Saturday, November 26, 2016

This Lovely Steiff Silk Plush Elephant Is Simply Unforgettable

Talk about big love! Steiff has a long and deep history with elephants, with a felt elephant being the animal pattern that catalyzed the company into the toymaking business before the turn of last century. And it is interesting to note that the company chose an elephant with a raised trunk (in the shape of an "S") as its earliest logo, and also put an elephant on its first "button-in-ear" branding. 

There's just something unforgettable about the company's elephants from every era, and its always interesting to find Steiff treasures that span pre- and post- war production. So today's elephant under review is jumbo news indeed!

It's game on with this fantastic Steiff "play elephant." This gentle giant is 22 cm tall, standing, and unjointed. He is stuffed with excelsior and has a working squeaker in his belly. He is made from grey artificial silk material; the tip of his tail is decorated with longer mohair. His face comes to life with soft, floppy ears; black button eyes backed in felt, and a youthful, open, and smiling felt lined mouth. His red felt blanket, which is original to him, is decorated with yellow edging and a stylized yellow and green flower on either side. His Steiff ID is a tiny, 4 mm trailing "F" button.

Is it polite to ask his age? Play elephant was produced in 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1938 through 1942, and postwar in 22 cm only in 1948 though 1949. Given he is 22 cm and has a button that was used both before and after the war, it is impossible to tell his exact date of manufacture. And for better or worse, elephants are very good at keeping secrets! Either way, he does have a delightful, innocent, and old fashioned look to him.

Let's change things up a bit and look at the economics behind this excellent elephant. The photo on the left shows a Steiff advertisement from around 1940. (If you click on it, it should be large and legible on your screen.) On the bottom you can see the pre-war version of this silk plush elephant; at the time, the 17 cm version cost 4.30 DM; the 22 cm version cost 6.50 DM; and the 28 cm version cost 9.50 DM. Given that in 1940 there were approximately 2.5 DM to the dollar, these prices roughly translate to $1.72, $2.60, and $3.80 in 1940 US dollars. Using an online inflation calculator which adjusts any given amount of money for inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index, this roughly translates to $29.38, $44.40, and $64.90 in US dollars in 2015.  Steiff has always been a premium product at a premium price!

Artificial silk plush was used as a less expensive and more readily available alternative fabric by Steiff during periods of manufacturing hardship. So it is not a surprise that this popular elephant design was produced in this fabric both as the country was entering into World War II, and then once the war was over but supply chains of conventional materials had yet to be re-established. References show that this exact play elephant pattern in 22 cm was made in mohair in 1950 through 1951. As such, it does appear that by the early 1950's traditional toy making materials and fabrics were again being manufactured for commercial use, and supply chains were functioning and dependable again.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this fantastic pre- and post- war elephant has been a memorable one for you.  

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

This Distinctive Steiff Teddy Baby Is One International Sensation!

Teddy hugs from London! Literally! Steiffgal has just returned from a very quick hop "across the pond," where she attended the delightful and inaugural London International Antique Doll, Teddy Bear and Toy Fair. Many thanks to friends Hilary Pauley and Daniel Agnew for their great job in bringing this brilliant event to life. Held on November 19th and 20th, 2016, this weekend happening featured a full day of seminars, speakers, and learning on Saturday, followed by a collector's fair in Olympia Hall on Sunday - showcasing a dizzying array of the finest antique dolls, plush, trains, and toys.  And, of course, Steiff!  

Steiffgal was walking the fair when - oh baby! - did this distinctive Teddy catch her eye! So much so, that this cheeky cub is now happily residing in the United States as part of her collection. And, as a nod to her adoption location, she's been named "Olympia!" 

Olympia is an example of the iconic Teddy Baby pattern, which was produced as a standard line design in the Steiff catalog from 1929 through 1957. This particular Ted is 28 cm standing and fully jointed. Her body is made from brown cotton plush, her muzzle and the tops of her feet are made from very short tan mohair, and her paw pads are made from tan linen. Her always happy and smiling mouth is lined in peach colored felt. She has four black hand embroidered claws on each paw. Her precious face comes to life with black and brown glass pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose. Her squeaker works loudly and clearly! Olympia was produced around 1950, give or take a year or two, and just a handful of years after the Giengen factory reopened for toymaking business after the conclusion of WWII.

Olympia has several design and physical features that truly are worthy of a gold medal, as well as reflective of the period in which she was made. 

First, its easy to have a plush crush on her very unusual material. Her body, head, and limbs are made out of brown cotton plush. This fabric has both a cotton backing and a cotton pile. The best way to describe it is that it feels like a cotton bathroom towel that has been through a number of wash and dry cycles; a little bumpy in texture but with an overall and somewhat smooth feel. It is not like mohair, which can be distinctive and prickly; or silk plush, which is shiny and smooth feeling; or wool plush, which is continuous in texture and more "dense." It is Steiffgal's guess that this material was used instead of the company's more traditional fabrics on her body as these were in very short supply or extremely expensive at the time.  

For the most part, cotton plush does not appear all that durable, at least on this Teddy Baby example. Although Olympia has a little playwear to her, her plush has a few losses, and seems more matted and worn than it should be, especially given how sound and hearty her body is otherwise. Usually paw pads and feet seams show wear and tear, but Olympia's are all original, and in excellent, even like new, condition.  

Second, her pad pads are hands-down interesting. They are made from tan linen. This material was used as a substitute for wool felt when it was in short supply. Steiffgal has a number of c. 1950 Steiff bears with the same linen material on their pads, including one made from artificial silk plush. It is interesting to note that a similar linen fabric was used in the place of felt on the bodies of Steiff's 19-teen doll line around the time of WWI for probably the same logistical and supply reasons.  

And finally, her ID really buttons her up as a rarity. Olympia proudly bears an "all capital" Steiff button, which was used for just a handful of years in the very late 1940's and early 1950's. Steiffgal has just a few other Steiff treasures in her collection with this style button; some sport a US Zone tag, other do not. Clearly, the early postwar years were a period of great transition and evolution for Steiff in terms of design and IDs. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Olympia, the cotton plush Teddy Baby bear from London, will be met with international appeal!

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

This Steiff Silk Plush Foal Is This Week's Mane Attraction!

Pony up and check out this fantastic find from a new friend on the West Coast. Apparently she purchased him as part of group of other vintage and antique toys, including a few dolls and other stuffed animals. But in addition to his pretty presentation, this farm friend also has tremendous horsepower from the historical and product development perspectives. Here's why!

It's off to the (horse) races with this sweet example of Steiff's young "Foal." He is 28 cm tall, standing on all fours, unjointed, and made from white and tan artificial silk fabric. His body is lightly airbrushed with brown on his back, legs, and head. His diamond shaped forehead blaze is white. Foal's ears are lined in a felt-like material and highlighted with pink airbrushing on their insides. His hooves are made from brown felt. His mane and tail are made from slightly longer artificial silk plush. Foal's dear face comes to life with brown and black glass pupil eyes, painted nostrils, and a touch of airbrushing around his eyes for dimension. He proudly wears his short trailing "f" button in his ear as his Steiff ID. Foal was made in this size only in this material in 1948.  

This artificial silk plush foal occupies a most distinctive stall in the barnyard lineup, spanning both pre- and postwar production. Here's where he fits into the timeline of his great pattern.

  • 1932-1943:  The first version of this foal appeared in the Steiff line in 22, 28, and 35 cm and was made in wool plush.
  • 1948:  Here is where today's silk plush foal fits in; he was made in 28 cm only.
  • 1949-1951:  Foal again was made in wool plush, but only in 28 cm.
  • 1952-1961:  Foal is now produced in 14 cm and 28 cm; the 14 cm version is made from velvet with felt ears and a mohair tail and mane while and the 28 cm version is made from mohair. The velvet version is pictured below.

It is interesting to note that wool plush was a fabric of choice for this pattern both before and after the war.  Wool plush, which has a "durable" construction and a denser texture than mohair or artificial silk plush, was a popular fabric used on Steiff items in the 1930's and early 1940's, and then again postwar through the 1960's on handful of legacy items.  It has a distinctly old fashioned look to it and takes airbrushing well.  For the most part, Steiff used wool plush as an alternative fabric choice during challenging economic and manufacturing periods.  As such, wool plush fabric is often associated with Steiff products manufactured +/- ten years around the WWII period. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this proud pony has put a little gallop in your step today.

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Bridging Time With This Remarkable Steiff Doll In Her Original Packaging

Do you think time travel is real? Well, this remarkable Steiff find will take you back many decades, even if you are a non-believer! Check out this fantastic vintage Steiff doll, in her all original packaging! It is as if she were made yesterday. But how old is she really? Let's look at her details to try and figure that out.

Here we have Steiff's “Cenzi” doll in her original labeled box, including its original tissue paper. She is one of Steiff's "pressed felt faced dolls," which debuted in the company's catalogs in the mid to late 1930's. Cenzi is 35 cm tall, head and leg jointed, and made from felt. She wears a dress made from red and blue artificial silk fabric. It is detailed with a felt collar, white sleeves, and a matching apron. Her hat is made from yellow felt and her shoes are made from red felt. Cenzi has all of her IDs, including her named chest tag, Steiff button, and yellow tag, which are worn on a red rubber bracelet around her wrist. 

Cenzi's box is made from heavy brown cardboard. It is held together with metal staples. On one end, there is a tan and blue label that is printed with the words "Steiff, Made in Germany, Importe D'Allemagne, and Marke Knopf Im Or," and a Teddy bear face. The label is printed with the words "Cenzi 95/35." The other end of the box is plain, without any marks.   

What's so interesting about Cenzi is that her detailing really spans both pre- and postwar norms for these sorts of dolls. Even her IDs, including her tiny trailing "F" button, watermelon shaped bear faced chest tag, and yellow wrist tag are seen on both pre- and early postwar models. According to records, Cenzi was “officially” produced in 1949-50. However, she has several subtle features that could possibly put her production up to a decade earlier.

First, Cenzi has her US Zone tag hand stitched into her apron. This might be because she was originally made without one before the factory shut down for toy making operations during WWII. As all toys leaving the factory in the late 1940's and very early 1950's required this tag, it might have been sewn on in a convenient place just before her distribution. Other similar post 1950 Steiff dolls usually have this tag sewn into one of their limb seams. You can see this detailing here on the left on another Steiff doll of the period.

Second, Cenzi has "quality control" issues that suggest she was produced at a very challenging time with limited resources - perhaps in the early 1940's. It is interesting to note that she has mismatching ribbons on her hat. They are not faded, they really are different. One is pink and the other one is red. This is most unusual in terms of quality control for Steiff. And even though she is "new in box" with no other play wear, 2 out of 3 of her dress snaps are are missing paint and appear chipped. It is entirely possible that her clothing was manufactured with these damaged buttons and left over scraps of ribbon were used on her hat as no alternatives were available. She also has a cheek rub, but upon close inspection it appears from the factory and not as a result of rough handling. 

Finally, the series and article numbers printed on her label correspond to the company's pre-war doll numbering system. According to the Sortiment books, the pre-war pressed felt faced dolls had a series number of 95, while the postwar pressed felt faced dolls had a series number of 90.

So when indeed was this timeless beauty's birthday? Only she knows for sure, and she's not talking! But what is certain is that like all of Steiff's wonderful dolls, bears, and animals, she has stood the test of time and will be admired - and studied - for generations to come.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's "Cenzi" has thrown you into a frenzy. 

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