Saturday, February 25, 2017

Here's Your Formal Introduction To Steiff's Grasshopper In A Tuxedo!

Today's interesting Steiff rarity is certain to bug you - but in the very best way possible.  Take a look - or two - at this absolutely amazing Steiff grasshopper in formal wear.  Yes, that's right... Steiff is responsible for the best dressed insect on the planet!  Here's the story, and the tale, behind this fantastic find.  
This happy hopper is Grashuepfer (grasshopper) Kalle Stropp. He is 18 cm tall and head jointed.  Let's start at the top by describing his head. It is constructed from green velvet and is decorated with black painted nostrils, a smiling mouth, and antennae made from clear plastic rods that are topped with two round, red balls.  His eyes deserve special mention for their detailing. They are made from tiny black buttons and backed in white material, somewhat like the eye treatment on the company's Bambi.  They are highlighted with painted pink shadows and black eyebrows.  Interestingly, Kalle has a black floss loop of thread sewn into the back of his long, thin neck. It appears to be original to him; perhaps it was put there so he could hang from a hook or a car's rear view mirror.  Steiff made a number of these "hanging style" mascots in the 1950's.

Now let's check out the rest of him. His body is made from heavy metal wire that feels somewhat like the wire used on the feet and legs of the company's woolen miniature birds of the same period.  His five fingered hands are made from light green felt. He is wearing a white felt collared shirt, red and white striped fabric bow tie, black felt pants, and a light green felt cutaway style topcoat.  His jacket is detailed with darker green lapels, white felt cuffs, and seven red bead buttons - two on each sleeve, two in the rear, and one in the front.   Black felt shoes with red felt soles complete his runway-grade outfit.  Kalle retains his colorful, named, bear faced chest tag and raised script button (located in the tail of his coat) as his Steiff IDs. 

The amount of work and the number of fabrics used on this big bug are simply astonishing.  And given the ephemeral nature of his construction and materials, it is amazing that he is still with us today. 

Kalle Stropp is one of Steiff's "one-derfuls," appearing in the line for only one year - 1956. Kalle is a popular Swedish fairy tale character invented by European author Thomas Funck. Funck's stories about Kalle and his friends were broadcast on the radio, produced as movies, and appeared in print in cartoons and books starting in 1954.  Kalle's sidekick was a frog named Grodan Boll; Grodan was also produced by Steiff in 1956 only as a 17 cm puppet and as a 14 cm figure. Both were made from velvet, had distinctive, round, googly-style eyes, and wore a black and red felt vest for good measure.  Kalle Stropp the grasshopper was portrayed as "a strict but distracted and nervous gentleman" while Grodan Boll the frog was "hyperactive, clumsy, and outspoken." Sounds like the plot behind many US situation comedies today!

According to Margarethas Docksk├ąp, a new friend who sells Steiff in Sweden and who is also passionate about the brand, "The film was written by Thomas Funck in 1956 and it was elected the best childrens movie that year. They had actors dressed up in all the different costumes but Thomas Funck himself made all the voices. His brother was the director of the film."

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the well dressed Kalle Stropp has been a black-tie affair for you.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

This Unusual Steiff Rabbit Is a 14 Carrot Find!

It's always fun to come across a Steiff time capsule - a button-in-ear treasure that was made decades ago but looks as though it was born yesterday!  Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of homing a charming rabbit that meets that criteria exactly.  And despite his relatively simple presentation, he's got some some not so obvious detailing that makes him quite interesting from the product development perspectives. Check out this honey-bunny and see what makes him a 14 carrot find!

This black and white beauty is named Snuffy. He is 18 cm, sitting and not jointed. Snuffy is constructed from a variety of materials. His head and body are made from black imitation fur that has a distinctive sparkle to it. His chest and underside are made from soft white imitation fur. His ears are lined in white dralon. And the back of his ears, top of his tail, and his two front legs are made from black mohair. His face comes to life with oversized blue and black pupil eyes, a simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, and lots of clear monofilament whiskers. He retains his original red ribbon, as well as his lentil style button, crisp and fully legible yellow ear tag, named "split style" chest tag, and red wooden F.A.O. Schwarz tag. This model was produced overall in 12 and 18 cm from 1974 through 1982 in beige and white, gray and white, and black and white.  

Given his manufacturing timeline and ID configuration, it is safe to deduce that Snuffy was "born" in the 1974 though 1977 timeframe and purchased at the high end toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz somewhere in the United States. Snuffy also came with his red, yellow, and orange Steiff box which retained its original F.A.O. Schwarz price tag. His price at the time was $8.95.  $8.95 in 1974 dollars is the equivalent of about $44.09 today.  

Now let's see if we can stitch together a reason for his unusual and diverse material selection. Given his small size and intended use as toy, it is interesting that so many fabrics were used in his construction. He is made from mohair, dralon, and imitation fur. These three selections reflect distinctive eras in Steiff's manufacturing timeline - but Snuffy's birth years overlap all three.  

Here's how his pattern emerges. Mohair is Snuffy's most expensive and exclusive fabric; this legacy material was used extensively through the 1970's and gave the company's items a traditional, high quality look and feel. Steiff featured dralon fabrics in their plaything lines in the c. 1965-1975 period when the company was focused on producing washable and durable toys for children. And, imitation fur made a brief appearance in the line in the mid to late 1970's before being mostly replaced by woven fur in the early 1980's. Imitation fur's modern appearance, soft touch, and relatively low cost made it an appealing fabric choice at the time as the company faced sharp competition for market share and new manufacturing challenges.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's interesting Snuffy rabbit has made a material improvement in your day!

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

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Game On With This Unusual And Uncatalogued Steiff Mosaic Ball

With the Superbowl just hours away, many people (at least in the United States) are getting ready to watch one the largest sporting events in the world on TV.  In keeping with the theme of "fun and games," Steiffgal thought it would be the perfect time to take a closer look at an unusual and vintage piece of Steiff "sporting equipment" - a soft ball designed for children's play.  

Let's toss up some basic facts about this Steiff rarity.  Steiffgal purchased this brown beauty at a recent Teddy Dorado auction. The ball itself is 15 cm in diameter and is made from a total of 12, five sided pentagons which are sewn together to make the rounded shape; Steiff calls this their "Mosaic Ball" design. It was described in the catalog as follows: 

"Room & gym ball from the 5 square mosaic fields; four fields are made of dark brown mohair; two fields are made of blond wool mohair; two fields are made of raw white & yellow silk plush; two fields are each different brownish patterned wool mohair; plump & stuffed with wood wool; without Steiff character from Manufactory; with a few bald areas; clean, non-fading & odor-free; overall very well received; Communication without proof of catalog... made without bell or rattle... probably made during or shortly after the Second World War from existing fabric remnants and not intended originally for sale... consignment from  Giengen/Brenz, Germany."

The fabric selections on this particular example, including mohair, artificial silk plush, and wool plush, perfectly align with its estimated date of production.  It is possible that this example was designed as a prototype for an item that never went into full scale production.  But it is more probable, given its origins from a consignor in Giengen, that it was created by an industrious Steiff seamstress on one of her breaks or even at home; these sorts of "one off" pieces are often referred to as "whimsies" or "end of day" items in the antique industry.  The most interesting fabric on this ball is a tan wool plush decorated with what appears to be hand-airbrushed black, brown, and orange spots.  Steiffgal does not recognize this fabric from any other Steiff item.  Have you seen it before?  

In a round-about way, balls designed for play have been part of the Steiff program since the late 19th century. Perhaps their earliest cataloged appearance was in 1892, when felt covered wooden balls were included with the company's standard skittle sets.  Steiff also made soft play balls for children in felt and mohair through the early 19-teens.  All of these earliest balls were designed in two or three colors and were constructed in wedges, like today's beach balls.  You can see two of these early felt skittle set balls here on the right; the photo is from Morphy Auctions.

Let's piece together what happened next. In around 1912, Steiff debuted its "Mosaic Ball" pattern. This ingenious design turned out to be the perfect blend of geometry, visual interest, and material efficiency.  The shape naturally takes form from the way the pentagons are stitched together. Its presentation can include up to twelve different colors, although Steiff traditionally used two pentagons each of white, red, black, blue, yellow, and green mohair.  And in terms of production efficiency, this pattern is ideal, and can incorporate the "left over" and scrap fabric from other items being produced.  From their introduction onward, Steiff frequently featured its Mosaic Balls in its advertising. This is understandable, given their festive and attractive appearance as well as popularity.  You can see a Steiff advertisement from 1912 featuring its Mosaic Balls here on the left, the photo is from Ayers and Harrison's Advertising Art of Steiff Teddy Bears and Playthings. 

Steiff's Mosaic Balls had a practically seamless, almost seventy year long appearance in the line. Pre-war, the company's standard line Mosaic Ball was produced in 13 sizes ranging from 6 to 35 cm from 1912 through 1943 overall.  This pattern was also incorporated into a hanging toy for a baby's crib from 1913 through 1917, and as a "catch toy" on an elastic string from 1914 through 1918.  Just after World War I, when mohair was scarce, Steiff produced its Mosaic Ball design in felt as well as substitute plush; in the early 1930's the ball was produced in lighter pastel colors as well. Once the factory reopened for toy making business in the late 1940's, this beloved pattern again appeared in the catalog in five sizes ranging from 15 to 25 cm from 1950 through 1982.

Steiffgal hopes you've enjoyed kicking around the history of Steiff's delightful play balls.

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