Friday, March 31, 2017

Tag, You're It With These Frozen-In-Time Steiff Treasures

For many collectors, Steiff remains timeless in a fast changing world. Some of us have family heirloom treasures that have been passed down from generation to generation. Others collect vintage pieces that may represent a little piece of childhood, happy memories, or a favorite decade. Given the company's extensive ID system and records, it is pretty easy to date a piece of vintage Steiff. But sometimes, a great vintage item in "tissue new" condition also comes along with a big bonus - its retail price tag from the store that originally sold it. These tags help shed more information on the origins of the piece - and often generate a little nostalgia, too. Here are a few items from Steiffgal's collection with these great original sales tags.

All panda-monium broke out when this sweet cub joined Steiffgal's hug. This of course is Steiff's smallest fully jointed, post war panda. He is 15 cm, made from black and white mohair, and has an open, peach colored velvet lined mouth lined in black. His absolutely irresistible face is detailed with brown and black pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose; the black circles around his eyes are airbrushed. He retains his original pink silk ribbon. This particular model was made in 15, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm from 1951 through 1961. This panda was produced with grey felt paw pads from 1951 through 1956 and suede-like grey rubber material paw pads from 1956 onward. This panda has felt pads, dating it from the early 1950's. 

Panda retains his original white string tag from the high end, national department store Lord and Taylor. This store is still in business, and still sells Steiff items in their larger stores with toy and baby departments. The tag itself has four rows of numbers and codes. The only ones that Steiffgal can decipher is a code the second row - "5315" which matches his ear tag number, "6" on the third row which probably corresponds to 6 inches tall (his height), and 1.95 on the last row, which is most likely his price in dollars. Assuming that he sold in 1951, $1.95 in 1951 had the same buying power as $18.83 in 2017.

Now let's add this fantastic Tabby cat into this meow mix. Here we have Steiff's largest "Tabby" cat. She is 17 cm from head to toe, standing, unjointed, and made from off white mohair. Her back, arms, legs, tail, and the sides of her head are beautifully airbrushed with grey shading and black stripes, making her truly the cats meow! She has black and green plastic slit pupil eyes, a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, and clear whiskers. She retains her original red ribbon and bell and purple hang tag indicating that her exterior is washable. Tabby was produced from 1949 through 1977 in 7, 10, 14 and 17 cm. This particular example, with her lentil style button and article number 2700/17, was made in the 1969-1977 time frame.

Tabby has her pricetag from Marshall Field and Company, a department store that began in the Chicago, IL area but expanded rapidly to other states in the mid to late 20th century. Steiffgal grew up in the Chicago area, and spent many happy hours in these stores, often nibbling on their legendary "Frango Mint" candies. Sadly, Marshall Field does not exist anymore, having been bought by the Macy's chain in the early 2000's. This tag has three rows of numbers. The only one that Steiffgal can decipher is the last row, being "18.00," most likely her price at the time. Assuming that she sold in 1969, $18.00 in 1969 had the same buying power as $122.42 in 2017.

Given Easter is on the horizon, let's take a look at a fine bunny as our last example of "tag, you're it!" Here we have the smallest example of Steiff's sitting rabbit. She is 8 cm, not jointed, and made from tan mohair that is airbrushed with tan, brown, pink, and black details all over her back, sides, and ears. She has beautiful black and brown pupil eyes, a red hand embroidered nose and mouth, and clear, playful whiskers. She retains her original blue silk ribbon and bell. This particular pattern was produced 8, 9, 15, and 18 cm from 1950 through 1974; she was called Rabbit from 1950 to 1966 and Sonny from 1967 onward. This particular example is numbered 3308,03, dating her in the 1965 to 1967 time frame.

This petite treat has her pricetag from Hahne and Company. Hahne's was a chain of department stores that was based in Newark, NJ and had branches throughout the central and northern parts of the state. The company was purchased by Lord and Taylor in the late 1980's. Rabbit's tag has three lines of numbers and codes. The last one, "3.00," is most likely her price at the time. Assuming she sold in 1965, $3.00 in 1965 had the same buying power as $23.21 in 2017.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on retail tags on vintage Steiff treasures didn't leave you hanging!

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Steiff Mystery of Olympic Proportions

Now this latest Steiff find may just test your mettle - your Olympic medal, that is!  Steiffgal recently acquired a most unusual Steiff purse, one that she had only read - and dreamed - about.  The item itself is sort of interesting, but its possible history and origins just might be world class!

Hold everything and check out this sports-themed handbag.  This round purse has a diameter of 18 cm.  It is basically made from two circles of white plush which are sewn together on a blue and white canvas fabric edging. On one side of the bag is the five ringed Olympic logo in black. The other side is detailed with the words "1980," and "Lake Placid" and that game's mascot logo, Rocky the Raccoon. Rocky is grey, white, and black, with white and black pupil eyes. All decorations on the bag (except the inserted eyes) appear to be stenciled. The bag strap is a long blue cord which matches the color of the fabric edging. The bag closes with a simple silver metal zipper.  In terms of Steiff ID, the purse has a generic, unnumbered late 1970's style yellow ear tag, but no chest tag or button.

Here's where the mystery kicks in. According to Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Steiff Sortiment, this item - called a "disco bag" - was in the line in 1979 and came in two color themes. These include the blue one as described above, and a similar one with red and white canvas edging and a red cord bag strap. The red version did not include the date "1980" on the Rocky logo side of the bag. The purse's article number is noted as 6354/18. For the most part, items that appear in Pfeiffer's Steiff books have been produced and distributed on a commercial scale.

However, according to beloved Steiff authority Dee Hockenberry's reference book, Steiff Bears and Other Playthings Past and Present, this item, and a plush Rocky raccoon logo toy never went into production. Specifically, for the purses, she says...

"Olympic Pocketbook Prototypes: 7 inches in diameter. Plush with zipper closure. Never in production. The only examples ever made."  

The photo on the left of the purses is from the Hockenberry book. 

And for the Rocky logo toy, she notes... 

"Prototype Raccoon: 11 inches. In 1978 and 1979, Steiff, through their US representative, made presentations to the American Olympic Committee in order to obtain a licence to make 1980 Olympic souvenirs. Three prototype were made incorporating the Lake Placid mascot and Olympic logo. Although the samples were attractive, an official licence was never granted.  These are the only examples ever made."  

The photo on the left of the Rocky logo toy is from the Hockenberry book. 

Just how rare are Steiff 1980 Olympic souvenir handbags? The Pfeiffer and Hockenberry references seem to suggest opposite sides of the story. What Steiffgal does know for sure is that in 40+ years of collecting Steiff, she has never seen or even heard of another example of a Rocky Lake Placid Olympic item. And this item's generic yellow Steiff tag without numbering does suggest that this particular example may be a very early example or prototype. However, Rocky's face painting on Steiffgal's version does not exactly match up to the painting on the one pictured in Dee Hockenberry's book. As such, the ones pictured in the Hockenberry book are NOT the only examples ever made. It seems that the mystery behind this unusual "disco bag" - like many Olympic achievements - is one for the record books.  

Steiffgal hopes you've taken this discussion on Steiff's Rocky handbag quite purse-sonally.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Singing A Happy Tune Over This Unusual Steiff Musical Tiger!

Well, this interesting find should be like music to your ears if you like Steiff tigers. And why is that? This wonderful jungle gem has a secret - he's got a special and most unusual music feature hidden in his belly. Check out this terrific tiger and see what makes him one of the coolest cats around!

It's easy to break out in song over this pretty kitty. "Music Tiger" is unjointed and about 20 cm tall and 30 cm long (not including his tail.) He is in Steiff's "lying" position, meaning he is curled up with his legs resting gently to his side. His face is detailed with piercing green and black eyes, a pink embroidered nose, a black embroidered mouth with a touch of pink airbrushing, and tufts of longer mohair around his jowls. He has many long, clear, monofilament whiskers.  He is made from short mohair, which has been hand airbrushed and stenciled to give his coat a most authentic and realistic look.  Even his paw pads have charming "footprints" on them.  On his underside, there is a small brass winder that activates his happy tunes; it is in working condition. 

Collectors will recognize this beloved pattern as the one identical to Steiff's popular lying tiger cub design, which was produced from 1953 through 1978 in 17, 28, 43, and 60 cm.

Let's take a look at some of the special IDs of this singing sweetie, which does not appear - as far as Steiffgal knows of - in any regularly referenced Steiff book. The first is his eye-catching chest tag.  It is Steiff's regular, colorful bear faced version with his name on it.  Given the "secret location" of his music box, and the fact that his basic pattern is relatively standard in the Steiff line, this tag is essential in identifying him from pictures as something really unique. The second is his special musical item tag.  The tag is metallic silver, red, and blue, and features a Steiff logo and the word "Musicanto" on each side. It is in four languages, and reads, "Contains a genuine Swiss music box. To wind: Turn knob in the tail or underneath tummy."  

It's not polite to ask someone their age, so let's figure out another way to date this Music Tiger. Steiffgal has two other Steiff musical animals that have this tag. The first is the company's Music Kitty. This fancy feline is 17 cm, head jointed, and resembles Steiff's beloved sitting Susi cat pattern. Music Kitty was made in 1955 through 1957, and then again in 1961; she is pictured here on the left. The second is Steiff's Music Cockie Cocker Spaniel. Cockie is 17 cm and sitting. She is made from black and white mohair and is head jointed. She has a large, open, smiling mouth. Her face is detailed with large, friendly brown and black pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose.  Music Cockie was produced from 1955 through 1957 only.  Both Music Kitty and Cockie's music features are activated by winding up their tails.  And of course, who can forget Steiff's fabulous Music Teddy, which was made in 35 cm from 1951 through 1957?

Given all of that, it is Steiffgal's best guess that this Music Tiger, like his other talented and performing cousins, was most likely made in the 1955 through 1957 time frame, give or take a pinch.

It was not terribly unusual for Steiff to take some of its most popular patterns and try "theme and variation" items from them. Some of these "experiments" were produced on a commercial level and appeared in the catalog; others were made in extremely limited quantities if at all. For example, Steiffgal also has a larger lying tiger made as a silk-lined and zippered pajama bag. This also does not appear, as far as Steiffgal knows, in any standard Steiff reference book. In 2009, Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion featured two marvelous musical rarities; a musical Lulac rabbit and a very large musical tiger.  The auction house dated each from approximately 1952. Both are pictured here on the left - click on the photo to enlarge it!

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

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this Music Tiger has been a high note in your day.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

This Unusual Steiff Curled Wool Pachyderm is Simply Ele-Fantastic!

Oh baby!  A new vintage friend has arrived from overseas and Steiffgal can't wait to introduce you to him. Steiffgal was checking out some online auctions and came across an interesting find on offer from an auction house in The Netherlands.  The stars aligned and she won this somewhat rare prewar Steiff elephant.  And, it turns out, he has several very charming and unusual design features that are not obvious from photos or cataloging.  Let's check out this petite pachyderm and explore his interesting assembly. 

Steiff calls this beautiful baby "Play Elephant." He is 14 cm tall and 20 cm long, standing, and unjointed. His body is made from an interesting material called "curled wool plush."  This fabric has the look and of bumpy Persian lamb material, but with a softer, friendlier feel to it.  The backing is a dark grey or black, and the front is light grey in color.  He has red airbrushed highlighting on his ears, as well as nails on each of his feet. His distinctly babylike face comes to life with simple black button eyes that are backed in pink-airbrushed felt; an open, peach colored felt mouth; and a posable, wire lined trunk.  He is excelsior stuffed and has a working squeaker  Play Elephant retains his long trailing "F" style Steiff button. When he was new, he had a colorfully striped blanket; sadly, this has been lost to time.  Play Elephant in this unusual material appeared in the line from 1935 through 1941 overall in 14 and 17 cm; the 17 cm version was also produced as a pull toy on eccentric green wooden wheels.  

Above on the left you can see a c. 1935 German print advertisement featuring Play Elephant; also pictured is the little known "Dream Baby No. 103" which appeared in the line from 1934 through 1936 and a mohair ball duck, which appeared in the line from 1932 through 1943.

So let's take a closer look at three subtle features that make this elephant a jungle gem.  

The first is the use of additional, unusual fabrics on this period item. Elephant's paw pads, tail, and ear backing material is not felt, but another light grey material that has a cotton backing and a soft, velvet-like nap to it. It feels very much like the flesh-colored material used on the bodies of the company's pre- and early postwar animal dolls.  The tip of his tiny tail is also detailed in long, soft black material. It looks somewhat like mohair fabric that could be used to represent the mane on a horse or zebra, but it is much softer, easily bendable, and doesn't feel like wool in any way.  

The second is some unique stitching detailing on his oversized, floppy ears.  Each ear has six simple grey seams which fan out from where the ears join to his head.  These are both decorative as well as hold the front and back fabrics making up the ears together.  Because of the texture of the curled wool plush, the stitches are not visible on the front of the ears.  Steiffgal has several prewar elephants in her collection based on this "Play Elephant" pattern - including a 22 cm silk plush version - and none have this distinctive ear stitching detailing.   

The third is a mouthful - literally!  Steiff is famous for how the company inserts and secures the eyes on its bears and animals.  This is usually done by inserting the eyes into the front of the head, pulling the threads to the rear of the head, and knotting them firmly in the back at the base of the neck.  In the case of this particular pre-war curled wool plush elephant, this distinctive knot is located right inside the baby's mouth. This was really hard to photograph but hopefully you can see this feature here on the left. It is the first time Steiffgal has seen this assembly detail on any Steiff item. 

Steiffgal hopes you find this sweet baby elephant as unforgettable as she does!

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Steiffgal's All Smitten Over This Celebrity Kitten

Now isn't this the cat's meow? Steiffgal was checking out eBay during some down time recently and came across this sweet Steiff mascot. She quickly "bought it now" from a seller who was downsizing his family's collection. Although this item itself is somewhat recent, this pretty kitty has more than a half-century long legacy in Germany - both in the media and with the Steiff company. To learn more, let's turn our "lights, camera, and action" on this Steiff celebrity cat.

This "purr"-fect treasure is a great example of Steiff’s "Koko" mascot. She was made for the popular and long-time German magazine "TV Hören + Sehen, ” or "TV Hear and See." This fine feline is 28 cm tall, unjointed, standing, and made from grey and white knitted fur that is detailed with grey tabby stripes. Her extra long, curly tail is quite eye-catching and made from white knitted fur. Her paw pads are tan trivera velvet, and her ears are lined in white trivera velvet. She has three painted claws on each of her paws. Koko's mischievous face comes to life with oversized teal and black pupil eyes, a tan plastic formed nose, black airbrushed mouth, and black monofilament whiskers.

Truly "the whole package," Koko comes with her original diecut cardboard packaging stand, which displays her so nicely. The back of the stand is designed to both prop up the the cat, as well as hold her prominent tail securely in place. You can see this feat of engineering on the photo above on the left. On the front, the stand has both the Steiff and magazine’s logos. The German writing on the front of her display translates to, "Koko the popular cat from TV to Hear + See, now from Steiff." Koko has distinctive Steiff IDs, including a special logo'd chest tag, button in ear, and ear tag. This edition was produced in this size only in 1988.

It is interesting to note that this is not the first TV Hören + Sehen Koko Cat mascot that Steiff has produced over time. In 1954, Steiff made a 12 cm begging version of Koko. Her body was made from mohair, while her ears and front paws were made from felt. Her face was made from rubber. Of course, she also had a long and prominent tail. Steiffgal has never seen or handled this extraordinary rarity. It is her best guess that very few were produced over a very short time, and just a handful remain in existence today. This would be because their faces, which were made from rubber, probably have dried out and fallen apart by now. Many Steiff rarities made from rubber or with rubber detailing from this exact time period face this same sad reality. The picture on the left of the "original" Steiff Koko Cat is from Gunther Pfeiffer's Steiff Sortiment 1947-2003.

Now let's read up on TV Hören + Sehen. This magazine has been published weekly in Germany in its current form since 1962, although its origins go back to the mid-1920's, with much growth and change in the early 1950's. Today, the circulation is just under one million copies per edition. The publication features a guide to the upcoming week's television and radio programs. It also includes features, news, interviews, recipes, cartoons, games, horoscopes, and other articles about lifestyle, fitness, and popular culture. Although Steiffgal has not seen or handled a copy of the magazine in person, from its contents, it sounds like it may be a hybrid of the popular magazines "People," "TV Guide," and "Ladies Home Journal" here in the United States.

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion has left you smitten over this dear Steiff kitten.

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