  he smells like mittens, woolen mittens like my mother made.

I hope you can help me learn more about him.  Thanks so much for taking the time to read this message.

What a dear - whoops, Steiffgal meant deer - inquiry!  What we have here is Steiff's very rare and seldom seen woolen miniature Reh or deer.  Deer is is 10 cm tall and made from pumpkin colored Nomotta wool.  Nomotta is a type of high quality, alpaca-like wool which has been treated with a moth repellent product; "Nomotta" is actually a play-on-words for the German phrase, "No Moths."  This Nomotta deer has white highlights on his chest and tail, as well as spots on his back.  His face is detailed with a black nose, a simple black mouth, and black bead eyes.  His ears are made from felt.  He is flexible as he has an internal wire framework.  This tiny handful was made in 10 cm only from 1935 through 1938.   

Steiffgal's just guessing here... but given the ages of Betsey's parents, and the production timeline of their Steiff treasure -  it is possible that this deer originally served as a courtship or early marriage gift for the young couple.   

This fawn is an outstanding example of an early Steiff woolen miniature, or "woolie."  Woolies debuted in the 1931 Steiff catalog in the form of six simple birds; each item was a different color and was produced in 4 and 8 centimeters. This introduction proved extremely successful.  Almost immediately, Steiff introduced rabbits, cats, mice, mice, monkeys, ducks and other popular species - including Betsey's little deer - as woolen miniatures. The vast majority of these tiny treasures were in the 5- to 15-cm size range. Despite their small proportions, most were head jointed and/or made with internal wire frameworks for flexibility.  They also often had charming details that included tiny metal legs; felt beaks, wings and ears; colorful slippers; and head wear, including bonnets, top hats and lacy veils. Steiff produced these woolen miniatures pre-war through 1943.  (Pictured above is a photo of what Betsey's deer looked like when new; this illustration is from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Steiff Sortiment reference book.) 

Post war, Steiff began producing woolies again in 1949; resuming the manufacture of some of the more popular earlier models—like the robin, green woodpecker, finch, blue tit, sparrow and rabbit—and introducing some brand new breeds as well. Steiff also got a little creative with the woolies, manufacturing hanging mobiles made from woolies in the late 1960s through the mid ’70s.  Around the same time as the mobiles, Steiff also experimented with woolies by combining them with mohair features. Two examples of these included a 6-cm. woolie skunk with a black and white wire reinforced posable mohair tail and a 5-cm. squirrel with a brown posable tail.  Steiff woolen miniatures appeared in the catalog though the early 1980s; after that, demand decreased and it became too labor intensive and expensive to produce them. Steiff subsequently dropped them from the line.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion about this unusual woolen miniature as brought you a huge amount of happiness today.  

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

***UPDATE:  February 17, 2013***

Steiffgal received the following note and photo from Betsey:

"Dear Steiffgal,

Look at what I found in a box of pictures my sister just sent me!  Does it make you feel clairvoyant?

See what looks like 'linked pins' over my mother's left breast (frat' pin?) and then her gazing at the little center of attention beneath the Christmas tree. Seeing this picture made me feel like Indiana Jones finding the holy grail - and you were the expert/historian who created the treasure map!  I just had to share it with you." 

So it does appear that the little deer was a courtship present from Betsey's father to her mother.  A beautiful and delightful Steiff mystery solved!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Just Whoooo Is This Mysterious Steiff Owl?

Steiffgal doesn't want to sound like a bird-brain here, but just whoooo are you?  Check out this mysterious little Steiff owl.  He's got the "blues" for sure - but just in appearance and not in mood! As far as Steiffgal can tell, he does not appear in any Steiff catalog or literature.  So here's what we know about him, and what we don't.

This fine feathered friend is 10 cm tall. His face, body, and wings are made from light grey mohair and his feathers are designed from carefully cut and detailed blue-grey felt. He is unjointed, has marvelous blue airbrushed detailing on his body, huge green pupil eyes, and charming tufts of black hair on his forehead. His rear-end tail feathers are made from felt; this area is it lined in wire and is poseable. One of the remarkable things about this piece is his chubby blue-grey felt feet.

It is clear that this brainy bird is based on Steiff's beloved and standard line Uhu Wittie, or Wittie Owl. Wittie as a plaything or collectible was produced from 1954 through 1977 in four sizes: 10, 14, 22, and 35 cm.  Wittie was produced as a popular hand puppet from 1955 through 1978.  Unlike the mystery owl, Wittie was primarily tan, brown, and white, with a few green highlights.  A collection of Wittie owls is pictured above.  

Bird's the word when it comes to Steiff's owls.  The first Steiff owl made its appearance in the catalog from 1934 through 1939.  He was an 8 cm woolen miniature made from colorful Nomotta wool.  He had tiny black eyes, a felt beak and a swivel head.  His feet were made from metal.  Wittie, who debuted in 1954, was the next - and best known and loved - Steiff owl pattern.  

In the 1960's, Steiff created several "customer specials" based on its hugely popular Wittie pattern.   By "customer special", Steiffgal means an unusual custom ribbon, a felt accessory, a unique tag, or other small differentiators added to an otherwise standard item in the line. Steiff created a 10 and 13 cm blue and white version of Wittie and a 10 cm custom imprinted standard colored Wittie for the German cigar company Weisse Eule ("White Owl").  Both of these designs are documented in the Steiff records and were most likely used by Weisse Eule as gifts or incentives for the company's customers, friends, and workers. Examples of all three Weisse Eule customer special owls sold at the 2010 Steiff auction at Christie's with hammer prices ranging from 180 to 800 euros each.  These are pictured above; the photos are from the Christie's auction catalog. 

There's no need to sing the blues over this, well, blue bird.  He's clearly not Wittie, and he's not blue enough to be made for Weisse Eule, who's owl is pictured here on the left.  It is Steiffgal's best guess that he was most likely a sample of a design option for the blue Weisse Eule owl, but was never actually put into production.  So how did he make it out of Giengen?  It would not be out of character for Steiff (and Steiffgal means this in the most loving way...) to sell extras and samples to make a few dollars, and some extra room, in their inventory stockrooms.   

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of this unusual blue Steiff owl has added a little color to your day.   

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