Sunday, June 25, 2017

Unearthing A Few Hidden Gems From The July, 2017 Steiff Sommer Auction

Wouldn't it be nice to stumble upon an overflowing treasure chest of unusual vintage Steiff treasures? And even better, wouldn't it be divine if they were available to add to your collection? Such is the case with Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion's upcoming Steiff Special Auction to be held on July 1st, 2017 in Giengen, Germany as part of Steiff's annual summer celebration. It's worth checking out the catalog, even if just to dream big. You can find it online here. A few outstanding "hidden gem" lots amongst the offerings really caught Steiffgal's eye. Here are three that truly make her heart skip a beat - or two!

This first pick will have you singing the blues - in the best way possible. This is lot #1704, a blue tipped circus elephant with a starting bid of 650 euro. It is cataloged as:

"Circus elephant, mohair plush, grey/blue flamed, jointed, with neck mechanism and snap joints, velvet paws with toes, with felt down below of the snout and also at the point of the trunk, blue glass eyes, 32 cm, there is no snap mechanism in the snout, the elephant was X-rayed at Steiff, many parts of the mechanism are identical to the subsequent serial model, this is a test version, it is known that a similar elephant was in possession of the family Steiff (Klara Steiff, great second cousin Magarete Steiff) and a few years before it returned to the Steiff-archive, after that was a replica produced with red flamed mohair, in Giengen it was common practice that this test models were presented to relatives of employees or on the occasion of special events, version without tusks, small places with pelt loss, this version isn't listed in the Pfeiffer catalog."

And just what makes this petite pachyderm so unforgettable? It is always thrilling to learn of one of a kind Steiff treasures, and it is clear to see where this particular model fits in with the company's line of "snap" models. These high end novelties had spring joints and were designed to have movement and snap back and forth into different playful positions. Snap jointing could appear on an item's hands, feet, legs, and mouth. Original Steiff snap style items are all extremely rare to begin with, so to find a sample or prototype of one is really extraordinary. Standard line models produced included a Snap Dicky, a Snap Circus Bear, this general style of Snap Elephant, and a little known doll with snap jointing in her legs, enabling her to stand or sit easily. All of these variations were produced in the 1930's.

The blue mohair color of this sample is also very interesting. Steiffgal can only think of a handful of standard line prewar Steiff mohair items were produced in blue - including a few novelty rabbits and dogs. It is possible that this item was not produced in blue was because blue mohair was expensive, challenging to work with, or just not available on a commercial scale. 

Rolling right along, now let's have a go at lot #1583. This is a Steiff Record orang-utang, No. 320, 1929 - 1933, with a starting bid of 750 euro. It is cataloged as:

"Record orang-utang, No. 320, 1929 - 1933, mohair, felt face, glass eyes, 18 cm, with button, felt is except of minimally places in face and a small place at one hand in good condition, good mohair, the color on the wheels is worn, rare, voice is faulty."

This monkey on the go is the wheel-deal indeed. A few details about this item are certain to send collectors on a joy ride. The first, of course, is his form.  Orangutangs are extremely rare in the early Steiff line. The most familiar pre-war version is the company's playful and very appealing Mimocculo. This great pattern was produced in 11 sizes ranging from 8 to 50 cm from 1930 through 1936 overall. The middle and larger sizes featured a most unusual "pull the ear and the eyeballs move" feature. In 2010, a 13.5 cm example sold for close to $10,000 at an auction at Christies in London.  

The second is the fact that this first class example rides upon a four wheeled "Irish Mail Cart." This means that the carriage appears to be propelled by the rider pumping a handlebar back and forth with their arms. These "record" style animals on carts were introduced in 1912 and were an immediate hit. Bears, rabbits, monkeys, felt novelty dolls, and even Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse appeared on these rolling carts. It is easy to understand why early items on working carriages seem to always drive auction bidders into fifth gear! 

And finally, let's pay full attention to lot #1551, a felt Steiff Hungarian soldier doll. His opening bid is 360 euro, and he is cataloged as:

"Caricature figure, Hungarian, produced between 1912 - 1917, felt, jointed, national costume, item description "Ung 50 Völkertypen", shoe button eyes, traditional costume and also head with holes in the felt, original leather shoes with tassels, nailed shoes, c. 50 cm, without hat, left arm is mended and also a small red felt insert, otherwise good condition, rare."

This fine example has uniform appeal, especially among the small army of Steiff military doll enthusiasts. Steiff’s uniformed dolls were a significant percentage of the company’s line and business in the early part of the 20th century. All of these dolls had most or all of their clothing integral to their bodies and were five ways jointed; some 50 cm and larger also had jointed knees. In a span of about 20 years, Steiff produced examples representing German, Scottish, Moroccan, Turkish, Dutch, Russian, American, Belgian, French, Italian, Hungarian, and Austrian armed forces, among others. All were known for their well tailored and authentic clothing, extraordinary to-scale accessories, and, of course, their perfect posture. Check out this soldier's fantastic jacket buttons and embroidery as well as the tiny tassels on his well constructed boots! Steiff made over 100 distinctly designed military dolls over time; most of these patterns were made in two or three sizes each. In tribute to some countries, like Germany, England, and the United States, Steiff produced dolls at numerous ranks and in various uniform types. 

Steiffgal hopes this auction preview tour has been a highlight of your day!  And good luck if you do bid on any of the sale's fantastic treasures!

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cataloging Steiff's Display Rarities From The Mid 1960's

A great way to learn more about vintage button-in-ear rarities is to go to the source - literally! Steiff has always been consistent in producing sales materials, catalogs, and literature about their product line over time, and these original documents are like miniature time capsules of information for collectors. Steiffgal recently purchased a specialty catalog from 1967 which features the company's vast range of lifesized animals produced 50 years ago. The cover, which has a family of display orangutans, is shown here on the left. These include a 130 cm or 52 inch papa, a 120 cm or 48 inch mama, and a 40 cm or 16 inch baby. Let's take a peek inside this great reference and see what it has to say!

The catalog cover itself measures about 23 cm wide and 17 cm tall and is designed like a binder, with metal rings holding the hole-punched sheets in place. The introduction page - which is written in German, French, and English - reads: "Besides the famous toy animals we also manufacture animals in natural until twice natural size. They are most popular for shop windows and stores to draw the attention of the buyers of our mark. Those animals are made of the same good mohair, plush, or nylon  and have a metal frame. If a person wants to sit on them, it would be better to add a metal ring which unites the four legs. This ring must be paid extra.

The catalog is beautifully illustrated with full color photography throughout. The pages are printed single sided, with blank backs. The catalog contains mostly "beauty shots" of the company's display line, but also has a few pages in the front which offer sales and shelving items, including price tags, lighting, signage, and merchandisers. Perhaps the most interesting page is shown here on the left. Check out the range of display pieces for smaller items, including what looks like green metal "cots" for the company's sleeping style cosy items. Steiffgal has never seen these in real life, have you?

Now let's make a big deal over some display animal highlights. The catalog has over 80 individual pages featuring these lifesized lovelies, so its difficult to pick out just a few. Several species, like elephants and the big jungle cats, were well represented with several models of each on offer. Here are some examples that really caught Steiffgal's eye - for their rarity, beauty, or just plain goofiness. (You can click on all the photos to make them bigger and read the catalog page details.)

It's never too early to start putting together your Christmas wish list! And Steiffgal bets just about every vintage Steiff collector would love to find this almost lifesized Santa Claus doll under their holiday tree! Santa stands 150 cm or 60 inches tall and is based on the company's beloved standard line postwar rubber faced Santa doll, who was produced in 13, 18, and 31 cm from 1953 to 1963 overall. Steiffgal has only seen one example of this display sized man in red firsthand - he's as rare as his namesake!

There's not a hare out of place when it comes to this next display highlight. This great mohair pattern looks to be for the most part a prehistoric proportioned Manni rabbit, given his begging position and coloring - with a little bit of Niki rabbit's facial detailing in the mix for good measure. And given that Steiff traditionally does not include ear length when measuring rabbits, this honey bunny is even larger than his 80 cm or 31-1/2 inch "official" size. Just for comparison, check out the teeny tiny Perri squirrel in the photo - he's probably only 12 or 17 cm! 

Now let's cool things down a bit with this jolly sitting polar bear. His body position is quite distinctive - he seems to be squatting on his bent legs. He must be carefully balanced, given the size and scale of his portly midriff. Another picture of him that Steiffgal has seen shows a metal rod base stand mounted strategically on his "bare bottom," probably to help keep him upright. This 180 cm or 72 inch perky polar bear has really prominent rubber claws, faux suede pads, and a million dollar smile. 

This busy pair only want to be your beasts of burden. The display catalog features two donkey designs, but Steiffgal thought this dralon, open-mouthed pattern was a bit more interesting than the other, given its seldom seen accessories. Steiff does a great job with farm animals, and their donkeys have broad and universal appeal. Sometimes they are produced "au naturel," while other models feature brindles and/or saddles. The company's early "Democratic" donkey mascot don a blue felt blanket. Whatever your political affiliation, it's very easy to get carried away over these 120 cm or 48 inch and 90 cm or 35 inch Steiff donkeys adorned with functional, hand-woven raffia baskets!

No need to trash-talk over this fantastic, lifesized black and white mohair Steiff Cockie Cocker Spaniel. It is interesting to note that Steiff's mid to late 20th century sitting black and white Cockers are in the form of rare novelties, including a tail turns head model and a musical version. There is no "standard line" postwar black and white sitting Cocker. So this guy must be pretty special! This catalog page illustration has it all - a great and seldom seen 80 cm or 32 inch display rarity, an authentic situation all dog owners can relate to, and little Steiff friends hidden in the mess.  

Anyone care to dance? It's hard to resist these two humongous and utterly charming mohair Zotty bears. Clearly these big bruins are based on the company's legacy mohair Zotty Teddy bear pattern, which appeared in the line from 1951 through 1978 in sizes ranging from 17 to  100 cm. These cavorting cubs seem to be having the time of their lives. Could that have something to do with the large beer keg and two porcelain steins in the background? These display items measure 80 cm or 35 inches and 100 cm or 40 inches, respectively. 

Bird's the word with this final display pick. Here we have two royal looking Crown Crane birds, measuring in at 140 cm or 56 inches each. Both are standing, unjointed, and elaborately detailed in various colors and lengths of mohair materials. They balance elegantly on metal framed legs that are covered in felt and realistically airbrushed. Steiffgal has seen and handled a number of Steiff display birds from this period, including a flamingo and an ostrich, (both also featured in this catalog) but never the company's cranes. It is her strongest suspicion that like the flamingo and the ostrich, these cranes were designed with removable heads and necks for ease of packing, shipping, and storage. 

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on Steiff's 1960-era display items larger than life.

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Care To Feather Your Nest With This Vintage Steiff Play Duck?

It's easy to go quackers over Steiff's ducks.  These fantastic fowl favorites have made a red carpet appearance in Steiff's commercial catalogs since their debut in 1892, first appearing in felt.  Steiffgal recently adopted a vintage and very darling duckling into her collection.  Waddle on over and check out some of his interesting, prewar design features.

What collector would not want to feather their nest with this dapper duck?   This toy is officially named "Play Duck." He is standing, 22 cm tall, unjointed, and stuffed with excelsior. Play Duck is made from yellow wool plush fabric.  His beak and feet are dimensional and are made from matching yellow felt. His feet are lined in wire and are posable.  His two small wings are spread out playfully along his back. Play Duck's eyes are made from black buttons and are backed in red felt circles - a design feature often seen on Steiff's birds.  He has a nonworking squeaker in his torso. He retains his short trailing "f" style Steiff button in his wing as his ID.  Play Duck was made in this size only from 1933 through 1943.

It's hard not to notice Play Duck's interesting material.  Wool plush is a lovely toy making fabric as it is durable, high quality, and gives items a charming, old fashioned look.  It has a "fuzzy" feeling to it, and even though it is also produced on a cotton backing like mohair, its fibers are more "continuous" than mohair fibers, which tend to be a little more "prickly" and distinctive.  Steiff often used wool plush as a substitute fabric in the place of mohair for a few years before and a few years after World War II, when the company's more traditional mohair and felt fabrics were sanctioned or not available at all. When you see a vintage Steiff item made from wool plush, there's a really good chance that it was made in the 1930's through early 1950's time frame.

Play Duck's felt features are also quite charming, and give him a toddler-esque look.  

First... his tootsies.  His somewhat oversized feet are actually webbed, like a real duck, and allow him to stand and balance easily.  His "toes" are formed by the stitching on his feet.  

Second... his beak. His two part, open beak is positioned in such a way that he appears to be smiling. It is detailed with two small grey marks on the top, indicating his nostrils. Most prewar Steiff ducks either have closed dimensional beaks, or simpler beaks made from orange single or double thick flat felt. As such, this is one lucky ducky! Remarkably, both Play Duck's feet and his beak are stuffed with excelsior.  Just imagine the precision, time, and skill required to do that!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on her new fine feathered friend had all its ducks in a row.

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Flipping Out Over This Super-Sized Steiff Seal!

Care to dive head first into a little Steiff mystery?  Then take a look at this question from a new friend from Down Under, who asks about a delightful, well traveled rarity originally purchased in Japan.  Through a series of notes, Allison shares...

Hi from Australia!

I have a Steiff seal that is so big that I can not find him in any of the lists available to me.  He was purchased as a one off in the Steiff shop in Tokyo some years ago for a very high price. The Japanese lady who purchased him said she carried it on to the plane and he took up a spare seat with her in business class. Lucky seal!

His label reads on one side "PA55 MASS73 Covering 65% PAC 35% Cotton," and on the other side "Made in Germany for Steiff Knopf im ohr." There is evidence of some very faded numbers but I am certainly not able to discern them even under bright light.

The gold button is buried deep in the thick fur, with the end of the yellow label, and is bright and clear. It is on the front flipper. The fur is very detailed and varies in patterning over the whole animal. It is like a real fur coat with lots of tones of soft browns, creams and some grey blushings. There is a very definite lay of the fur just like a real animal's coat. 

He has about a 30 inch waist and while the length is hard to measure he is about 40 inches along the table top... without stretching his flippers!  

Would you be able to tell me about him, and his approximate value today?

Many thanks for your help. Cheers, Allison" 

Wow, this find makes quite a splash! What Allison has here appears to be Steiff's very large "Sitting Seal."  This great item is resting on his belly and front flippers, softly stuffed, and made from woven fur. He is officially measured at 100 cm, his length. From what Steiffgal can research, he is among the largest, if not the largest, example of a seal pattern Steiff has ever made on a commercial level. The company has made several 80 cm seals in the past, starting with two display patterns from 1960. Allison's seal was made from 1995-1996 and is not cataloged as a display piece, although it's dimensions certainly qualify it for that status. 

It is interesting to note how big seals actually are in real life. The largest species, Southern Elephant Seals, can weigh up to 8,500 pounds; males measure about 20 feet long while females are about half as long. Even the smallest seals are pretty big; Ringed Seals average 5 feet in length and usually weigh between 110 and 150 pounds, 
with males and females being about equal in size. As such, if Allison's seal was "lifesized," it would most likely be a lifesized baby seal.

Now for the question that throws Steiffgal into the deep end - his value.  As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it, and she has not seen this seal firsthand to inspect for condition and issues that don't appear on film, like odors, insect damage, and other subtle losses and problems.  Given he is clean and as presented, Steiffgal thinks an auction bid in the $400-600 range might seal the deal for him here in the USA.  

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on Allison's big seal beachy-keen!

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

The teddy bear search engine