Friday, March 29, 2013

An Easter Interview With Steiff's Beloved Niki Rabbit

Who's your best Easter-beaster?  That one Steiff rabbit that simply takes your breath away, makes you smile, or even brings back many happy childhood memories?  For many Steiff enthusiasts, that would have to be Steiff's beloved Niki, who just happened to stop by the Steiffgal studios for a chat today in honor of the upcoming Easter holiday.  Here's what he had to say!

Steiffgal:  Niki, thank you for dropping by today.  Clearly, given the holiday weekend, its a very busy time for you.

Niki:  Yes, its the busiest time for sure!  But I just wanted to thank all the Steiff fans out there for their interest and support over all these years.  Steiff introduced my pattern in 1951... 62 years ago... and I have never stopped feeling the love.  My family and I really appreciate that!

Steiffgal:  It's safe to say that your design was so popular that it multiplied like jackrabbits.  Tell us about that.  

Niki:  It is true that our original design and range in the Steiff line was "hare-raising."  Some people even consider Niki rabbits to be one of the most beloved and collectible postwar Steiff patterns ever produced!  I cannot argue with that.  All of my relatives were made from tan or light grey mohair, had oversized brown and black pupil eyes, pink hand-embroidered triangular noses, and felt foot paw pads. We all also had really big feet - better to hop with, I guess.  Larger Niki rabbits had mohair-lined ears and an open, peach-colored felt mouth, while the smallest Niki rabbits had pink velvet lined ears and a closed mouth, indicated by black embroidery. Overall, my family was produced by Steiff in 1951 through 1964 in 14, 17, 22, 28, and 35 cm.

Steiffgal:  Steiff rabbits are a classic Steiff design, so much that they are given their very own chapter in Gunther Pfeiffer’s “Steiff Sortiment” books.  It is also no surprise that rabbits appeared in the first printed Steiff catalog; interestingly, at least seven different rabbit designs were featured in this debut issue of 1892! Given all that history, you had mighty big legacy shoes to fill.

Niki:  Yes, but we all jumped for joy at the challenge.  Steiff gave Niki rabbits three really unique features that all but insured our blue-ribbon bunny status with collectors. 

  • The first is that we are all five ways jointed. This is exceptionally rare for Steiff rabbits. The vast majority of vintage Steiff rabbits are not jointed or simply head jointed. Five-way jointing is labor intensive and, in turn, quite expensive from a production standpoint. 
  • The second is that the larger Niki rabbits have open mouths. As far as my family-tree research reveals, we are the very first Steiff rabbits to be produced with an open mouth.  This, of course, makes eating carrots much easier.  
  • And third, we have a distinct playfulness that is quite reflective of the era in which we were designed - the very early 1950's. 
Steiffgal:  Niki, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.  And good luck preparing for Easter - but we are all sure you will do an egg-cellent job!

Niki:  Thank you.  Here's wishing everyone a 14 carrot gold holiday!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Check Out This Most Eccentric Early Monkey On Wheels

Whatever you're doing, put on the brakes and take a look at this most interesting Steiff inquiry!  Check out this note from Melanie, who asks about a very vintage monkey who really knows how to rock and roll - literally!  Through a series of communications, she writes...


I ran into your website while researching a monkey we came across. You have a monkey on your website that is almost exactly like our monkey. Our monkey measures 6 1/2" long, 2 1/2" wide, and 3" high, but he was more than likely taller at one point because his legs are bent down now. 

There is not button in his ear, but there is a hole where one would have been. The monkey is sewn on to the carriage.  The stitches holding him to it look to be original. The color of the thread matches his material. He is in rough shape, but we think he is still very special :) What can you tell us about him?  Thank you for your help in advance!


Felt Monkey on Wheels, photo from Gunter Pfeiffer
Steiffgal's not clowning around when she says that this monkey design is not only made by Steiff, it is also one of the company's oldest primate patterns.  This unjointed, brown felt monkey was introduced in the line in 1894, just two years after Steiff launched its first catalog in 1892.  His details include a light tan insert facial mask area, black button eyes backed in white felt, and a long, playful tail.  In 1912, his pattern was updated with a little neck ruff and clown's hat.  This general monkey design was produced freestanding in 8, 12, 14, and 17 cm from 1894 through 1927; as a 17 cm tumbler on a wooden half globe from 1894 through 1917; in 22 cm as part of a skittles set from 1892 through 1898; in 17 and 22 cm on a full carriage with four wooden eccentric wheels from 1912 through 1929 (pictured to the left); in 12 cm on a wiwag carriage from 1922 through 1927; and as a decorative pin for a coat or jacket from 1913 through 1919.

Now let's move the conversation to his wheeled status.  This pull toy's configuration is unusual for two key reasons.   

1.  First, despite an extensive search through many reference books, Steiffgal could not find this particular monkey mounted directly onto wheels.  According to published information, the "standard" brown felt monkey is mounted on a carriage, and then onto wheels, as noted above.

2.  Second, again after much research, Steiffgal could not find any reference to these exact wheels, with well defined and dimensional center axles and "rims."   Steiff's wooden wheels traditionally are very simple without decoration.  What is particularly interesting about these wheels is that despite the obvious central point on the wheels, he is intentionally mounted off center so he rolls in Steiff's beloved "eccentric" fashion.  

So can any of this information be rolled into a definitive conclusion about this piece?  Well, yes and no.  

First, the monkey.  Steiffgal believes indeed that this monkey was made by Steiff.  Given it has a ruff and hat, it was made from 1912 onward; eccentric wheels also became a standard feature in the line from 1912 onward.  With all that, Steiffgal believes that this monkey was most likely made in the 1912 through 1914 or so time frame. 

Now the wheels.  There is precedent to attach smaller early felt items directly to eccentric wheels; please click here to go to a post on a Steiff "rolling rabbit" with this design. However, the actual wheels on this clown monkey are not conventional.  This could be for a number of reasons.  An earlier owner of this piece could have replaced the wooden wheels after the original set wore out; the wheels look slightly less aged than does the monkey rider.  The piece could also have been an early Steiff prototype for this design, using a set of wheels the company might have just had on hand (yes, this DOES happen.) Steiff may have produced this model with this wheel style, albeit in a very, very limited number. Or, there may be another reason altogether!  Only the monkey knows for sure!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this early rolling Steiff clown monkey has been a barrel of laughs for you.

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

No Lying, Here Are Some Perfect Steiff Pint-Sized Easter Treats

What's the most important treat the Easter bunny can deliver... candy or a Steiff treasure?  Well, Steiffgal would be fibbing if she said she didn't really love sweets, almost as much as Steiff!  And both are essential in the perfect Easter basket.  Here are three tiny vintage "lying style" treats that are perfect for a Steiff lover's Easter basket... that also leave plenty of space for chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and other seasonal goodies. 

Wouldn't ewe just love to curl up with this first featured friend?  Here we have a very sweet example of Steiff's relatively hard to find lying Lamm or lamb. This little handful is all of 10 cm, curled up, unjointed, and made from white wool plush. She has green and black glass slit pupil eyes and a simple hand embroidered nose and mouth. When she left the factory in Germany, she was detailed with a baby blue silk ribbon and a brass bell.  This pattern was made in 10 and 14 cm from 1954 through 1955 and then again in 1966 through 1972 in 25 cm.  It is interesting to note that on this particular example, her chest tag has the name "Lamby" on it, although she appears in the reference books simply as Lamb.

Our next barnyard basket buddy just may get your goat - with his cuteness, that is!  Here we have Steiff's Ziege or goat.  He is 10 cm, lying, and made from tan mohair that has been nicely highlighted with darker tan airbrushing on his body, legs, and face.  Goat's ears and the underside of his tail are made from peach colored felt.  His face is detailed with green and black slit pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and just a touch of red around his lips.  Goat retains his original colorful bear faced chest tag, salmon colored silk ribbon, and bitty brass bell.  This design was made in 10 and 14 cm from 1954 through 1956 only, and is considered relatively rare.  Like his sister Lamb discussed above, it is interesting to note that on this particular example, goat's chest tag has the name "Zicky" on it, although he appears in the reference books simply as Ziege.

Of course, rabbits are the perfect Easter accessory, so this last selection should put everyone "at ease."  Here we have Steiff’s 6 cm Lieg Hase, or Lying Rabbit. And by “lying,” Steiffgal means “outstretched,” not “dishonest.” This rabbit is reclining and made from mohair. She is head jointed and has quite a prominent “tail end.” Her ears are lined in pink velvet and she has a pink, hand-embroidered nose; black lips, and clear monofilament whiskers. Probably her most eye-catching feature is her outstanding black and white google-style peepers! This basking bunny was made in 6, 9, and 12 cm from 1953 through 1970.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on little lying Steiff Easter-themed treasures has been a breath of spring air for you.

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

Friday, March 8, 2013

Steiff's Perfect Vintage Easter Rabbit

Hippity, hoppity, Easter's on its way!  What wonderful words, given the cold and snowy winter we've all experienced here in the Northeast.  In just a few weeks, we can all hope for a visit from the Easter rabbit, with a basket or two full of goodies in tow.  But have you ever imagined what this most famous Easter "hare-binger" actually looks like?  Steiffgal has... and here's what she came up with!

If this beautiful bunny doesn't put a little spring in your step, Steiffgal's not sure what would!  What we have here is Steiff's Hase or Rabbit.  She measures 26 cm head to toe, and 33 cm ear-tips to toe.  She is begging, head jointed, and has a non-working squeaker in her belly.  She is entirely made from white mohair, including the lining of her ears. Her charming face is detailed with a simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, clear monofilament whiskers, and over sized pink and red albino style glass eyes.  Surprisingly, she does not have any hand or foot claw stitching.  Hase's Steiff ID includes a long trailing "f" Steiff button and remains of her red ear tag.  Her large pink silk ribbon is not original to her, but suits her perfectly! 

According to Steiff records, this particular model was made from 1927 through 1941 in 11, 15, 18, 23, 29, 36, 44, 50, and 70 cm.  (It is not 100% clear which size this bunny under discussion falls as she is a little tall, or a little short to standard; this happens alot given the hand-made nature of early Steiff treasures.)  Hase came in light brown, white, gold, purple pink, and light blue mohair.  Steiff also made this same popular pattern in velvet from 1927 through 1932 in 11, 15, and 18 cm in white, purple, orange, light brown, light blue, pink, and yellow.  All models left the factory with a pastel colored silk ribbon and a bell.  

It is hard not to take notice of this rabbit's large and unusual eyes.  Steiff started using glass pupil eyes on their Teddy bears, animals, and dolls in the early 19-teens when manufacturing and distribution processes made it economically feasible to do so. The company soon started experimenting with different glass eye color combinations and even sizes to give their products a unique, or authentic, touch.  For example, early Steiff cats often had hazel or greenish-blue slit glass pupil eyes, much like real cats. Some novelty items, like Petsy the Baby Bear, Bonzo, and Cheerio, had deep blue and black glass pupil eyes.   This gave them a "special" quality.  Many dogs launched in the 1920's through the early 1930's had larger brown and black pupil eyes to suggest a wide-eyed and youthful innocence.  These would include Molly, Bully, and Charly, just to name a few.  And then of course there is this albino rabbit, with his delightful red and pink pupil glass eyes - clearly a "focal point" of his marvelous design.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on her perfect Steiff Easter Rabbit is sweeter than a big box of marshmallow Peeps - and far more healthy!

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

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sit And Stay And Check Out This Fabulous Early Steiff Bulldog

Steiffgal's just going to have to take the bully pulpit here in reference to one of her latest finds.  Always on the lookout for the next great discovery, Steiffgal was floored to spot this delightful doggie on eBay with the most reasonable "buy it now" price.  She didn't think twice before hitting the purchase button... and is she ever glad she did!  Let's take a look at this beautiful Bully and see what makes him so special from a design and historical perspective. 

Bully's Collar and Closure
It's time to sit and stay and check out this 17 cm Steiff bulldog.  Bully is sitting, head jointed, and made from black and white mohair. His face and muzzle area are tan velvet, which has darkened a little over time. His ears are lined in wire and are poseable. Bully has very large brown and black glass pupil eyes and a black, hand-embroidered nose.  He has black hand embroidered claws on his four paws. Most remarkably, Bully retains his original and traditional horsehair collar.  This is made from a long, thin strip of material which is doubled over width-wise; the horsehair fibers are sewn in between the faces of the material.  The collar is held together with a little knot under Bully's chin, and is finished off with a little brass bell.  A close up of the collar's construction is pictured here on the left. The horsehair collar was a typical accessory of the 1920s and indicated a "regal" nature of the item wearing it.  In terms of Steiff ID, this pooch is blue ribbon all around, he has his long trailing “ff” style Steiff button and his crisp, fully legible red ear tag which reads "Steiff Original geschutzt 3317 Made in Germany."

Bully's Ear Tag and Button
Steiff introduced Bully to the world in 1927 and he was an instant sensation. He was modeled on the French Bulldog—the “it” companion of those in the know all across Europe at the time. Like this bulldog under discussion today, all Steiff Bully dogs  were head jointed, had large brown and black glass pupil eyes, a hand-embroidered black nose and a simple snout and jaw constructed to give him his requisite jowls. Most were black and white or orange and white, but a rare blue-and-white version was also produced. Bully was made in velvet and mohair, as well as sitting and standing, in sizes ranging from 10 to 50 centimeters. 

11 cm Bully on a Pincushion, c. 1928-29
Like most popular Steiff patterns, Bully's basic design was integrated into many product variations.  Bully was produced as a pincushion, music box, dog-doll, nightdress bag, and even a puppet, among other product line extensions.  Today, these Bully product line extension characters are of great interest to collectors; a fantastic 11 cm orange and white Bully on a mohair pincushion was a highlight at the 2013 March Teddy Dorado Steiff auction.  This fantastic example is pictured here on the left.  The original Bully appeared in the Steiff catalog through 1939; today, this precious pooch is one of the most universally desirable and sought-after pre-war Steiff designs among collectors.  He has been replicated numerous times over the past few decades - most recently as a 750 piece Worldwide edition in 14 cm in black and tan velvet in 2012.  Even these newer models are coveted by enthusiasts all over the world.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Bully dogs has been worthy of a blue ribbon for you.

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