Sunday, April 27, 2014

Check Out These WOW-MEOW Cats On Offer At The Upcoming James D. Julia Toy And Doll Auction!

What's not to love about Steiff's pretty kitties? Especially those irresistible examples that truly capture the legacy of Steiff's early design and production standards! Many Steiff enthusiasts are aware of the upcoming James D. Julia auction featuring the world-class Chuck and the late Cathy Steffes collection of outstanding early Steiff bears on June 13, 2014. But this collection also includes a great number of practically purr-fect Steiff cats as well! Let's take a look at some of these most fabulous felines on offer and see what makes them so interesting from the product development and historical perspectives.

Let's get this review on a roll by first checking out this precious 1930's era 15 cm tall Steiff cat on wooden wheels. This charming cat is standing and unjointed. She is made from white and gray mohair which has been spotted in black with wonderful and distinctive highlights. Cat's face is detailed with green and black glass slit pupil eyes, a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, and clear mono-filament whiskers. She has red hand embroidered claws and wears her original bell and bow. She also retains her original long trailing "f" style button. And boy, does she get around... on for four red wooden eccentric wheels, that is! This item was produced in 15 and 18cm from 1934 through 1937 overall and is very seldom seen on the secondary market. 

What can be up or down and great regardless?  Steiff's items on eccentric wheels!  Steiff has been making items on eccentric wheels, which have irregular axles - since the early 1900s when they mistakenly miss-drilled the axles for pull toys, therefore inventing this distinctive feature.  When items with eccentric wheels are pulled along, they have the appearance of a waddle or natural animal gait.  Eccentric wheels can be found on dogs, cats, ducks, and many farm animal examples.  

This second fantastic feline under review is such a head turner - literally!  Here we have Steiff's circa 1930's mohair tail turns head cat.  This example is really adorable - even more so in person.  She is 22 cm tall, sitting, and has a tail-turns-head mechanism. She is made from white and gray mohair which has been hand striped to give her a most realistic look. Her claws are hand embroidered in red. Cat's sweet face is detailed with green and black slit pupil glass eyes, a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, and clear mono filament whiskers. The insides of her ears are gently airbrushed with pink highlights. Cat retains her long trailing "F" button and red ear tag as her Steiff IDs. This lovely item was produced in seven sizes ranging from 10 to 35 cm from 1931 through 1936 and like her wheeled cousin mentioned above, is seldom seen on the secondary market. 

This cat really belongs at the head of the class! 
The tail-moves-head feature was used on a number of the most popular early 1930's-era Steiff items, including dogs, cats, and rabbits.  A gentle twist of the tail left or right caused the animal's head to cock in that direction.  This technology - which was a big deal at the time - was used to give these treasures a natural sense of movement as well as create a "higher end" tier of Steiff products.

Paws and take a look at this third and most interesting terrific tabby from the Steffe's collection.  Here we have an extremely rare and very early velvet Steiff rattle cat with AN ELEPHANT button!  This circa 1905 Steiff velvet rattle is truly the cat's meow - yes, the pun is intended!  This sweet cat is is 10cm, lying, unjointed, and made from white velvet that has been painted with black and grey spots and stripes. He has a very long tail which sticks out straight behind him. Cat wears a red bow and bell, and most interestingly, his highly coveted and earliest style button is attached to the red ribbon. Cat holds a tiny grey and red woolen yarn ball between his front paws. Cat's pensive face is detailed with tiny green and black slit pupil eyes, a light tan hand embroidered nose and mouth, and clear mono filament whiskers. Cat also has a rattle in its belly; Steiff created this feature by inserting a tube with beads into the torso of the item. This cat design appeared overall in the Steiff line in 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 cm in white and grey velvet from 1899 through 1929. 

This pretty kitty is truly "buttoned up" with his original elephant button - most unusually located on his ribbon. This is the first time that Steiffgal has ever seen a button located on a ribbon, as the button is usually located in the left ear of bears and animals. So its placement is a bit of a mystery. If an item does not have ears, or a logical place for a button, it is sometimes placed right on a Steiff tag that is sewn into the seam of the piece. For some dolls with small or inaccessible ears, like Steiff's legacy Micki and Mecki hedgehog dolls, their buttons and yellow ear flags are suspended off of a red rubber wrist bracelet, like a charm.  It is amazing that this item retains his button given the delicate and transient nature of his ribbon!

Steiffgal hopes this review of these cat highlights from the Steffes collection on offer at James D. Julia's upcoming Antique Advertising, Toy, and Doll auction has been a wow-meow experience for you!

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Strike Up The Band With These Great Steiff Dolls Up For Auction at Bonham's

It's music to Steiffgal's ears when she hears about wonderful vintage Steiff treasures!  And this set of five antique Steiff dolls is certainly worthy of a Grammy award - really!  Take a look at this note from a new friend in the United Kingdom who writes about a collection of marvelous musicians she recently sent to Bonham's for sale.   Helene shares...

"My dad bought the whole stock of a haberdashery shop back in 1970 from a woman, she was 80 years old at the time and she didn't want to get retired, anyway the Steiff dolls were in the shop and she used to sell those brand new, she had the shop for about 60 years...  her shop was in a little village near the border between France and Germany, my parents always knew the dolls where valuable, they both passed away now and when we cleared the house we found those dolls."

How about a special fanfare for this breathtaking quintet?  Here we have what is known as Steiff's "village band" or Dorf Musikkapelle. According to the Steiff Sortiment 1892-1942, this item was in the line from 1911 through 1913 and is simply documented as "village band, 5 dolls with instruments, item [number] states size in cm."  The Sortiment also details that the players include a 35 cm bass fiddler, a 35 cm clarinet player, a 50 cm piston wind player, a 35 cm trombone player, and a 50 cm violin player.  The photo that accompanies this description from the Sortiment is pictured here on the left.

A rare set of five felt Steiff Musicians, 1912-1915
"All having black boot button eyes, printed features and jointed at shoulders and hips each standing on a circular wooden base, the rotund trombone player with a pronounced nose and smiling mouth, black and grey cotton thread hair, black rimmed hat, and with a Steiff button to each ear, wearing a felt red shirt with a further sixteen Steiff buttons in two rows to front, blue jacket, black trousers and leather boots, holding a painted gold trombone, 33cm (13in) tall, the similar contra-bass player having a Steiff button to each ear, round hat with tassel and wearing a cream shirt with black boot buttons in a row to centre, a brown jacket, black trousers and black leather boots, holding a painted wooden stringed bass with bow, 33cm (13in) tall, the slimmer clarinet player with up-turned nose, painted ginger hair and Steiff button to left ear, tall grey hat and wearing a long black jacket with three gold buttons, blue trousers and painted shoes, holding a carved wooden clarinet, 36cm (14in) tall, the older slim violin player with pointed nose and chin, painted grey eyebrows and real shoulder-length grey hair, skull-cap and wearing a white shirt with black bow-tie, jacket and trousers, leather shoes, holding a carved wooden stringed violin and bow, Steiff button to left ear, 40cm (15 3/4in) tall, the tall and slim trumpeter with pointed features, painted ginger hair and flat hat, wearing a black jacket with five buttons and trousers, with white collar and bow-tie, leather shoes and Steiff button in left ear, holding a painted gold wooden trumpet, 43cm (17in) tall."

So let's strike up the band and take a look at these five fantastic fellows - from left to right.   

The musician on the far left with the trombone is probably Steiff's Dachau (an area in Upper Bavaria) Farmer pattern.  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1908 through 1928.  This particular doll has three very interesting details that make him extraordinary from the design perspective:  he has a Steiff button in each ear - not just his left one; a horizontal facial seam instead of the more typical vertical seam; and 16 tiny Steiff buttons decorating his red shirt-vest. The original Dachau Farmer doll is pictured above. 

The musician in the brown felt coat with the bass fiddle is most likely Steiff's Alb (a district in Baden-Württemberg) Farmer.  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1908 through 1919.   It is interesting to note that at the turn of last century, Steiff created a series of dolls representing farmers from different areas of Germany, including Brenz, as well as surrounding countries including France and Switzerland.  The original Alb Farmer doll is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book. 

The skinny musician in the middle wearing a dark coat and blue pants and playing the clarinet appears to be Steiff's Alphonse, the character from the comic book series "Happy Hooligans."  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1904 through 1928.   Steiff records show that Alphonse was produced as a pantom or marionette style puppet on roller skates.  The original Steiff Alponse doll had a press voice box hidden under his red felt hat.  Steiff's Alphonse doll is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.

The violin player very closely resembles the teacher from a small series of Steiff display pieces featuring the theme "school" - which were inspired by a quote from Busch's "Max and Moritz" book. In 1910 Steiff sold 45 complete school displays. A portion of this display can be seen above. The photo is from Theriault's; this set sold for $50,000 in 2012.

Steiffgal is not able to find a close doll match to the horn player on the far right, but his design and proportions are very typical to Steiff's “charakterpuppe” or “caricature” style dolls.  These debuted at the Leipzig spring fair in 1908 and appeared in the line through 1914 - also making a brief appearance again in 1925. These dolls are noted for comical, exaggerated features – such as extremely lean or rotund bodies, huge feet, or cartoon-like faces. Models representing sportsmen, postmen, firemen, policemen, and members of the military were all produced in the “caricature” style.  A typical Steiff long and lean "charakterpuppe" of a policeman is pictured above, the photo is from Christie's.

It's clear that each band mate is a rock star all on his own.  But some collectors might wonder why the the members don't exactly match the photo of the band pictured in the Steiff Sortiment book.  In this picture, which is shown above, it appears that all three musicians shown are in the Dachau farmer pattern.  First of all, it is important to note that the Sortiment cannot possibly capture every version of every Steiff item and multi-part edition produced. But even more importantly, it has been Steiffgal's observation that the Steiff company very frequently "repurposed" existing inventory into other items.  For example, it is not unusual to find an early rabbit, dog, or cat available on its own, on a pincushion, on a tumbler, or on a skittle.  And for very early products that involved collections of things -  like skittle sets or ranges - the actual product mix would vary somewhat, depending on what was on hand and what was in production.  Given that all of these great dolls were produced in the same general time frame, it is Steiffgals' strongest suspicion that this is what is happening here as well.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff's early "Village Band" going up for auction at Bonham's in May, 2014 has been a great intermission for you.

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

UPDATE, May 28, 2014:  Looks like this set hit the top of the charts - under the hammer, that is!  Click on the photo below to check out their selling price...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Tisket, A Tasket, Here's Steiff's Kitties In A Basket!

Well, if this fantastic Steiff rarity isn't the cat's meow, Steiffgal is not sure what would be! Here we have an all but purr-fect basket of Steiff Susi cats all snuggled up together in their special bed.  Let's take a closer look at these pretty kitties and see what makes this grouping so interesting from the collector's perspective.  

A tisket - a tasket - here we have sweet kitties in a basket!  This marvelous set consists of three total baby 10 cm Susi cats, and one Mama 17 cm Susi cat.  The cats are head jointed and made from white mohair that has been carefully hand-airbrushed with black stripes. Their tails wrap around their rears.  Each has green and black slit pupil eyes, a pink embroidered nose, and clear monofilament whiskers.  All the Susi cats have been gussied up with a spray of faux silk flowers which are worn like a corsage on their ribbon, or as a pretty crown-wreath on their head.  (You can see one of the kittens with her floral flourish here on the left.) Post war, this Susi cat pattern was produced from 1948 through 1978 in 10, 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm and remains a classic favorite, even today.  

It is interesting to note that "Susi" was named after a member of the Steiff family.  

Let's weave the conversation now to the family's great wicker basket. It measures about 36 cm long by 25 cm wide by 11 cm high and is oval in shape. It is made from nicely woven brown wicker and is stamped "West Germany" on the base. The cushion is made from red and white gingham check cotton material, is quite soft and fluffy, and is removable from the basket.  The cats are all tied down to the cushion by white thread, which you can see on the underside of the cushion; this is illustrated here on the left.

This charming design was an "exclusive" item produced for the upscale toy retailer FAO Schwarz.  Steiff and FAO actually collaborated on a number of different "families in a basket" offerings, including groupings of large and small Dally Dalmatians, Molly Puppies, Snobby Poodles,  and other popular pet patterns.  In addition to Susi cats, Steiff's Kitty and Tabby cats were also used for this item.  You can see the Molly version of this product here on the left; the photo is from the book "A Century of Steiff & FAO Schwarz." Pet families in wicker baskets appeared in FAO Schwarz stores overall from 1961 through 1972; three or four total animals appeared in the baskets depending on the model used and year of production.  Steiff made the mohair animals and FAO Schwarz then decorated and attached them to their cushions in house once they arrived here in the United States. According to the FAO Schwarz catalog, 

"Next best thing to a real life family of pets (which can have its trying moments) is one of these happy groups of Steiff pets arranged on a pillow in a sturdy 14-inch beribboned wicker basket."

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff and FAO Schwarz's Susi cat family in a basket has been an exclusive experience for you.

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

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rocking And Rolling With More Highlights From The Upcoming James D. Julia Steiff Auction!

"Baby let me be,
Your lovin' teddy bear
Put a chain around my neck,
And lead me anywhere
Oh let me be
Your teddy bear..."

Perhaps you recognize those opening lyrics to "Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear" by The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. And for many Steiff enthusiasts, Teddy bears understandably are the Kings (and Queens) of their hugs - and hearts. Steiff Teddy bears are taking the center stage, and spotlight, this summer at a number of events, including the sale of the Chuck and late Cathy Steffes collection at James D. Julia on June 13, 2014. Steiffgal's got a "backstage" pass to meet a few of the rockstar bears featured in this amazing auction - so come along and let's shake paws with a few of these celebrity cubs!

Our first superstar Ted, like rocker Rod Stewart, goes back a long, long way.  Here we have an original Steiff rod bear.  This is where it all began - well -  almost! This remarkable bear is an example of the oldest Steiff teddy bear design as we know it in existence today. He is 38 cm and rod jointed, the second type of jointing Steiff experimented with at the very early turn of the last century. This particular rod bear is made from blond mohair and has felt paw pads.  Teddy's body is very solidly stuffed. His early and lovely face is detailed with black shoebutton eyes, a shaved muzzle, a black hand-formed gutta percha nose, and a light brown mouth. And his pièce de résistance... Teddy has his original elephant button in his ear, perhaps the most desirable Steiff ID in the world!  

There are so many things that could put this rod bear in any hall of fame.  But one thing you may not know about his design is the back story to his nose.  Steiffgal has recently learned that original gutta percha noses were hand formed by very slowly dripping the black, rubbery material drop by drop onto the tip of a bear's snout.  The artist would slowly sculpt and form the nose as a critical mass of material formed. So, these original and early noses were not sewn or glued on at all!  Apparently the amount of time this took, and the inconsistent results, were the reasons why Richard Steiff turned to hand embroidered facial features in his designs moving forward.  (And like a true groupie, Steiffgal couldn't help but take a selfie when she met up with her ultimate rockstar hero!)

Singer Jackson Browne has at least two things in common with these next two Steiff rockstars.  Here we have a pair of brown artificial silk plush Teddy bears that were created at a time period when the company was literally "running on empty" - the late 1940's.  These Teds are 23 and 28 cm tall, five ways jointed, and have distinctive tan linen paw pads. Both bears have classic proportions to traditional pre-war designs. Their faces are detailed with black hand embroidered noses and mouths, as well as brown and black glass pupil eyes.  The combination of silk plush material and linen paw pads is unique and dates the cub's production to right after the factory reopened for business post WWII.  And why were these unusual materials used then?  During that time, traditional teddy bear making materials were in short supply or nonexistent because of rationing and restrictions. 

For collectors, these guys are a "one hit wonder," but in the best way possible.  Both Teds are worthy of a Grammy Award in collectibility, given that there is no reference in the standard Steiff Sortiment reference books to their delightful chocolate-y hue!

And finally, like rocker David Lee Roth, here we have a little guy who loves to clown around in a big way.   Please give a standing ovation to this fabulous circa 1912 Steiff rattle bear dressed in tiny clown accessories.  Teddy stands about 12 cm tall, is five ways jointed, and made from blond mohair.  Because of his petite proportions, he does not have any paw pads or claw stitching. He does have a working rattle, which was made by inserting a tube filled with beads into his belly. Bear's face is detailed with black button eyes and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. He has a particularly charming expression! Teddy wears a pointed tan felt hat with a reddish colored pom-pom, a matching tan felt ruff which has pinked edges, and a reddish bow and bell.  This item does not appear in the standard Steiff reference books and is only the second one of its type that Steiffgal has come across - the other being a photograph of an item in the collection of the Dollhouse Museum in Basel, Switzerland. 

Like many performers, this tiny Ted is dressed to thrill!  But do his accessories look familiar to you in any way?  His hat and ruff are quite similar to those seen on Steiff's felt monkeys of the period. Steiff had featured a felt monkey in its line from as early as 1894, but in 1912 the pattern was updated as a "modernized model with clown's hat and neck ruff." This felt clown monkey appeared on an elastic cord, on a skittle, and as a tumbler.  A photo of the tumbler is shown here on the left so you can see his felt accessories and compare them to the rattle clown bear; this photo is from Pfeiffer's Steiff Sortiment 1892-1943.

Steiffgal hopes this overview of some of the rockstar Teddy bears that will be sold at James D. Julia's June 2014 auction has made you want to break out in song.  The full catalog should be online at in mid-April.  

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