Friday, August 26, 2016

This Amazing Steiff Pre-Button Era Skittle Set Is Right On Point!

It's "game on" with this extraordinary auction highlight from the upcoming Premier Toy and Doll Sales Event at Morphy Auctions on September 23rd and 24th, 2016. Although there are many fantastic button-in-ear selections in this sale - including several Steiff automatons - this particular highlight is truly in a league of its own. Check out this amazing set of turn-of-last-century skittles set... Steiffgal is certain they will "strike" a chord with you as well.

Here we have lot #308, a Steiff pre-button era nine pin Pointer skittle set. It is cataloged as...

"This set, designed for the European market, consists of eight begging, unjointed Pointer dogs on wooden skittles and an unjointed Pointer king pin, dressed in a red felt top coat and matching red felt crown decorated with trim and beading. The dogs are made of tan felt and are hand detailed with brown painted patches. Their faces come to life with black eyes, a simple, hand embroidered nose and mouth, and floppy ears. Some of the black eyes may be replaced. All but one dog retains their long, thin tail; these appendages tended to snap off with use. Each pin would have left the factory in Giengen, Germany with a collar decorated with either a small medallion or a bell; all but traces of these accessories have been lost to time. All nine dogs in the set are mounted on wooden plinths with the king pin on a slightly higher platform. The set includes two original skittle balls covered in colorful felt which have significant tears and losses to them. Steiff produced this Pointer skittle set in felt from 1892-1908. This set and assortment is as pictured on page 577 of Gunther Pfeiffer's Steiff Sortiment 1892-1943 reference book. Because none of the pins have Steiff ID and do not appear ever to have had any, they were most likely made in the c. 1892-1904 pre-button time frame. Condition: As noted. One pin with repairs and patches to the head. Wooden plinths with minor losses from playwear. Otherwise in very good condition given the age and the gaming nature of this rare and unusual set."  This lot is estimated at $6,000-12,000.

Although most turn of last century Steiff items were made for fun and interaction, none better exemplify that then the company's skittle sets.  These bowling games were truly designed and constructed for competitive play. Today, they are quite rare and for many reasons - including their distinct shape - are trophies for most vintage Steiff collectors. This pointer example just one of a few complete sets that have come up for auction in the past few years. In 2014, James D. Julia sold a nine piece set of felt rabbit skittles with ID for $7,110. And in June, 2016, Morphy's sold an early nine piece all original Steiff skittle assortment for $11,590; this set is pictured here above on the left. 

The origin of the game of skittles is unclear, but it has roots in similar games played in ancient Egypt, Greece, Italian, and southern Turkey.  Skittles was particularly popular in Great Britain, where  the game was played over several centuries in public houses or clubs.  There were variations in rules and scoring over time and location, but in most cases the game involved bowling a ball about 6.5 meters at nine pins set in a diamond pattern.  Whoever knocked down all the pins in the fewest tosses was the winner. 

Historians are able to pin down that skittles appeared in Steiff's very first catalog of 1892.  The sets produced for the European market had nine total skittles, while those for America had ten total (as in tenpin bowling).  Each set consisted of a series of pins and one kingpin.  The company produced skittles both as standard looking felt bowling pins, as well as in the form of felt, early plush, or velvet animals perched on wooden plinths.  For the sets with animals, Steiff made the sets with hens, monkeys, elephants, pigs, rabbits, poodles, pointers, cats, chicks, dachshunds, elephants, pointers, cats, and bears, among others. The animals appearing on the pins or as kingpins were usually 10 to 15 cm tall, standing or begging, and were otherwise standard line catalog items.  In all practical cases the kingpin wore a felt jacket and crown, and was mounted on a slightly taller plinth, or was otherwise differentiated from the rest of the regular pins. Each skittle set came with two wooden balls that were covered in multicolored felt. Here on the left, you see a c. 1903 "hens and rooster" Steiff skittle set; it sold for $27,702 in 2010 at an auction at Christie's in London.

Steiff began branding its items from 1904 onward with a button-in-ear.  Thus, as in the case of this pointer skittle set, it is possible to find individual pins or even an entire set without the company's famous trademark, given they were produced starting in the very late 1800's!  However, after 1904, all items, including each skittle in a skittle set - would have left the factory in Giengen with Steiff identification. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's early skittle sets has simply bowled you over.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Lots" of Great Steiff Selections On Offer At Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion's September Sales Event!

There's nothing like a fine Steiff auction to get the Steiff collecting community talking!  
And many of the excellent selections from Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion's sale in Germany on September 3rd indeed are causing tongues to wag. It is very exciting when extraordinary Steiff rarities, like the Dicky couple (lot #180, opening bid of 1,500 euro) or the stork holding a basket of babies (lot #188, opening bid of 280 euro), come to light after many years.  In addition to these headliners, this sale also offers many other truly noteworthy items.  Here are three possible "sleepers" that caught Steiffgal's eye. 

This first auction selection sticks out of the crowd like a black sheep. Here we have lot #9, an all black Rocky wild goat. He is cataloged as... "Rocky, ibex, with button, chest label and cloth tag label, No. is halfway torn off, height: 29 cm, length: 25 cm." Bidding for him starts at 30 euro.

Let's shed some light on this black beauty. He is clearly a version of Steiff's beloved "Rocky Capricorn." This impressively horned goat was made as part of Steiff's "Zodiac" series of animals. Standard line Rocky goats are standing, unjointed, and made from tan mohair plush. Their faces are detailed with black and green slit pupil eyes, light brown airbrushing highlights, and a simple black and brown hand embroidered nose. The smallest version has felt ears, while the larger versions have mohair ears lined in felt.  Clearly, this pattern's headlining feature is its most impressive oversized horns.  The smallest Rocky goats have double thick felt horns, while the larger versions have fully dimensional, seamed felt horns.  Standard line Rocky appeared in the line from 1963 through 1976 in 14, 22, and 28 cm.  

It is Steiffgal's best guess that this unusually colored example up for sale is a sample or prototype of the standard line 28 cm Rocky in black mohair; or perhaps it was produced in very limited quantities as a special order or as part of a display.  Ibex goats indeed can be all black in real life, so this pattern does have some basis in nature.

It's so easy to grin and bear it when it comes to this second auction highlight. Here we have lot #53, a Steiff bear in the form of the well known (at least in Germany) Bärenmarke brand logo. He is cataloged as... "Bärenmarke" bear, with button, chest label and cloth tag label, cloth tag label is halfway torn, 1960, advertising figure, 38 cm, otherwise good condition."  Bidding for him starts at 180 euro.

So who is this smiling sweetie? "Bear Brand" is a well known German company that produces a large line of milk and cream products. Bärenmarke specializes in shelf-stable dairy items, especially those that are sterilized, condensed, concentrated, dried, or prepared in a way that does not require refrigeration.  Bärenmarke started in 1921 selling evaporated milk; today the company and its logo have a 96% brand recognition rate in Germany. Given the company's name, trademark, and location, it is no surprise at all that Steiff would bring its delightful logo to life!  

And what makes this Bärenmarke bear rise to the top? His delightful presentation - with many parallels to Steiff's beloved "Teddy Baby" pattern - is certainly a draw. He was manufactured for one year only, in 1960, which adds to his rarity and appeal. Given his era of production, he should generate some nostalgia, especially for collectors who are in their 40's, 50's, and 60's and grew up consuming Bärenmarke products. And he is made from wool plush, at a time in the company's history when few items were produced from this durable material. Far more items in the 1930's through early 1950's were made from this distinctly "old fashioned" looking cloth.

This final auction selection is truly the cat's meow. Here we have lot #276, an utterly charming crouching cat on a velvet pincushion. It is cataloged as... "cat Tabby, '20s, lying on a pin-cushion, 12 cm x 12 cm, with button, velvet good, mohair except of minimally places in good condition." Bidding for this item starts at 240 euro.

Sew, what's the story with this great pincushion? As far as Steiffgal can tell, this particular example does not appear in any of the standard Steiff reference books. However, Steiff has a great and long tradition of putting some of its most appealing, smaller editions - especially cats and dogs - on mohair or velvet cushions since the turn of last century and then calling the item a "pincushion." This particular example appears to be made from the company's adorable "Tabby" kitten, who was produced in 8 sizes ranging from 5 to 20 cm from 1928 through 1935. She is on a green, trimmed cushion which is typical in design to other Steiff cushions of the period; these appeared in velvet and mohair over time.   

Following that thread, it is safe to assume that this rarity will have many collectors feline groovy. Cats have always held a special place in the heart of Steiff lovers everywhere. Her size and appearance are irresistible. And pincushions like this so seldom come onto the secondary market - collectors may recall the Fluffy cat on a pincushion that sold for over $7,000 at a James D. Julia toy sale in 2014. This Fluffy is pictured here on the left. Although this Tabby's condition is not as good as Fluffy's, she's still a mighty fine addition to any Steiff collector's meow mix.

Steiffgal hopes this review of upcoming Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion auction highlights has generated a-lot-a interest in this upcoming sale. To see the entire online catalog, please click here.   

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

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Put A Tiger In Your Tank With These Great And Unusual Steiff Postwar Tiger Designs!

Steiffgal has always had a thing for Steiff tigers. After all, who can resist their friendly/fierce personalities, delightful coloring, and the remarkable detailing that bring these big cats to life? Steiff has featured these grrr-eat wild animals in their line almost continuously since 1915, with the first cubs being made of mohair and fully jointed. Given their history and appeal, Steiffgal thought it would be fun to "catch a tiger by the tail" and check out three of the company's rarer post war examples.

Let's kick things off by sinking our teeth into this large and impressive Steiff Bengal tiger. This handsome cat is sitting, unjointed, 43 cm tall, and made from beautifully hand-airbrushed tan mohair. He has green and black pupil eyes, a pink and black shield-shaped embroidered nose, clear monofilament whiskers, and black embroidered claws. His chin, ears, and sideburns are made from long, white mohair. His most distinctive feature is his well formed and open mouth - which is lined in peach colored felt - and detailed with four large embedded wooden teeth. He is either grinning broadly or yawning; perhaps this depends on the time of the day! 

This beautiful Bengal beast was made in 14, 22, and 43 cm from 1959 through 1961 only. The medium and large ones are quite rare on the secondary market. Only the medium and large examples have wooden teeth; the smallest baby size one is toothless - perhaps Steiff thought he was still teething when he was being designed! All three sizes have impressive, long tails.

Our next tiger highlight truly has spirit - school spirit, that is! Here we have Steiff's seldom seen, 25 cm tall Steiff tiger made as a mascot for Princeton University. Smarty-pants is sitting, head jointed, and made from tan mohair that has been brought to life with realistic orange and black airbrushing. He has green and black pupil eyes "cartoon" style eyes, an early pattern pink nose outlined in black, clear monofilament whiskers, and black embroidered claws. His sideburns are made from  long, white mohair. Like his Bengal buddy, this pattern also features a prominent, well designed open mouth - which is lined in peach colored felt - and detailed with four proportionally sized, embedded wooden teeth. He has a working squeaker in his belly. When he was new, he left the factory in Giengen wearing a black and orange felt "Princeton" blanket. 

This Princeton University Prince was made in this size only in 1952 as a special edition for the United States. Other larger Steiff mascots produced in the early 1950's included a 28 cm lion for Columbia University, a 21 cm lioness for Columbia University, a 28 cm bulldog for Yale University, and a 28 cm goat for the Navy, among others. Smaller 1950's era cataloged mascots included a 14 cm bulldog for Yale University, 12 and 14 cm donkeys for the Army, as well as a 12 cm donkey wearing a "DEM" felt blanket for the US Democratic party! (To keep things balanced, Steiffgal once saw a small Steiff elephant wearing a "REP" felt blanket.  This example was probably made as special item for the US Republican party but somehow did not make it into the standard Steiff reference books or cataloging.)

Well, if this discussion hasn't put you to sleep yet, this final example should do the trick. Here we have a most unusual Steiff tiger pajama bag. He measures about 40 cm long and about 20 cm tall. He is in Steiff’s “lying” position, meaning he is curled up with his legs resting gently to his side. He has piercing green and black eyes, a pink embroidered nose, and tufts of longer mohair around his jowls. Tiger is head jointed and made from short tan mohair, which has been "tiger-ized" with careful orange and black airbrushing. Right down the middle of his back is a long metal zipper that extends from practically his neck to his tail; this hides his internal silk-lined pouch designed to  hold the sleepwear of a toddler!

As far as Steiffgal can tell, this tiger pajama bag does not appear in any of Steiff's standard reference books. It is her guess that this tired tiger is probably a modification of Steiff’s standard-line lying tiger cub, which was produced from 1953 through 1978 in 17, 28, 43, and 60 cm.  Steiffgal has also heard of other uncataloged Steiff pajama bags made from standard line designs including turtles and lions.

Steiffgal hopes this review of rare Bengals, mascots, and novelties has indeed put a tiger in YOUR tank!

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

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Are You A Fan of Dandy Dan?

Ok, Steiffgal is certain this big reveal will result in wide scale panda-monium! Check out this note from a new friend from Ohio who wanted to introduce the Steiff world to a beloved "mohair" member of her family. Over a series of communications, Kristy shares...

"I know there is a special love for Panda Bears so I would like to introduce to you Dandy Dan! We purchased Dandy Dan around 1983 from an antique dealer in Michigan.

It is our understanding through research and documentation that Dandy Dan was a special order for the department store Stix, Baer and Fuller in St. Louis Missouri in the late 1930's. This is around the time the St. Louis Zoo had a few panda bears as well. So the excitement of Pandas was a big thing then as well.

Dandy Dan was signed by Hans Otto Steiff in the later 1980's. He measures 63 inches tall and weighs about 45 lbs."

Bear with Steiffgal a moment as she catches her breath over this remarkable treasure! Yes, indeed, this is an early Steiff display panda.  His pattern and proportions for the most part match the company's original panda designs, which were based on the beloved "Teddy Baby" pattern. These details include an open, smiling mouth; flat feet designed for standing; downturned paws; and a distinctly youthful appearance.  Although it is impossible to tell with 100% certainty without examining him firsthand, it is Steiffgal's best guess that he is head and arm jointed for flexibility in displaying him, but not jointed in the legs for stability.  He is mounted on a support structure that Kristy's family made for him.

Steiff has been designing and producing lifesized special order editions since the turn of last century, so it is not surprising, but totally thrilling, that Dan would make an appearance after all these years.  Exactly dating him is tricky.  Written provenance suggests that he was produced and delivered to Stix, Baer and Fuller (a department store chain in St. Louis, Missouri that operated from 1892 to 1984) in the 1930's.  Two pandas arrived at the St. Louis zoo in 1939, and this news worthy of international headlines at the time. According to the zoo's website...

“When Happy and Pao Pei pandas arrived at the Zoo in 1939, more than 35,000 people greeted them. They were a rare sight indeed. At the time, only three other pandas were on exhibit in the United States. Director George Vierheller called the pandas the greatest attractions the Zoo had had up to that time.”  (Happy and Pao Pei are pictured here on the left.)

It is completely understandable that a major department store in the area would want to share in the excitement (and marketing potential) of the pandas in their city.  And, apparently the department stores in downtown St. Louis had a tradition of outstanding holiday window displays in the mid-20th century.  As such, it is entirely possible that the panda was produced in the late 1930's or early 1940's and delivered to St. Louis at the time for a holiday or general window display.  

It is very interesting to note that 1939 marked the start of WWII.  At that time, Steiff's production was significantly limited, and high end fabrics such as mohair and felt were severely rationed for toy manufacturing purposes.  So it is a bit unusual that the company would make a large, labor intensive specialty that required a great deal of rationed fabrics at the time - and then have the infrastructure to export it to the United States across battle lines.  Given all that, it is also possible that this panda was made and delivered to St. Louis in the mid to late 1940's, once the war was over and Steiff's toy making business was slowly returning to normal.  However, only Dandy Dan knows for sure!

Steiffgal hopes this interesting panda discussion has also made YOU a fan of Dandy Dan!

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

Monday, August 1, 2016

These Two Steiff Mystery Kittens Are Truly The Cat's Meow!

Sometimes Steiff treasures tip-toe in on little cat's feet. Check out this brief note from Steiff Superfan Holly, who had the great pleasure of finding and adopting these two tiny - albeit mysterious - sweethearts. She shares through a series of correspondences...

"Hi Steiffgal,

I just wanted to share a couple of oddities. It's been soooo long since I've added to my kitty collection and couldn't pass these up. Both are complete with all IDs. Their flag numbers are 2308,90. It's interesting that their 'chest' tags made it on their backs. Not a whole lot of room under their necks I suppose!

The cats themselves are not jointed, about 10cm across, 6cm tall, hard stuffed, the tail is not sewn to the body, velvet backed ears like an 11cm Tapsy. It's probably why I love them so much, they remind me of a curled up Tapsy! The body is a very simplistic design.

Cheers, Holly"

Well, it goes without saying that these two are truly the cat's meow.  They embody all that enthusiasts love - and are purr-fect in every way! They have a remarkable presentation; they appear to be in complete condition with all IDs; they are CATS (which are universal favorites); and most likely do not appear in any commercial scale catalog or reference book - at least as far as Steiffgal can recall.

Let's take things in order here and first check out the cat's article number - 2308,90 - and see if that helps to tell us anything about these darlings.  In this case, 2=lying; 3=mohair; 08=8 cm; 9=display animals or special editions; and 0=normal coloring.  Taken as a whole, that does for the most part describe these cats in the broadest sense.  

Now let's take a closer look at their presentation and see if that can help date or place their manufacturing and design within a relatively tight date range. 
  • Clearly, their general look and coloring is much like the company's beloved "Tapsy" kitten. Tapsy was produced from 1959 through 1966 in 8, 11, 15 and 18 cm.  
  • The facial expression on the sleeping version also may be a nod to Steiff's "Snurry" the dozing-off cat, who was produced from 1964 through 1966 in 15, 20, and 25 cm.  
  • Another thing to look at is the cat's body construction and simplicity.  The one analogous item Steiffgal can come up with here is the company's Dormy the edible dormouse.  This little guy was also tucked up and styled with a long tail as an important part of his presentation.  These were made from 1966 through 1974 in 12 and 20 cm.  
  • And finally, given that Holly's items are a special edition, it's important to check out another somewhat analogous special edition produced for FAO Schwarz here in the USA - the beloved "Cat Family Basket."  This item, which included three or four Steiff cats each, appeared from 1962 through 1972.  It is important to note that occasionally, other undocumented Steiff cats with velvet ear detailing - including a stretched out model and a crouching model - sometimes appeared in these baskets as well.
Like many Steiff rarities, Holly's kitties are probably a hybrid of a number of Steiff cat and design themes happening in the early to mid- 1960's time frame.  Steiff is well known for blending and matching themes, sizes, colorations, and detailing on their items to generate new product ideas. As such, these two kittens truly are a meow-mix! Steiffgal does think that these kittens are from the c. 1960-65 time frame, given article numbering conventions and their appearance.

So what is the back story with these pretty kitties?  They may have been produced on a very small scale as an exclusive product for a store such as FAO Schwarz but never documented as such. Steiffgal has seen that happen with a mohair squirrel edition.  They may have been made to be part of the "Cat Family Basket" and either got separated from the basket or never made it into one, and were sold on their own.  They might even be one-offs, meaning they were made as samples or prototypes and never produced on a commercial scale.  Steiff often sold these sorts of "orphans" to stores as they did not hold onto "rejects" if they could get them into the retail market.  But, at the end of the day, unfortunately only the kittens themselves know their real background and history. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Holly's mystery kittens has clued you in on their most interesting origins.

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

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