Monday, January 28, 2013

Color Your World Beautiful With This Rare and Exotic Steiff Studio Parrot

Steiffgal's not sure what the weather's like where you are, but around these parts it's nothing but grey, grey, and grey... mixed with alot of cold!  So imagine her delight when she opened her inbox to find this SUPER COLORFUL... and tropical... Steiff inquiry awaiting! Check out this note from a reader who asks about a longstanding and life sized family treasure.  Merrill writes:

"Hello Steiffgal,

I have a large Steiff Parrot which we bought at FAO Schwarz in New York for one of my sons, some forty plus years ago.  I'm intending to sell it because he no longer has any interest in keeping it.  I am enclosing some photos I've taken so you can see what it looks like.

I have been unable to find any information on a large Steiff parrot, 34" in length, and wonder if you have ever seen it before.   It does have a Steiff button on one wing tip and you can tell from the photo that it's beak has deteriorated over the years.

I've been in contact with a person who seems to know how to go about repairing it but that is all I've been able to accomplish so far.  Were many made?  Was it done specially for FAO Schwarz?

Thank you!

Well, bird's the word when it comes to this great parrot!  What we have here is Steiff's Papagei Ara or Ara Parrot.  He is a studio, or life sized, treasure and measures 50 cm (without the tail) and about 85 cm with the tail.  He is standing made from mohair and felt.  His facial mask and beak area are made from a rubbery material which tends to disintegrate over time.  Ara came in two main colors - red or blue.  Merrill's appears to be the red version.  Ara was produced for one year only, in 1967.  You can see what Ara looked like when he was new in the photo on the left, which is taken from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Sortiment Book.

In terms of rarity, yes, this big bird is quite elusive!  Steiffgal has never actually seen one in person.  Because he was made for one year only, compounded by his complicated and detailed assembly, Steiffgal would think that very few were actually produced and sold in the mid 1960's.  He was in the general line and not an exclusive to any particular retailer.  However, it does not surprise Steiffgal that he was purchased at FAO Schwarz.  This US retailer has always had a special relationship with Steiff and has a long tradition of getting "first dibs" at the best and most outstanding Steiff inventory - like this life sized parrot!

Sadly, over time, Ara has lost his beak and part of his facial mask.  Steiffgal has seen this happen in another rare and life sized bird from 1967 - an owl.  Both beaks were made from a material which tends to dry out, crack, and disfigure over time.  Steiffgal understands and respects that some collectors are comfortable with restoration and some are not.  However, in the case of the owl, because the beak is such an integral part of the presentation, Steiffgal did recommend restoration.  You can see the before and after pictures above; the talented Martha Anderson of replaced the owl's beak with a carefully modeled and painted piece of leather.  Steiffgal would recommend the same course of action for Merrill's parrot, given how rare and majestic it is.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Merrill's parrot has added a spot of color to your day!

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

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Good Golly, It's Steiff's Early Dolly!

Oh baby!  That's exactly what Steiffgal exclaimed when she carefully opened the box from London and unwrapped the treasure it held.  Unlike most turn of last century Steiff dolls, this one was actually made for fun and play for kids.  Let's take a look at this most unusual and seldom seen early Steiff baby doll, and see what makes it so special from the design and historical perspective.

This bundle of love is actually called a "throw doll."  The doll itself is 30 cm tall, shaped like a bottle or vase, and is entirely made from felt.  She is arm jointed only.  Her face has the traditional center seam; small blue and black pupil eyes, and a touch of color on her lips.  Her hands are simply constructed but you can still see her fingers.  Her dress, which is integral to her body, is red, has short sleeves, and a red bonnet.   The dress is decorated with cream colored embroidery along the edges and the word "bebe"across the front.  She has little flat black shoes on her base, which you can see on the picture below.  When she was new, she had a little ruffle on her bonnet, a white tie under her chin, and a "Mama" tilt style working voice.  

This delicate dolly was in production from 1908 through 1921She was made in white felt, red felt, and red velvet in 30 cm only.  She was called "Baby Doll Mausi" from 1908 through 1910 and simply Dolly from 1910 onward.  It is interesting to note that Steiff also produced the identical design in white mohair and red mohair; these appeared in the line from 1913 through 1917You can see what these dolls looked like when they were new in the picture below on the left.  They are taken from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment Book.

Despite it's simple pattern, Steiff produced Dolly with a few variations.  Some seemed to have mohair wigs, others did not.   Steiffgal has even read about a smaller 25 cm version with silk arms!  The dress stitching also varied somewhat, with some dresses having elaborate embroidery around the waist, necklines, and bottoms, while others had simple lines.  Most interestingly, apparently the name across the front could be customized; in this case, "bebe" implies this Dolly may have been made for the French market.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's unusual early baby dolls has been a delightful playdate for you.

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

Friday, January 4, 2013

Make 'Em Laugh... With Steiff's Vintage Comic Strip Dolls

It's kind of funny, but Steiffgal has always had a fascination with Steiff's interpretation of famous cartoon figures. So of course she was delighted when a colleague gave her the heads up about a great group of vintage Steiff comic strip dolls coming up for auction at Theriault's January, 2013 "Stars - A Celestial Collection of Antique Dolls" three day event.  Three items in particular really caught her eye.  Let's take a look and see what makes them so interesting from the design and historical perspectives. 

Foxy Grandpa, lot #237
This first selection clearly proves it is possible to become more handsome the older you get!  Here we have Steiff's Grosspapa or Grandpa, produced from 1904 through 1915.  He is lot #237 and is described as...

"14" (36 cm.) Felt swivel head with press-modeled facial features, pronounced nose, center seam, stitched ears, black shoe-button eyes on felt pads, mohair wig, attached hat, firm ball-shaped stomach with jointed arms and legs, shaped knees, over-sized feet, wearing original sewn-on blue wool costume. Condition: fair, some fading, few moth holes, wig very sparse. Comments: depicted is the comic character "Foxy Grandpa" from the early 20th century comic series, Steiff, circa 1910. Value Points: very rare early doll by the firm, he has an early Foxy Grandpa celluloid pin and a first prize award from a 1944 doll show."

Original Foxy Grandpa comic strip from 1905, click to enlarge
And just who is this silver fox?  "Foxy Grandpa," a US cartoon series introduced in 1900, was penned by Carl E. Schultze.  It ran through the 1930's.  The strip told of the (mis)adventures of a grandfather and his two grandsons.  You can see an example of the strip above.  Steiff also manufactured the two grandchildren as dolls in the overall 1904 through 1924 time frame.  Steiff produced Foxy Grandpa with both a velvet face and a felt face, but the velvet face is much rarer.  According to Steiff records, both versions had a press voice box hidden under Grandpa's felt hat.  In 1996, Steiff reproduced Foxy Grandpa as a replica in an edition size of 1,200.

Barney Google and Spark Plug, lot #235
It's time to hit the ground running with our next cartoon highlight.  Here we have Barney Google and Spark Plug, his faithful racehorse.  The pair was produced from 1925 through 1927.  They comprise lot #235 and are described as...

"5" (13 cm.) 5"(13 cm.) Barney, 8"l. Spark Plug. The set comprises stockinette Barney with press-shaped and painted features, prominent nose, large felt eye whites with black bead eyes, whiskers, armature padded body, wearing original purple vest and blue jacket, shoes and hat, plaid cotton pants; along with Spark Plug, who has grey mohair coat with sparsely-inset yarn mane, bead eyes on felt pads, felt tongue and feet, harness, and yellow felt blanket with patches and printed Spark Plug name. Condition: generally excellent, bright fresh colors, few moth holes on blanket. Marks: Copyright 1923-1924 by King Features Synd, Inc. DeBeck (muslin pad on one foot) Steiff (silver button in ear). Comments: Steiff, Germany, the set was issued in 1925-1927 only, and according to company archives only 615 sets were sold. Value Points: very rare Steiff comic character set is well-preserved and delightful."

Here's more about this (sort of) dynamic duo.  Barney Google, penned by artist Billy DeBeck, debuted in the Hearst Newspapers in 1919.  Barney was a silly, bumbling little man who seemed to find even the simplest things complicated. In 1922, DeBeck gave Barney a new companion, a race horse named Spark Plug; a few years later they were joined by an ostrich named Rudy.  Barney Google was so popular that he inspired the 1923 hit tune "Barney Google (with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)," as well as the 1923 record, "Come On, Spark Plug!"  You can listen to the song above by pressing on the white arrow in the middle of the record.  In addition to this Barney/Spark Plug set, Steiff also produced several Barney Google themed pull toys on wooden during this same period.  Rudy was made as a sample, but never put into widescale production.  

And just how rare are Steiff Barney Google themed items?  Steiff was asked to set up an exhibit of incredible rarities at the FAO Schwarz store in New York City in honor of the retailer's 150th anniversary in August, 2012.  From the archives, Steiff sent over a Barney Google and Spark Plug on wheels  - along with things like the earliest rod bear, an original hot water bottle Teddy, and a turn of last century tumbling bear.  So even Steiff considers these characters quite legendary!

Happy Hooligan, lot #232
Let's move happily along to our third and final Steiff cartoon auction highlight.  Here we have Steiff's Hoolygan or Happy Hooligan, produced from 1904 through 1927.  He is lot #232 and is described as...

"14" (36 cm.) Firmly-stuffed felt character with egg-shaped head having center-seam, shoe-button eyes, caricature face, upturned nose, stitched-on ears, red attached cap, big plump red felt stomach with painted circle designs, green felt jointed arms and jacket, and long spindly jointed legs with patched knees and over-sized leather feet. Condition: good, some shelf dustiness, few moth holes. Comments: Steiff, from their premiere series of character dolls, representing the popular comic strip character of Happy Hooligan, circa 1910. Value Points: delightful character exactly captures the beloved figure from the comic series."

Original Happy Hooligan comic strip from 1904, click to enlarge
Steiffgal's happy to tell you more about this rare comic character Happy, who is actually usually unhappy, was penned by popular and prolific writer Frederick Bur Opper and introduced in 1900.  According to the artist, Happy is "a sad, smiling victim of wayward children and heartless adults... and a direct ancestor of (Charlie) Chaplin's "little man"."  He and his two brothers, Montmorency and Gloomy Gus, were Irish tramps who traveled across Europe.  They were sometimes joined by two Frenchmen named Alphonse and Gaston.  Steiff produced a 35 cm version of Alphonse from 1904 through 1928 and a 50 cm version of Gaston from 1904 through 1927.  Steiff records also show that these Frenchmen were also produced as pantom or marionette style puppets on roller skates.  Like Foxy Grandpa, Happy Hooligan also had a press voice box hidden under his red felt hat.

Steiffgal hopes this review of Theriault's cartoon doll auction highlights has been as delightful as reading the Sunday newspaper comic section!

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