Saturday, December 27, 2014

Time Travelling Steiff Auction Highlights - Part 1!

Nothing is better than studying precious Steiff items in person, but that is not always possible for many reasons. A great - and budget friendly - way to learn about exceptional button-in-ear rarities is through auction catalogs. In addition to collecting vintage Steiff, you probably won't be surprising to learn that Steiffgal also collects auction catalogs, both for entertainment and research purposes. Most recently, she spent just a few dollars on a relatively vintage catalog from 1998. A picture of the catalog's cover is featured here on the left. The auction was held on Saturday, April 25, 1998 in Germany; the auctioneer was Horst Poestgens. Little did she know how many treasures the catalog featured! Here are three highlights from this long-ago sale; in next week's blog she will describe three more. Steiffgal is certain that they will make you want to turn the clock back to 1998 as well!
This first auction highlight is truly an original! This lot, #33, is cataloged as... "Original Teddy, Steiff, circa 1905/06, button in ear, grey mohair (type Richard Steiff-Teddy), black shoe button eyes, black embroidered nose and claws (missing on left paw), expertly restored hole in felt on left paw, growler defect, long bent arms, expressive humped back, pointed muzzle, Teddy has no mohair loss, good condition, an interesting collector' item, standing size: 35 cm/14"."

 And - given that he is as described -  just what makes this such an incredibly rare bear? His color, construction, and proportions suggest he is one of the absolute earliest disk jointed bears created by the company. And it is quite possible that Richard Steiff himself directly had a hand in bringing him to life! Steiffgal once read that Richard Steiff made his early prototype bears in grey mohair as that was the color of material at hand - and that the grey mohair was originally purchased for the manufacture of elephants. She has not been able to confirm that through other sources, but the theory would make sense from the logistics and R&D perspectives. According to the Cieslik's Button in Ear book, in reference to these early grey bears, "Only two examples of the bear are known to have been made in gray plush. It is possible that this color was used for a few hand made samples and not for an actual series."

Steiffgal thinks this second auction highlight deserves a "best of show" nod as well! This lot, #38, is cataloged as... "Wolf Pomeranian, Steiff, 1930's, button in ear and remains of red woven tag, long mohair white, white short mohair lower legs, inner ears and mouth, standing, turnable head, painted back glass eyes, black embroidered nose and claws, punch growler, dog in mint condition, standing size: 30 cm/12"."

Steiff has a very long history of manufacturing Spitz or Pomeranian dogs, but this example is truly in a class by itself! And that is because Steiffgal can't find any reference to it at all in the standard Steiff reference materials. His larger size, oversized eyes, and his facial/muzzle construction are quite distinct from the company's other Spitz models from 1902 through the mid-1940's time frame. His long mohair forehead and sweet expression give him a youthful, innocent look; one that was quite prevalent in Steiff designs of the late 1920's. Because he does indeed have traces of his red ear tag, it is entirely possible that he was designed and produced at the same time as the beloved - and childlike - Teddy Clown, Teddy Baby, Bully, and Molly models.

Today's last auction highlight is pretty as a postcard. Literally! This lot, #66, is simply cataloged as... "Original Steiff postcard with Steiff felt dolls, motive, Dutch village, 1912, very good condition, very rare."

Steiff's wonderful dolls, bears, and animals have always been as attractive in print as they are in real life. Steiff has used this to their advantage in terms of advertising, marketing, and promotions from about the early 19-teens onward. The company's charming center-seamed felt "children" and "student" dolls were used in many classic photo shoots including circuses, skiing vignettes, cultural and "small town" local settings, toy rooms, Christmas celebrations, and other playful and imaginative displays. These shots were intended as illustrations for catalogs and postcards, among other printed items. (If this is of interest to you, check out the book Advertising Art of Steiff Teddy Bears & Playthings by Dottie Ayers and Donna Harrison. It features many of these beloved images and is one of Steiffgal's favorites.)

The postcard itself is delightful in so many ways - the theme, layout, composition, and attention to lifelike detail are simply charming and universally appealing. However, on a more personal note, Steiffgal noticed that the card also features two Dutch children dolls that she has in her own personal collection - Alida and Harry, who are pictured here on the left. Alida, who is featured in the front and relative center with a boy and a rabbit on the postcard, was made from 1909 through 1919 in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm. She is described as "felt, jointed, Dutchwoman, original costume, Sunday best." Harry, pictured in the left of the postcard talking to another boy, was made from 1908 through 1925 in 28, 35, 43, 50, and 60 cm. He is described as "felt, jointed, Dutch fisherman, original costume." By "original costume" Steiff means that the dolls are dressed in apparel that is traditional to a country - in this case, the Netherlands. And by "Sunday best", that would imply "fancier" clothing for going to Church on Sunday, which makes sense in the case of Alida given her elaborately embroidered dress bodice and red cuffs.

Steiffgal hopes this review of some long-ago auction highlights has been as fun as a time travel adventure!  And be on the lookout for more additional highlights from this great catalog in next week's blog edition!

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here's A Steiff-y Holiday Pug Hug, Just For You!

Are you in the mood for a Steiff-y holiday hug? Or even better, a Steiff-y holiday pug hug? Of course you are! Then check out this most unusual Steiff dog doll that will certainly warm your heart. He's certainly got Steiffgal's all a-flutter!

This darling dressed doggy is none other than Steiff's Pupphund or pug dog doll. He is 22 cm, standing, and head jointed. His arms hang softly at his sides, and he has flat feet for standing. Pug's head, ears, and the tops of his hands and feet are (or in this case were) made from mohair. His body is made from a tan linen fabric. He is filled both with soft stuffing and crunchy excelsior. His head and face come to life with floppy ears, oversized black and brown glass pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, a pink mouth, and a distinct brown inset muzzle area. He retains his large, long trailing f button and traces of his red ear tag as his Steiff IDs.  

According to Coco Chanel, “Fashion changes, but style endures.” Such is the case with our sweet pup pal. He is dressed to the nines in brown cotton pants, a tan checked shirt, and a light grey-blue felt tam-o-shanter style hat which is "topped off" with a pom-pom. His shirt and pants are original to him, but it is not clear if his hat is. It is of Steiff quality and design and fits him quite well; Steiffgal simply has not ever seen another one like it. Pupphund was made in 14, 22, and 28 cm from 1932 through 1935 only. Each size came in six different clothing styles, which included pyjamas, swimsuits, dresses, and play suits.  You can see another one of Puggy's outfits here on the left, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.  

Take a good look at Pupphund's pug-mug. It is quite unusual and as far as Steiffgal can tell, this doll pattern is the only item produced by Steiff with this basic design. Steiff often made their charming characters in a number of "theme and variation" ways. For example, many popular and now legacy 1920's and 1930's era designs were often produced as puppets, in sitting and standing versions, as music boxes, in different colors, as handbags, night dress bags, or other novelties. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case with this pug design - which is too bad for collectors today! 

 So how did this pug doll pattern come about? There are few clues here to work with. Steiff produced two different pre-war pugs; a grey standing mohair version on wheels from 1916 through 1927, and a caricatured blond and white mohair pug from 1925 through 1927. However, Pupphund really does not share any characteristics with either of these items. The only design element this pug dog doll does seem to share with any other Steiff dogs of its period is its distinctive pink mouth stitching. This can also be seen on Steiff's Ball Chin Chin, a 15 cm novelty which was produced from 1932 through 1935 as well. Ball Chin Chin is pictured on the left for your review; the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.  

As you can see from the photo to the left, the resemblance between Steiff's pug dog doll and real pugs is absolutely striking! 

Steiffgal hopes this conversation on this rare and darling Steiff dog doll has made you feel as snug as a pug in a zebra striped rug!  And happy holidays to all the Steiff fans out there.  Your readership and friendship are most appreciated! 

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Perfect Stocking Stuffers... Early Steiff Woolen Miniatures!

One of Steiffgal's favorite things about this time of year is what her nephews call the "big socks," or Christmas stockings. After all, what's more fun that an oversized piece of faux hosiery filled to the brim with sweets and gifts?  So this got Steiffgal thinking - what would be perfect Steiff stocking stuffers?  Maybe the company's early woolen miniatures or "woolies?"  After all, they don't take up too much room, wrap easily, have a fantastic legacy, and truly capture the precious nature of the season! So let's check out these three very vintage "tiny treasures" to really get into the spirit of the holidays!

Bird's the word with this first pre-war Steiff woolie stocking stuffer.  This mellow yellow fellow is Steiff's Golden Bunting bird.  He is 8 cm, head jointed, and made from yellow, tan, brown, and olive green woolen yarns.  He stands upon metal legs that have been painted brown.  His tail feathers are made from brown felt, and his beak is made from orange felt.  He has tiny black button eyes.  Yellow Bunting wears his Steiff button and tag like a bracelet around his leg.  He never had a chest tag.

This golden oldie was produced in 4 and 8 cm from 1934 through 1943.  Around the same time period, Steiff also made woolie Robins, Green Woodpeckers, Finches, Blue Tits, and Sparrows.  Like the Golden Bunting, all were made in 4 and 8 cm and had very similar construction.  Only their yarn colors differentiated from species to species.  You can see several of the 4 cm versions of these other birds - and also the 8 cm Golden Bunting - in the picture on the left.  It is interesting to note that Steiff reintroduced all their 4 and 8 cm Robin, Green Woodpecker, Finch, Blue Tit, and Sparrow models right after the factory reopened for toy-making business in the late 1940's.  However, the Golden Bunting version, for some mystery reason, never appeared in the line after 1943.

Steiffgal's just quackers over this second woolie Steiff stocking stuffer.  Here we have a little 4 cm Steiff duck.  His body, head, and backside pom-pom are made from yellow woolen yarn.  His decorative head pom-pom is made from white woolen yarn.  His large, friendly beak and oversized feet and legs are made from orange felt.  His face is detailed with black bead eyes and a touch of orange airbrushing.  His button and tag, which have been lost to time, would have been on one of his feet.

This darling woolie duck was made in only this size and color combination from 1931 through 1941.  For the most part, pre-war Steiff woolie birds were designed to stand on metal legs, so this lying duck is somewhat unusual in terms of form and presentation.  

Not a creature was stirring - except for this mouse!  This final Steiff woolie stocking stuffer is not only insanely adorable, but also extremely seasonally appropriate!  This is Steiff's woolie mouse in felt slippers.  He is 9 cm, standing, head jointed, and made from white and orange woolen yarn.  His head and lower body are white, while his midsection is orange.  His hands and ears are made from single thick felt.  His legs are made from grey metal which has been painted light pink.  His little slippers are made from single thick orange felt and literally "slip on" his feet.  His tiny face comes to life with red bead eyes, a touch of pink to indicate his nose and mouth, and a few clear monofilament whiskers.  When he was a younger man - eh, mouse - he had a long matching tail.  He retains his tiny short trailing f Steiff button in his ear.
This petite treat was made in from 1936 through 1942 in this size only.  He also came in several other color combinations, including grey and red and brown and yellow.   Steiff also made several other standing woolie models with tiny felt slippers around this same time period; these included birds, rabbits, ladybugs, beetles, and bumblebees. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's tiny pre-war woolies has gotten you excited for the holidays in a mighty big way.

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Just Who Is This Remarkable And Rare Steiff Rodent?

In the mood for a little Steiff puzzler?  Then check out this mysterious forest friend who's keeping very, very quiet abut his identity. Does he look familiar to you?  As far as Steiffgal can tell, he does not appear in any of the standard Steiff reference books.  But, he did squirrel away a little clue about himself many years ago in a most clever way. But more about that in a bit.  But first, take a look and see what you think!
What is the tale behind this rare rodent?  Here we have a 22 cm, begging Steiff sweetheart.  He is made from shorter tan mohair and is unjointed.  His hands are made from double thick felt.  His prominent tail is made from very long, wavy mohair.  He is expertly hand airbrushed all over with tan, brown, orange, and black highlights.  His adorable face is highlighted with over-sized black eyes, a simple black hand embroidered nose and mouth, clear monofilament whiskers, and single sided mohair ears. 

His IDs help just a bit in identifying him.  He retains all of his original Steiff IDs including a large colorful bear faced chest tag, his raised script button, and yellow ear tag with the article number 2029/02.  This combination of IDs suggest he was made no later than 1969.  However, his actual article number doesn't translate into anything that actually describes him or his size.  This is possible because in 1968, Steiff started to give each item its own unique number, rather than relying on its traditional numbering system that had alot of redundancies to it. 

So just who is this guy?  Given his configuration, detailing, and era, is possible that he could be a squirrel, a chipmunk, or a marmot. Steiff has a legacy of creating all of these fuzzy friends, and they share many similar general characteristics.  These include body position (begging); double thick felt hands and/or feet; large and fluffy tails; and eager faces detailed with oversized eyes and whiskers. 

It took an international effort to crack this nut - oops, case!  Thanks to a tip from Steiff Super fan Alaina Russell from Canada, it appears that this example appeared in the FAO Schwarz toy catalog in 1968-1969, and is indeed a sensational squirrel! His picture appears here on the left.  It is interesting to see that he is grouped with another field and forest friend, Dormy the Edible dormouse.  

The squirrel's FAO Schwarz catalog description reads as follows...
"Tame and friendly, this begging grey squirrel in soft plush, has a long bushy tail and looks very natural. 7-1/2" tall. Ship wt. 2 lbs. $6.95"

It is not possible to tell from the information at hand if he was produced exclusively for FAO Schwarz or not.  However, regardless of his manufacturing status, it is clear that he is quite rare and was produced in extremely small numbers overall.  Have you ever seen another one?  He really is fabulous!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the mystery FAO Schwarz squirrel has left you bright eyed and bushy tailed.

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Rolling Towards The Holidays With This Great Steiff Spitz Dog On Wheels

Ever feel like howling in excitement upon a wonderful Steiff find? Even if just in your mind? Well, that just happened to Steiffgal when this delightful Wolfspitz on wheels arrived on her doorstep last week! Take a look at this dynamic dog and see what makes him so interesting from the design and product development perspectives.

This vintage pup is the wheel-deal indeed. Wolfspitz measures 20 cm from head to toe and 22 cm including his wheels, measured vertically. He is standing, unjointed, and made from tan mohair. His body and tail are made from long wavy mohair, while his face, ears, and legs are made from matching short mohair. He has very distinctive black hand embroidered claws on his paws, and a full and very prominent tail. He has distinctive mohair "feathering" construction on his front legs; this is pictured here on the left. His somewhat serious face is detailed with black and brown glass pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and traces of black airbrush highlighting. He rides upon four red wooden eccentric wheels.  

So how old is this pup, in dog years or otherwise? He retains his short trailing "f" button and traces of his yellow year tag. Given this utterly charming pattern was made in this size only from 1934 through 1943; his combination of IDs suggest he was produced in the 1936 to 1943 time frame.

Spitz, or Pomeranian dogs, are legacy patterns for Steiff. They appeared as early as 1902 in the Steiff line. The earliest Steiff Spitz dogs were produced in felt and mohair. This is most interesting from the historical perspective. And why is this? Felt was Steiff's first toy making fabric, and mohair became available on a commercially viable scale in 1903. Thus, early Spitz dogs truly embody the "old" and "new" material ways of manufacturing at Steiff!

These earliest Spitz dogs were produced in many configurations, including on wheels, sitting, fully jointed, and on a pincushion. They were made from long white curly mohair, with white felt faces, ears, and legs. All had black shoe button eyes and embroidered facial features. Most also left the factory in Giengen with a red cord with two pom-poms or tassels around his neck, giving them a “regal” appearance. The breed does have some connections to German royalty, which may explain why Steiff decorated them like “little kings.” The felt and mohair Spitz dogs appeared in the line in general through the 1920s.  A typical early Steiff Spitz is pictured here on the left; the photo is from Christie's.

Except for one all mohair, 17 cm model produced from 1924 through 1927, it was not until the mid 1930's that the company focused again on Spitz dogs. In 1934, Steiff launched a series of very expressive, all mohair tan colored Spitz dogs. These included a standing version (produced in 22 and 35 cm); a sitting version (produced in 17, 21, 22, and 25 cm) and the 22 cm version on wheels, the topic of this post. At the same time, the company also introduced two new all white Zwergspitz, or Miniature Pomeranians. These included a standing model (produced in 15, 18, and 23 cm) and a 20 cm sitting version. (An example of a lovely white Zwergspitz dog is pictured here on the left, the photo is from Teddy Dorado.) All appeared in the line through 1943, when Steiff ceased toy production due to war constraints and political realities. 

It is interesting to note that despite their popularity and longevity in the line, Steiff did not produce a standard line mohair Spitz after the factory reopened for business after the war in the late 1940's.  More recent Spitz dogs include a 22 cm white dralon "Cosy Spitz Blanko" from 1960 through 1973; a 30 cm woven fur model produced in black, white, or red-brown from 1980 through 1983; and a 60 cm mohair standing display "Polar Pomeranian" dog, produced in 1960 and then again in 1967.

So what's in a name?  According to Wikipedia, the Wolfspitz breed name was formally changed to "Keeshond," in 1926 in England. The breed is described as having "a lion like ruff, spectacles, small and dark triangular ears, definite contrast, and a thick double coat." All of these characteristics truly describe Steiff's Spitz dogs from the very beginning! 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's lovely Spitz dogs has been a warm and fuzzy experience for you.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's On Your Steiff Holiday Wish List?

What's on your holiday wish list? A wonderful vintage Steiff Teddy bear, perhaps? You are certainly not alone there! Well, the timing couldn't be better for vintage Teddy Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa shopping with the upcoming Teddy Bear sale at SAS (Special Auction Services) in London, England.  On December 4th, 2014, the auction house is selling 102 fabulous Teddy bears from Steiff Superfan Jena Pang, including some remarkable and very rare examples. Steiffgal checked in with friend and SAS auctioneer Daniel Agnew to learn more about what is certain to be a great auction to top off the 2014 Steiff sales year.

Steiffgal:  What was your first reaction when Jena contacted you about selling the bears?

Daniel Agnew:  I have known Jena and his wonderful collection for a number of years, almost as long as he has been collecting. I thought he was joking when he asked me to come and see the bears again for a potential sale. How could anyone part with these bears? He had to keep reminding me to come and see him. I eventually went down and then we discussed his collection, and the logistics of the auction process, and I was back a few days later picking them up! 

Steiffgal:  What was the process to get the bears from Jena's collection to your business? How long in advance before the auction did you need them in-house?

 Daniel:  This was a very unusual circumstance, once Jena had decided to sell, he wanted an auction this year. I was virtually on deadline for my 6th November auction, so after some pondering we decided to do a double catalogue, with the 6th November one half and Jena's auction the other. I literally had to collect and catalogue the sale in a few weeks. Normally we close 8 weeks before the auction. I live an hour south of London, Jena lives an hour to the east of London and Special Auction Services is about an hour west of London, so it took some managing to get it collected. 

Steiffgal: Cataloging is a really important part of the auction process. How did you (and your team, if that was the case) go about cataloging the bears? How long did it take? Where was it done? 

Daniel:  I catalogue on my own; this is done at SAS in Newbury. I also had Jena's insurance valuation document which we had prepared a few years ago. So I could pad out the antique bear descriptions in the comfort of home, also Jena had extra information that he prepared. It was fun to put it together, but would have been a bit less stressful if we had a bit longer than a couple of weeks to get it all done. 

Steiffgal:  Getting the photography right is key for creating a memorable auction catalog.  Can you explain to the Steifflife readers how you go about photographing the bears for the catalog?

Daniel:  We have a new photographer and I am a very fussy specialist when it comes to bear photography. So, we did several test shots and then I have to set the bear up, so we get that important eye contact. The bear has to speak to you from the pages of the catalogue. That bear needs to be saying, "please, take me home."  And, the image has to be suitable for the printed catalogue and the on-line catalogue. 

Steiffgal:  You have been in the auction and vintage toy world for many years.  How is this auction similar, and atypical, to other toy and plush auctions you have conducted in the past?

Daniel:  It's a fairly unique auction. Jena's collection has at its core 27 exceptional Steiff Teddy Bears, then there are a few other antique bears by different makers. Jena also had a selection of artist bears and limited edition collectors bears, which makes up the rest of the auction. It's a total of 102 lots, which is small for one of my auctions, but it's perfectly formed and we will be all home in good time for dinner!

Steiffgal:  Of the bears up for offer, which are your top three favorites, and why?

Daniel:  How can you ask me to choose three! I want them all. OK, after looking through the catalogue again, and again. I can easily chose my favourite; Lot 1014, Constantine. When I first saw this bear, he simply took my breath away. A huge, chunky, centre-seam, blank button, 1905, 28 inches, and a stunner.  For a bear which is almost 110 years old, he is in exception condition. If I had a spare £10,000 lying around, I would snap him up.  

I have about five second favourites, but I think I'm going to plump for Lot 1016, Winston Howitz. I like this bear because he is a cinnamon, I have a white and a golden mohair Steiff bear, which are smaller than this one, so he would be a nice addition to my collection, but the most intriguing thing about Winston, is that he has a 'Howitz' name tag under his arm, the sort of tag that is sewn into your school clothes (does/did this use to happen in US?). When Jena bought this bear, nobody had realised this was there, but I find it fascinating to think who this person was, that owned this beautiful bear.

For my final choice, I could chose any of the other antique Steiff bears, but I'm going to go for something different and completely different to my normal taste. Lot 1091, a Stier Bear made by artist Kathleen Wallace, he is called Harmony and is a Pierrot/clown bear. I just love his colours.

Steiffgal:  Thank you so much for giving us a peek at the inner workings of this great upcoming Steiff sales event!  Best of luck you! 

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

It's The Best Of All Worlds With This Vintage Steiff Bear Doll

Who deserves a standing ovation? Why, this precious Steiff Puppbaer or Doll bear, of course! Steiffgal admits to having a huge plush crush on this bitty boy, a recent addition to her Teddy hug. Not only is he totally adorable, he also has a bit of a mystery to him. But more on that later. Let's first take a look and see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

This Teddy Baby doll is truly the best of all worlds. He has the head of the beloved Steiff Teddy baby design, the body of a doll, and a charming, well fitting outfit made from period fabrics. He stands about 22 cm tall, is head jointed, and has dangling arms. His head, hands, and the tops of his flat feet are made from light yellow woolen plush. His body and limbs are made from a flesh colored fabric with a somewhat velvety finish. His face is detailed with brown and black glass pupil eyes, a brown hand embroidered nose, and a smiling, tan felt lined mouth. He wears green trousers and a red and white calico shirt - which are original to him - and a tiny old fashioned brass basketball charm around his neck, which is not. Overall, this model was made in 14, 22, and 28 cm from 1931 through 1943.

It is interesting to note that over his production period, Steiff's Teddy Baby doll was dressed in about 11 various outfits.  This particular example is in outfit #8, which is documented simply as, "green trousers, red blouse." Outfit #8 was manufactured from 1935 through 1942.

Although Steiff produced dressed animals, especially monkeys, bears, and rabbits, since the turn of last century, it was not until the late 1920's that the company produced a true animal doll such as the Teddy Baby under discussion here. In 1929, Steiff introduced a Pupp-Bully, Charly, and Treff. All were 28 cm and only remained in the line through 1930. Between 1931 and 1932, Steiff debuted a number of animal dolls, including a cat (pictured here on the left), duck, pug dog, and a boy and girl rabbit couple. And like the Teddy Baby doll, all were made in 14, 22, and 28 cm and appeared in a number of different outfits over time. In the mid to late 1930’s, Steiff would go on to produced a delightful series of additional pupp-animals including an elephant doll, Waldi the Dachshund as a hunter, Scotty the Terrier as a Scotsman, and Arco the German Shepherd as a farmer. However, due to supply restrictions and geopolitical realities, production on all of these doll models ceased by 1943. 

Once the factory reopened for toy production at the end of WWII, Steiff briefly resumed their manufacturing of their “pupp-animals.” In 1949, a pair of fully dressed, 25 cm wool-plush Teddy Baby dolls appeared in the line; these were quickly followed with the introduction of a pair of 25 cm blond and brown mohair dressed Teddy Baby dolls in the early and mid 1950’s. Steiff continued the production of their pre-war pair of boy-girl rabbit dolls but renamed the set Hansili in 1954. They also extended this doll animal line to include two additional models of rabbit pairs, a Dachshund doll boy and girl set (pictured here on the left), and a fox doll boy and girl set. Overall, all of these sets were discontinued by the early 1960s, probably due to their highly detailed, labor-intensive and costly production requirements.
Ok, so perhaps you are wondering by now what is so mysterious about this little Teddy Baby doll. When Steiffgal was doing a close inspection on him, she noticed something entirely unexpected. He has a US Zone tag sewn into his leg seam. But that would suggest a production date in the c. 1947 to 1953 time frame. So what's going on here? Only Teddy knows for sure, but here are a two scenarios:
  1. It is entirely possible that he was produced in the late 1930's or early 1940's, put in storage during the war, pulled out after the war, labeled, and sold in the late 1940's to early 1950's.
  2. It is also entirely possible that he was indeed made as part of the early post war production. As noted above, the literature documents that Steiff did produce a 25 cm wool plush Teddy Baby doll from 1949 through 1950. Perhaps Steiff also made a few of them in 22 cm at the time as well.
Either way, given the US Zone tag, Steiffgal is all but certain he did not leave Giengen until at least 1947, and that his "birthdate" is somewhere in the 1935 to 1950 time frame. Unfortunately, Ted's primary IDs have been lost to time. However, given his documentation and look and feel, Steiffgal suspects that originally he had either a short trailing F button, a blank button, or a raised script button.

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion on this precious Steiff Teddy Baby Doll has been as enjoyable as child's play for you!

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Live From New York - It's The First Ever North American Steiff Teddy Bear Making Workshop!

Here's a question for you. Do you know how long it actually takes to make a Steiff Teddy bear from start to finish? The answer might surprise you... usually in the 8 to 9 HOUR range! Can you believe it? Well, Steiffgal wouldn't have either... until last weekend when she participated in the first ever North American Steiff Teddy bear making workshop in New York City. The workshop, which was arranged by Steiff North America's Club Manager and Superpal Carolyn Smith, was lead by Ralf Fahrig, Steiff's Area Sales Manager at Margarete Steiff GmbH, and his team of two amazing Steiff seamstresses.  

Overall, two workshops were held:  one starting at 9am, and one starting at 1pm.  Each was sold out and over 40 Steiff enthusiasts had the great pleasure of customizing and detailing their very own bear.   The room was set up with two large tables; each was draped in a black tablecloth.  In the center of each table were several completed bears for study and inspiration.  Each table was stocked with needles of various sizes, thick tan thread, many floss choices for claw and nose embroidery stitching, bins of different eyes in various sizes and colors, scissors, mohair combs, thimbles, and other tools.  When the workshop attendees entered the room, they found their partially completed bear and name tag, and sat at that designated place. For the most part, people spent the first 10 to 20 minutes of the workshop experimenting with the different floss and eye color combinations to plan out how they would like to detail their bear; you can see Steiffgal's initial thoughts for this here on the left.

The bears all started out the same, except for what was embroidered in brown on the bear's tan felt paw pads.  This was customized per each attendee's request.  The bears were 28 cm, five ways jointed, and excelsior stuffed.  They were made from long, curly, brown tipped mohair with a cropped muzzle.  Each had an open seam up the back, no embroidery on their paws or face, and lacked eyes and a decorative ribbon.  Here to the left you can see Steiffgal and her not-yet-worked upon cub; one paw says, "Steiff Workshop" and the other one says, "My handiwork RK, 11/8/14."

The very first thing attendees were instructed to do was to be careful of sharp pointed objects!  And also to take care of their hands, as their fingers would be doing alot of stitching and thread pulling, which sometimes causes bleeding.  So to prepare for that possibility, Ralf and his team gave everyone white German band-aids to put on their stitching fingers.  Here you can see Steiffgal modeling these giant bandages! 

Our first "hands on" task in the workshop was sewing up the back seam of the bear.  This opening was about 4 inches long.  We were instructed on how to thread the needle and knot the thread, and do a somewhat complicated "ladder" style stitch up the back.  We were to make 3 of these stitches then pull them together tightly, then do another 3, and pull... until the seam was completed.  Because the bear was stuffed with excelsior, attendees had to keep tucking strands back in the body cavity, as it sometimes fell out as part of the sewing process.  This step turned out to be the easiest and most forgiving of all the ones needed to complete the bear - as the long mohair could be "combed over" any crooked seam or stitching on the back.  After the back seam was completed, the stitching was knotted, and that knot was invisibly pulled through the body for durability and aesthetic reasons.  

The next step was to embroider the cub's hands and feet with claws.  Attendees had many choices of the colors in which to do this, including black, red, green, blue, and several shades of tan and brown.  We used a bigger needle and thick embroidery floss to create these stitches.  It was quite difficult to space the claws correctly, as well as make them the same overall length on each paw.  Like with the back seam, the stitching was again knotted and pulled through each limb for durability and aesthetic reasons.  Steiffgal chose to do her cub's foot claws in dark brown, and his hand claws in light brown.   

Finally it was time to face the music and work on the bear's noggin.  Each participant embroidered their bear's nose and mouth with a thinner version of colored floss; the colors were similar to those available for the claws.  Steiffgal chose dark brown for this.  In general, for a bear of this size, his nose has 6 or 7 equal length stitches, then a longer stitch, then another 6 or 7 equal length stitches.  The stitches have to line up on the top and bottom.  Then, once the nose is done, the mouth is formed, using the larger middle stitch as a "hook" for the downward facing mouth stitches. Steiffgal cannot begin to tell you how challenging all of this was.  It was much, much harder than it looks or sounds.  And, as a matter of fact, Steiffgal actually had a fellow participant help her rip out her first attempt at nose stitching, because it was so awful. But practice makes perfect, or in this case, improvement, and her second attempt was much, much better.  In the spirit of creative design, Steiffgal also chose to put a light tan "Jackie" style horizontal nose highlight stitch across her bear's completed dark brown nose.

The almost last step in the workshop was inserting the eyes into the bear's head.  Steiffgal chose gold and black pupil eyes for her cub. This process was completed via a metal tool that looked like a giant thick needle about 6 inches long.  This "weapon" was securely mounted on a sturdy wooden handle.  Participants threaded the giant needle and strung one eye onto the hanging thread ends.  They then jabbed the needle through the area of the bear's eye socket, through his head, to the back of his neck. They then did this again with a second piece of thread and the other eye.  (This sounds cruel, but the Steiff team assured everyone that the bears never feel a thing, and welcome the opportunity to see with their new eyes!) In a perfect world, the eyes landed with the correct spacing and in the desired location... and the threads for each both ended up within a 1/4 inch or so at the same place on the back of the neck.  Like the nose stitching process, this was MUCH more labor intensive than you can imagine, and many participants, including Steiffgal, had to try it a few times to get it right.  It also took tremendous hand strength to drive the needle through the bear's head, as well as tug the two neck strings tightly and knot them correctly.  The ends from this knot were then re-inserted into the bear's head for durability and aesthetic reasons.   After each bear had his new eyes, they were adorned with a large golden ribbon which read "Teddy Bear Workshop" on one end and "New York City 2014" on the other. 

After all that work and worry, it was so exciting to see all the bears truly come to life with their new claws, noses, mouths, and eyes.  And each really reflected the taste, character, and personality of their creator.  Some cubs were very serious, and others were young and more playful looking.  Some people designed their bears to match their favorite colors or even the decor of a special room in their home.  One person in the morning workshop was building a very special bear which was going to be her 25th wedding anniversary present to her husband! 

At this point in the workshop, the bears were almost finished... except for perhaps the most exciting part of all.  The Steiff "buttoning," of course!  Participants picked white ribbon ear tags with red lettering out of a large bucket.  Each was imprinted with numbers ranging from  1 to 150, and it was by luck and chance who got what edition number.  Steiffgal drew number 110.  The buttons used on this edition were the gold plated "elephant" style ones. The button and ear tags were inserted into the bear's ears by a rather simple metal tool that sort of resembled a large vice.  A member of the Steiff team layered the top of the button, then the white ear tag, then the bear's ear, and finally the back of the button and then "squeezed" these items together with the large vice.  The top and bottom of the button sandwiched tightly, securing the bear's forever branding trademark.  And, at long last (just a hair over four hours time...) all the cubs were finally completed and ready to go home with their new "friends for life."

The workshop was amazing in so many ways, and truly a once in a lifetime treat for many of the participants.  For Steiffgal, it gave her a new appreciation for the precision handiwork that goes into every item leaving the Giengen factory, as well as a better understanding about how the company's items are built to last for generations.  For others, it was a time to meet new enthusiasts, catch up with old friends, and discuss all things "button in ear."  But it goes without saying that EVERYONE who participated in the workshop left with a greater passion for the brand, enormous respect for Steiff's professional craftspeople, and a deeper and far more personal understanding about what makes Steiff collectibles so incredibly special.

Steiffgal hopes this review of Steiff's Teddy bear making workshop has inspired you to attend one as well!

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Taking The Chill Out Of Your Day With This Darling Steiff Snowman Puppet

It's beginning to look alot like Christmas... at least around these parts! This morning, Steiffgal had the unexpected pleasure (or pain, depending on your perspective) of waking up to snow showers in her town! And the white stuff got her thinking about one of her favorite little Steiff oddities that is coming more and more seasonally appropriate each day! Check out this happy handful to see why he's worthy of a round of applause!

Let's set the stage and introduce this great Steiff hand puppet. Here we have the company's Hand Sneba. The German word for snow is Schnee, so his name makes perfect sense. Sneba is 17 cm tall and made from a white synthetic fabric called dralon. He is detailed with black pom-pom style buttons up his front, an orange felt nose to resemble a carrot, a red hand embroidered mouth, shiny black eyes, and a black felt hat. When he was new, he had just a touch of pink on his cheeks and you can just barely make that out now on this example. Sneba's head and the tips of his hands are stuffed with excelsior. His button and yellow tag are located on the edge of the front of his body.  Like most snowmen, this one only lasted a very short period! He appeared in the Steiff catalog for one year only - 1964 - making him one of the rarer post war puppets created by Steiff.

Like many things we all know and love, Sneba has cold hands but a warm heart! And despite his unassuming looks and personality, he has three very interesting features from the collector's perspective. 

First is his design. Unlike the vast majority of Steiff puppets produced by the company before the early 1980's, Sneba appears to be a totally original design and not based on a popular standard line character. The only other somewhat period snowman designed item Steiffgal can think of is the 25 cm white wool plush snowman that the company designed as a US exclusive in 1955, who is pictured here on the left. However, as you can tell, there really isn't any design overlap between him and Sneba.  This photo is from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Steiff Sortiment book.

Second is his material. During Sneba's period of production, Steiff made most animal puppets out of mohair, and character puppets with molded heads and felt and/or fabric bodies - not dralon. Sneba is in good - but extremely rare - company with Hand Gora, Steiff's dralon gorilla puppet from 1961 through 1964. Gora is pictured here on the left for your review. She is 17 cm; her body and head are made from long and short grey dralon and her hands are made from short tan dralon.  Her face comes to life with peach colored tan felt ears, black and white google style eyes, and extensive airbrushed features.  

And topping up reason number three is his accessory. Sneba wears a handsome black felt chapeau. Like many of Steiff's legacy dolls, Steiff's earlier "people" puppets generally wore head wear to complement their well designed outfits. Except for Steiff's Hand Bear Sailor puppet from 1972 through 1975, Steiffgal cannot think of another Steiff non-human puppet donning a hat. Hand Bear Sailor is pictured her on the left for your review. He is made from a very golden yellow colored mohair. His head is hard stuffed with excelsior, while the rest of his body is floppy. His paws are made of tan velvet material. His face is detailed with large black and white google eyes and a black plastic nose. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff's interesting Sneba snowman puppet has taken a bit of the winter chill out of your day!

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