Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's All Luck When It Comes To Steiff's Earliest Black Open Mouthed Tom Cats

There's no bad luck when it comes to collecting Steiff, even when things don't work out exactly as you had hoped! Recently, Steiffgal just stumbled across a very interesting item on the online auction site, eBay. The item was titled "Vintage Halloween Stuffed Black Cat Toy Arched Back Erect Tail."  Out of curiosity, she clicked on the photo to learn more, and was pretty much blown away over what she saw listed.  Can you guess what this item was?

It is most likely that this item is on every vintage collector's "meow mix!"  The listing for this cat exactly read... "We are offering a Halloween Black Cat with original red ribbon (faded) around neck with small brass bell. Stitched pink mouth  Plastic green eyes with black pupils. Height to top of arched back approx. 6"; height to tip of erect tail approx. 9"; front to back where tail begins approx. approx. 3 3/4".

Yes, all of this is exactly true - but for one major omission!  In Steiffgal's best estimate and based on the photos in the listing, the item was most likely Steiff's original OPEN MOUTHED Kater, or velvet Tom Cat, dating from as early as 1903!  

...And because the item didn't have an ear button, and perhaps never did, it could have been made in 1903 - a full year before the first "elephant" style ear buttons debuted on Steiff items in 1904! 

Just what makes this black beauty the cat's meow? The original Tom Cat was produced in both black and white velvet. Both versions were very skinny, standing on all fours, unjointed, and had arched backs and open mouths (like they were screeching or yawning). They all left the factory in Giengen, Germany wearing a silk ribbon and bell. Black Tom cats were produced in 10, 14, and 17 cm from 1903 through 1918. White Tom cats were produced in 14 and 17 cm for three years only - from 1906 through 1908 - and are exceptionally rare. Steiffgal has never actually seen an early white velvet Tom Cat.  

So you are probably wondering... did Steiffgal place the final bid on this Kater?  No, it appears that another bidder used a bit of auction "black magic" and was victorious only by a few dollars.  Such is life, you can't win 'em all.  

But here's the silver (button) lining for this cat tail (oops, tale!) While researching the eBay listing for the early Tom Cat, Steiffgal came across this photo - here on the left - of these same black cats from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment Book.  Notice anything unusual about the larger cat in the photo?  He has a Steiff button IN HIS TAIL in addition to the one in his ear! How cool is that?  It is most likely a "muster" button, which was used very early on by Steiff on items considered samples, evolving designs, or prototypes. In general, the button indicated that the item was Steiff property and was not intended for sale or distribution.  "Muster" translates loosely from German to English as "pattern" and in a sense, these "muster" items were just that.  It is most unusual to find early Steiff items with buttons as well as muster buttons today.

Steiffgal hopes this Tom Cat auction adventure has been a pleasant paws in your day.

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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Steiff Dog Puzzle Of Olympic Proportions

In the mood for a little Steiff puzzler?  Than take a look at this mysterious wooden Steiff dog!  Steiffgal just had the pleasure of welcoming him into her Steiff hug, but does admit he is really quite different than most things typically produced by the Steiff company these days.  So let's give this a real Olympic effort and learn about his world-class history and background.

It's easy to color your world with this 17 piece standing Steiff puzzle pup.  What we have here is called "Olympic Waldi," and was made by Steiff in 1971 through 1972.  Waldi came in this size only (officially 15 cm) and was packaged in a white cardboard box with a partially "see through" top. Waldi was manufactured in honor of the 1972 Olympics in Munich; this darling dachshund was the official mascot of these games.  

No need to jump through rings for the details of this colorful canine.  Waldi is 5.5" tall and 15" long back to front, including his long curved tail. He is made from solid wood; his body is joined together by one long green plastic straw; his head and ears are attached via this same simple joining technique. A close up of his construction is pictured to the left. He is brightly and happily colored with a teal head and tail; cornflower blue ears and rear; lime green chest; and rings (a loose interpretation of the Olympic rings) of yellow, green, teal and orange around his belly. His face is detailed with plain, simple black dot eyes.  In terms of ID, Waldi somewhat surprisingly does not have a Steiff button, or any Steiff branding at all, in his ear.  On one side of his chest is a white Steiff bear faced logo with the word "Spielzeug" (translates from the German to "toy") and on the other side the official logo of the 1972 Olympic games, a geometric spiral, and the Olympic rings.

Olympic Waldi was one of two "official" items the company produced for the 1972 Olympic games.  Steiff also made a 9" tall and 17" long version of Olympic Waldi in dralon, a synthetic plush material that was very common on Steiff play animals of the time. Dralon Olympic Waldi is pictured here on the left along with Wooden Olympic Waldi for comparison.  As you can see, both dogs are about the same length, from nose to tail.  However, Dralon Waldi is almost twice as tall as Wooden Waldi.

The two dogs have other obvious, and not so obvious, differences as well. The dralon model has simple black button eyes, a hand embroidered nose and mouth, and is hard stuffed with excelsior.  Dralon Olympic Waldi shares somewhat similar coloration as his cousin Wooden Olympic Waldi.  However, unlike Wooden Olympic Wally, Dralon Olympic Waldi does indeed have "traditional" Steiff branding, including a button, yellow ear flag, and chest tag.  Dralon Olympic Waldi also has an additional ID—an official two-sided blue hangtag. The front has the Olympic rings and the overall logo from the 1972 games, while the back has the words “Das offizielle Maskottchen der olympischen Spiele 1972 in Munchen” and the Steiff logo. The German translates roughly to “The official mascot of the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.”  The blue tag from the dralon version is pictured here on the left.

Why wood - er, would - the company make a wooden Olympic mascot when they are best known for their plush and mohair creations?  Steiff actually also has a lesser known, albeit very long and robust history of creating wooden items and toys. The first wooden items appeared around 1910 and were mostly accessories for the Teddy bears, animals, and dolls in the line.  Then in the late 19-teens and early 1920's, Steiff began producing large numbers of wooden items - in part because mohair and other softer materials were in short supply post World War l.  These treasures included block sets; wooden characters on rocking bases and wooden wheels; building sets; trains; pull wagons; and animal-themed wagons - including designs based on popular characters of the time.  (The photo on the left, from Steiff superfans Jenny and Will Frankhouser, shows great examples of early Steiff wooden toys including a go cart, scooter, and pull wagon.) Post war, wooden toys became much less prominent in the line; animal pull toys were manufactured through the 1970's but their designs were far less detailed and interesting than their pre-war cousins. Wooden Olympic Waldi, produced in the early 1970's, was perhaps the last item of note in this long run of wooden toy production.

The first modern Olympics were held in 1896 in Greece. However, it wasn’t until 1968 that the games had “official mascots” such as Waldi. Waldi was designed by Otto Aicher, a German graphic artist, who also designed the overall branding and wayfinding signs for the athletes around Munich’s Olympic village. You can read all about his great Olympic design work here.  Aicher chose the dachshund, which is quite popular across Germany, as he felt the breed represented the attributes required for athletes—resistance, tenacity and agility. It is an interesting coincidence that dachshunds were also a favorite among early members of the Steiff family, including Richard Steiff.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Olympic Waldi dogs has been worthy of a gold medal for you.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Take Note Of These Two Tiny But Hugely Interesting Steiff Treasures

Sometimes the tiniest discoveries can have big and wonderful stories behind them.  Check out the tale behind this pair of petite and precious Steiff prizes!  Robin from the northeast shares...

"After a bit of online conversation and negotiation, I purchased a palm-sized, turn of last century, five ways jointed white mohair Steiff bear from a contact in Germany.  She was selling the cub on behalf of an older lady friend.  

I was delighted with the purchase and assured the seller that the bear would feel right at home in my Steiff collection here in the US.  
Much to my surprise, when the bear did arrive from overseas, I noticed he was packed with a travel companion - the absolutely smallest Steiff woolen miniature I could ever imagine!  Even though the tiny woolie did not have a button, it was clearly made by Steiff. 

Please take a look at the bear and the tiny woolie and let me know what you think.  I have included the letter that accompanied both the bear and the woolie from Germany."   

It is really important to note - no pun intended - the wonderful information included on Robin's note in order to truly appreciate these precious items.  The document itself is an oversized postcard, with writing on the backside and a kitchen scene from an old fashioned German miniature dollhouse - complete with tiny beer steins - on the front. 

The illustration is pictured above; the actual letter exactly reads:

"Hello and gradulations for the ddy.  The old lady says thank you and has a gift for you - a little bird, which has a green head and a yellow body, it's a own creation, because this woman has worked at Steiff in the 1970e years.  These work was at home.  Steiff has brought a lot of wool heads and wool bodies in five different colors and beaks and wings, the women made all together to a little bird.  But sometimes one head was too much in one color and a body in another color, so there are new creations for their own children, not authorized by Steiff.  The little white bear was her companion since over 80 years, but she didn't play with him, her mother has said to her:  "She play with the eyes." There were other time.... have good years with the bear,  Heiner"

There is so much to talk about here, so let's get started first with the Teddy bear.  This popular, classic, and beloved example is about 8 cm standing, although his "official" Steiff measurement is 10 cm. (Because of the handmade nature of Steiff products, and given the effects of time, it has been Steiffgal's observation that the actual measurements and the listed measurements of early Steiff products may vary as much as 20% +/-.) Robin's Ted is five ways jointed and made from white mohair. He has tiny black eyes and a simple brown hand embroidered nose and mouth.  He has a particularly adorable and pouty expression, as well as a slightly upturned nose. He holds a tiny baby rattle; this is darling and appropriate but not original to him. This Steiff bear pattern was produced in light blond, light brown, and white over time from 1905 through 1933 in 10, 15, 18, 22, 25, 30, 32, 35, 40, 46, 50, 60, 70, and 115 cm. Given the bear's long trailing "f" button and the fact he was owned for more than 80 years by the same person, dates him roughly to the late 1920's or so.  

This bear is looking pretty good for a plaything getting pretty close to the century mark.  And why might that be?  According to his note, his original owner was not allowed to play with him, only admire him from afar as a precious collectible.   

Now let's take flight and talk about the woolen miniature.  What we have here, Steiffgal believes, is a Steiff hummingbird.  This bug-sized bird 3 cm and made from dark green, light green, yellow, and white wool fibers.  He is detailed with felt eyes and a plastic beak; his wings and back tail feathers are made from a very thin textured plastic.  He is suspended from a hair-thick clear monofilament fiber.  This design appeared overall in the Steiff catalog from 1969 through 1978; either as a single bird (complete with a pin feature so he could be worn as a fashion accessory) or as four bird mobile suspended from a clear monofilament string.  These birds did not have a Steiff button for size and logistical reasons; as a mobile, the button was attached to the top of the hanging/display apparatus.  Steiff's hummingbirds appeared in red, blue, yellow, orange, and green. 

It's easy to hum a happy tune when it comes to the legacy behind Robin's hummingbird.  It is clear that this design was in production during the same time that the hummingbird's owner worked for the company - in the 1970's.  It is also interesting that the note calls out that the owner was a home-worker for Steiff, a tradition the company has held since before the turn of LAST century!  But what really confirms the authenticity - and the charm - surrounding the hummingbird is this from the note... "But sometimes one head was too much in one color and a body in another color, so there are new creations for their own children, not authorized by Steiff."  Steiffgal thinks that this is the case here - with the bird being somewhat "mismatched" with a green head and a yellow and white body - and not falling into the Steiff standard for a green bird or a yellow bird.  Perhaps this piece was "rejected" by Steiff and the home worker was able to keep it for herself and her family.  Now that's one cool "work perk!"

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Robin's two tiny treasures has been hugely entertaining and interesting for you!

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

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Longing For More Information On This Early Steiff Novelty Dog

Steiffgal bets its a long shot that you've ever seen anything like this before!  Take a look - a long look -  at this wonderful, early Steiff dog... isn't he just marvelous?  This comical canine belongs to a collector in the Midwest who seems to specialize in delightful Steiff rarities.  Brad writes over a series of communications...


Attached are some photos of the Ueberdax. 

He is approx. 14.5 inches long if you straighten his tail which is quite fragile as you can see. He is made of brown velvet and is filled with what seems like cotton batting or some other soft material. He is soft when you squeeze him, not crunchy like he's filled with wood shavings. 

He has a few minor issues.  His tail is split in two places and looks to have been maybe reattached at some point.  He also has a small split in the velvet on one side of his face and some worn areas on his velvet coat, but that is to be expected. Also not sure if he had more stitching on his nose. 

The button was hard to photograph.  It is very small but I think you can make out the style and probably date him. You would have a better idea of his age based on the button than I would.  

Thanks for your help!


Steiffgal is over the moon, in overdrive, and willing to go overboard to tell you about this Steiff Ueberdax or "overdachshund!" What we have here indeed is Steiff's extremely long and narrow caricatured dachshund.   He is standing, unjointed, and made from brown velvet.  His face is detailed with early black shoebutton eyes and a simple hand embroidered nose and mouth.  From Brad's description, it appears that he is stuffed with kapok, an organic cotton-like material obtained from the seed pods of a tropical tree.  Steiff used this stuffing as a light and fluffy alternative to excelsior at the turn of last century.  

Steiff produced these long lovelies overall from 1903 through 1921.  They were produced in three sizes in brown velvet, two sizes in black and yellow velvet, and as a 22 cm "Buerstendax" or Brush-Dax.  This brush version had the body of the brown velvet dax as part of a clothing brush - perhaps the early version of a lint brush!  The tiny Steiff button Brad describes was in use from about 1906 to 1925; this helps date his piece to the approximately 1906 through 1916 time frame.  You can see this button here on the left, along with tiny traces of his early white ear tag. 

It is interesting to note that the models on all fours were cataloged as 8, 12, and 14 cm.  Clearly, they were much, much bigger (or at least longer!) than that!  The sizes in this case refer to their height from the top of their heads to the ground.  For example, the 8cm version is actually about 21 cm long.  However, the Buerstendax was cataloged at 22 cm, clearly referring to the item's length.  Ah, the never ending mysteries of the company we know and love... 

Dachshunds are an early blue ribbon favorite in the Steiff catalog, and for good reason.  Apparently the Steiff family themselves loved this particular breed, and always had a few (or more!) underfoot.  This comical doxie pattern was designed by Richard Steiff as a novelty and was based on his own beloved companion named Walle.   Dachshunds are great hunting dogs and Richard and Walle spent many happy hours together in the fields and forests around the Giengen, Germany area.  This very vintage design was brought into the collector's spotlight a few years ago when a fine example was sold for around $7,200 at the annual Steiff Sommer Festival auction.  As a follow up to the excitement generated by the transaction,   Steiff produced both a 22 and 60 cm long replica version (pictured here on the left) of Richard's black and gold Ueberdax in 2005; in 2006 this was followed up with a 22 cm long replica version of his brown velvet Brush-Dax.  

Long story short, Steiffgal hopes you've really enjoyed this discussion of Brad's Ueberdax!

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's All Cheers For This Fantastic And Extremely Rare Early Steiff Puppy

Cheers! A toast to great Steiff finds... where ever they are discovered! And nothing could be truer in the case of this exceptionally rare Steiff dog that Steiffgal found in the sales room of the 2013 United Federation of Doll Club's annual convention in Washington, DC! Let's take a look at this "Dom Perignon" calibre canine and see what makes him so spectacular from the design and historical perspectives.

Please raise a glass to Cheerio, "the laughing puppy." Like Molly the Puppy, Cheerio does not have a designated breed, he is simply a young dog.  This totally adorable example is 17 cm, begging, and made from mohair.  He is chunky, proportioned like a toddler, and head jointed only.   Cheerio has three black hand embroidered claws on each of his hands and feet.  Of course, it is impossible to miss his beaming open-mouthed smile which is made from pink velvet.  It is most probable that Cheerio's pink felt tongue is a replacement.  This Cheerio is wearing a vintage silk bandana imprinted with an American flag; this is so as he was "adopted" into Steiffgal's collection in our nation's capital city.

It is interesting to note that Cheerio is one of the earliest open mouthed dog Steiff produced.  The first appears to be an open mouthed poodle on wheels which was in the line from 1912 through 1919.  This open mouth feature is relatively uncommon in early Steiff dogs.  However, it is also noted on some Bully Dogs, German Shepherds, and Arctic Expedition Dogs from the early 1930's as well as Flock and Tino from the mid 1930's through the early 1940's. 

In addition to his smile, Cheerio's round, oversized head has a number of interesting design details that are typical to his time of production. His ears are relatively small and "folded over" and he has enormous brown and black glass pupil eyes, similar to those features on Molly the Puppy. Other Cheerio models have very large blue and black cartoon eyes - the same ones used on Petsy the Baby Bear. Cheerio's eyes are in eye pockets, analogous to those seen on Jocko the Chimp and Treff the Bloodhound. And, his prominent tongue, more friendly than taunting, is also seen on Steiff's other caricatured and cartoon strip inspired dogs including Pip, Mops, and Putzi.

Despite his winning looks and personality, Cheerio only brought good will to the Steiff line for a handful of years.  Steiffgal's Cheerio is the begging version; he was produced in 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1928 though 1931.   Begging Cheerio was also made as a press and release music pup in 22 and 28 cm from 1928 through 1930.  Cheerio was also manufactured standing on all fours in 10, 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1928 through 1932.  Standing Cheerio also appeared as a press and release music box in 17 and 22 cm from 1928 through 1930. He is pictured here on the left and sold for close to $5,000 at Christie's in 2010.  Perhaps the rarest Cheerio is "Cheerioette", the long limbed velvet bodied "Charleston animal" that was produced in 30 and 43 cm from 1928 through 1931.  

Cheerio has a fascinating history that is well documented in the Steiff archives.  Cheerio is actually Steiff's version of Bonzo, who was a very popular cartoon character created in 1911 by George Studdy.  Steiff was very interested in creating their own version of Bonzo, and had a very strong and successful record of working with other companies and artists in bringing their characters to life.   Good examples of this include projects with Disney (Mickey and Minnie Mouse), Billy DeBeck (Barney Google), and Pat Sullivan (Felix the Cat).  In the case of Bonzo, Studdy himself was solely in charge of granting licences and approvals to use his characters.  In about 1927, Steiff created a version of Bonzo, but Studdy did not like it at all.  This Bonzo is pictured here on the left; it sold in 2010 for almost $26,000 at Christie's.  According to company records, Studdy described the samples as "vulgar" and rejected them offhand, and gave the licence to the English company Chad Valley instead.  Paul Steiff, who was in charge of the project, apparently wrote, "We can't and don't wish to make an exact replica of Bonzo" on the rejection note.  The company then went on to create Cheerio in the likeness of Bonzo, and registered the design in 1929.  

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion around Steiff's wonderful Cheerio has brought a big smile to your face today!

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