Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting A Handle on Steiff's Handbags

Steiffgal must take this reader's inquiry quite purse-sonally, but in the best way possible.  Take a look at this note from Juliet, who asks about a recent addition to her collection - a little bulldog that doubles as a handbag. Could it have been made by Steiff?  She writes in part...

"Dear Steiffgal,

This looks like a Steiff Bulldog face.  
I can't find any info on this item.  
Did Steiff ever make child's handbags? 

Best regards, 

Steiffgal's got this one in the bag.  Yes, Steiff has a long history of making handbags.  In most cases, they were not designed specifically for children, but their diminutive size does suggest that they were designed to hold few or very small things!  As far as Steiffgal can tell, the first Steiff purses, or "handtasche" were produced starting in 1927.  These earliest bags were actually based on Steiff's most popular designs of the time, and included beloved characters including Jocko the Chimp (pictured here on the left, sold for $890 at the 2010 Steiff Auction at Christie's in London), Petsy the blue eyed baby bear, Bully the bulldog, and Molly the puppy.  Items were sitting or standing, but in either case, were modified to have a hollow back pocket to hold purse-related items.  This pocket was lined in silk or velvet, and closed with a zipper.  In some cases the zipper had a pull, in others it had a circular round handle.  As time went on, Steiff added additional characters to its purse line, including Strupp the foxterrier, Treff the bloodhound, and even Pip, the cartoon dog, as late as 1941.  Steiff's early mohair character purses ranged in sizes from 17 to 29 cm overall. 

Steiff's purse line re-emerged in the late 1970's with a series of flat woven fur items.   These included a Teddy bear face in 12 and 26 cm, a little rabbit face bag in 26 cm (pictured here on the left), and a special edition Lake Placid Olympics raccoon souvenir purse in 18 cm.  Then, in the late 1980's, Steiff launched a new series of woven fur animal purses.  This introduction included a Teddy bear, panda bear, rabbit, and dog - all 17 cm heads - and a mouse, fish, owl, and hedgehog - all in full 18 cm body.  Since 1996, Steiff has also produced small plush animal faced handbags in the forms a Teddy bear, elephant, cow, cat, frog, and pig.  Steiff has not done much recently with handbags; the company's most recent purse creation was done in 2005 and was a replica of the 1927 through 1940 mohair Charly handbag.

Now, getting back to Juliet about her bulldog bag.  Although this is a charming and interesting treasure, Steiffgal does not believe he was made by Steiff.  A photo of Steiff's standing Bully purse, which was produced in 22, 23, 28, and 29 cm in black and white or sandy tan mohair from 1927 through 1934, is pictured here on the left for comparison.  The illustration is from Gunter Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.  Steiffgal does think, however, that Juliet's bulldog bag was most likely produced around the same time as Steiff's model, and may even be based in part on his design.  

Steiffgal hopes you now have a handle on the history of Steiff's wonderful handbag production.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Every House Needs A Steiff Mouse!

There's no mousing around when it comes to solving Steiff mysteries!  And here is an interesting one that appears to come from the United Kingdom.  Take a look at this inquiry from Sarah, who wants to know more about her larger-than-life Steiff mouse.  She writes in part....


I really enjoyed reading your web page... and I thought that maybe I'd finally found someone who could answer my question.

I have a large (30 cm) Cosy Fiep Mouse. He's bright yellow and was probably purchased from Harrod's sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's.  His ear tag number is 5388/30.

Here's my confusion. When I look him up on any reference site his tag says he's meant to be green. I've tried time and time again to find any reference to a yellow mouse but I've failed.  And, the
more I look into my mouse, the more it appears he wasn't meant to be this colour. I'm wondering if it was a factory error... or a sample... or... I don't know!

Best regards,

Steiff's Fiep mouse in grey
Mice can be nice, and this is big buddy is certainly proof of that.  What we have here is Steiff's Cosy Fiep Maus or Mouse.  A grey version of Fiep is pictured here on the left. Steiff uses the word "cosy" to describe a product that is soft, well constructed, and in general made as a child's plaything.  Fiep is simply constructed from plush; he has an oversized body and a long tail.  His face is detailed with a large black plush nose and black button eyes.  His ears are lined in contrasting colored soft fur.  This particular design was in the line overall from 1980 through 2003.  He was produced in 15, 30, 45, and 80 cm and appeared in white, grey, blue, violet, olive green, golden yellow, aubergine (which is like eggplant), and yellowish olive green over time.  This general design was also produced as a 15 cm musical mouse in red or white from 1985 through 1996.

Let's clear up any big confusion on this little guy.  Steiff has made thousands and thousands of items since the company's founding in the late 1800's.  And it is impossible for any website or reference book, or even official records to capture every single item in every single color and size.  And that probably is the reason for Sarah's confusion over the color and tag number of her mouse.  However, this item, with tag number 5388/30, IS noted (but not pictured) in the 1947-2003 Steiff Sortiment book, and is briefly described as "a 30 cm golden yellow Fiep mouse, produced from 1986 through 1988." If he were olive green, his tag number would be 5392/30.  

Although most collectors don't want REAL mice in their homes, few can resist including a few mice in their Steiff hugs.  They take up very little space, are adorable, and are great for adding a bit of humor and interest to displays and holiday vignettes.  Mice have been part of the Steiff line since the debut catalog in 1892.  The earliest Steiff mice were 4 cm, on all fours, and made from grey or white felt.  This same design was also produced on a colored felt pad as a pin cushion or an ink pen wiper.  Mice were also produced as 4 cm woolen miniatures in grey, white, and brown from 1931 through 1943; and again in grey and white from 1949 through 1984. The picture to the left shows two examples of Steiff's woolen miniature mice:  the white one is post-war while the grey one is pre-war.   

Perhaps the most beloved and collectible Steiff mouse is Pieps, who appeared in the line from 1958 through 1978.  Pieps is 8 cm, made from mohair, and begging; he came in white and grey.  His petite and precious details include a long felt tail, tiny black or red eyes, prominent whiskers, and a precious, "feed me" look.  During the 1970's, the high end toy store FAO Schwarz would dress up Steiff's Pieps mouse in wonderful and imaginative costumes, including a bride, princess, clown, hula dancer, and Miss America, among many others.  These dressed mice are highly desired amongst collectors.  Today, groups of Pieps are regularly featured in the delightful streetside windows of the fantastic Spielzeug Welten Museum in Basel, Switzerland - where they are dressed to the nines to complement the story theme of the museum's seasonal displays.  The photo on the left shows a detail of the museum's Christmas display (featuring Pieps!) from a few years ago.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff mice has been more than nice!

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

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saddling Up To A Mysterious Steiff Pony On Wheels

Hold your horses... and take a look at this terrific Steiff wheeled wonder! A reader is curious to learn more about a significant addition to her Steiff hug. Melissa writes:

Melissa's pony, side view
"Dear Steiffgal:

I have a very large Steiff horse on wheels that is tagged in the ear with a yellow tag with the number 1356 C or it could be 1358 C. The last number is hard to read. On his leg is a tag that says U.S. Zone.

He is very big, about 27" to the shoulder or about 34" to the top of his head. He is made of gold mohair with a blond mane and tail. The wheels are blue. He wears an elaborate wooden saddle.

The lady I purchased him from had lots of gorgeous dolls and animals that were purchased for her and her sister in the 1950's. I have not been able to track down such a large horse. Any information would be greatly appreciated.


Original Steiff Reit Pony, photo from Gunter Pfeiffer
This inquiry is quite the barn burner!  What Melissa clearly has here is a Reit Pony or Riding Pony from the very early 1950's.  Reit Pony is hard stuffed with excelsior and is mounted on metal disc wheels with rubber tires.  He has an interior metal frame for security and stability.  Pony is detailed with a long mane and tail; authentic saddle, reins, and stirrups; and a happy, open, felt lined mouth.  He really is an adorable barnyard buddy!  According to reference books, this design was produced overall in 42, 43, 49, 50, 60, 80, and 100 cm from 1949 through 1970 in white mohair with brown spots (pictured here on the left) and brown mohair.  But wait, Melissa says hers is blond.  What's going on here?  

Melissa's pony, front view
Don't worry, this is not a case of "pony baloney."  Timing is everything, and the timeline for this item probably holds the answer to this mystery.  Let's first take a look at the yellow tag number, which is 1356 C or 1358 C.  This is a bit unusual, as it doesn't really fall into any convention.   However, it is important to note that the article numbers for Steiff's early Reit Ponies all start with 13.  And that the series number for early post war horses was 56.  Now, what's most interesting here is the letter "c."  According to company information, from 1947 through 1958, the use of the letter "c" on a yellow ear tag would indicate that the item was originally caramel in color.  Given how close some shades of caramel and blond are, and how colors fade and change over time, it is very possible that this pony was more caramel then blond when he left the factory in Giengen almost 60 years ago.  

So, care to bet on the results of this horse race?  It is Steiffgal's best educated guess that Melissa's pony is a caramel version of Steiff's standard line Reit Pony from around 1950. It is quite clear that this example was made in the 1950 through 1953 time zone, if you line up his IDs and possible dates of manufacture.  During this time, Steiff experimented with many themes and variations of successful products, so it would not be out of the question that they tried a caramel version of their usually brown and white, or all brown, riding pony.  And what about his size, which is usually reflected in the ear tag - but not in this case?  Steiff usually measures these sorts of items height-wise.  So, if he truly measures 34" head to toe (wheels not included), this pretty pony is most likely the 80 cm version.  It is also Steiffgal's opinion that his reins and possibly his saddle are original; but his blue stirrups, red handle, and wooden seat were not made by Steiff.

Steiffgal hopes that you have enjoyed saddling up to this great Steiff horse mystery. 

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

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Steiff's Very Own Baby Boomer Bears

Anyone out there need a Teddy hug? Chances are, if you are reading this blog, your answer is a resounding YES! It goes without saying that Steiffgal loves Steiff's remarkable bears. But did you know that some of her favorite models are not all that terribly old - from the 1950’s and early 1960’s? The Baby Boomer Bears!  During these decades, Steiff experienced a really breakthrough period in terms of creativity. And why was this? The company was just about back on its feet after the war, its global distribution infrastructure was improving, and collectors and enthusiasts were demanding – and purchasing – playful and innovative new items. Let's take a look at some Steiff bears from this fertile time frame and see what makes them so special from the design and collector’s perspectives.

This first Steiff "Baby Boomer" bear is one tall drink of water. Zolac is five ways jointed and 40 cm tall, with his legs claiming about half that height! His head and body are made from shaggy caramel tipped mohair, while his feet, hands, and bib are detailed with apricot colored mohair. He has an open felt lined mouth, brown pupil eyes, and a hand stitched nose. Zolac is the hybrid of two very well know Steiff legacy designs – the shaggy “Zotty” bear pattern introduced in 1951, and the “lulac” style introduced in 1952. Zolac was only made from 1964 through 1966.

Our next fine furry friend is one of the hardest to find and most desirable post WWll Steiff bears produced. His name is Zooby Zoo Bear; he is 28 cm and head and arm jointed. He is made from tan mohair and has brown mohair feet. Zooby has brown and black pupil eyes, a shorter mohair muzzle, a brown embroidered nose, and an open peach felt lined mouth. His claws are made from white felt. He is self-standing; the soles of his feet are made from a brown leather-like material. Zooby was only made in 1964 and 1966. From a historical perspective, Zooby’s design is based somewhat on Steiff’s pre-war Zirkus-Baer or Circus Bear, a 32 cm standing bear produced from 1935 through 1939.

Now it is time to check out the bear many collector's consider to be Steiff's "First Lady." Here we have two fine examples of Steiff's Jackie bear design - one in 17 cm and one in 25 cm.  These beauties are five ways jointed and made from blond mohair. Their faces are detailed with brown and black pupil eyes and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. All Jackie bears have peach colored felt paw and foot pads, and a distinctly "portly" appearance: a short, stocky body; chunky, minimally curved limbs; and no breaks indicating their wrists. In terms of Steiff ID, every Jackie was labeled with a "raised script" style Steiff button, yellow ear flag, made in the US Zone tag, and special chest tag that read "Jackie Jubilee-Teddy 1903 - 50 - 1953. Overall, this pattern was produced in 17, 25, 35, and 75 cm from 1953 through 1955 only. 

It's easy to get blinded by the light - or in this case the white - when it comes to our next Baby Boomer bear design. Here we have a pair of Steiff's most unusual, and most desirable white Zotty bears. They are five ways jointed and made from very shaggy white mohair. Each has a peach colored mohair bib, peach felt paw pads, and a happy, smiling felt lined 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, these white wonders were only produced in 1960 and 1961 in 28 and 35 cm. 

And finally, although technically not a "bear," most collectors welcome Steiff's Koala bears with great enthusiasm into their hugs.   This particular example is 35 cm and made from tan and light tan mohair. He is five ways jointed and has mohair hands and feet that are quite detailed, with full digits noted. His chubby legs curve outward, and he almost looks to be in a yoga position as he sits. His face is detailed with black and brown pupil eyes, an open, felt lined mouth, and an inlaid grey felt nose. This pattern was made in 12 22, and 35 cm from 1955 though 1961; the smallest one is somewhat common, but the 22 and 35 cm versions are considered quite rare and desirable from the collector’s perspective. This was the first koala bear ever produced by Steiff.

Steiffgal hopes that this review of some of Steiff's Baby Boomer bears has brought you to a happy and peaceful place.

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

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