Saturday, September 30, 2017

Purr-haps You Recognize This Unusual Steiff Cat ?

Guess who just walked in on little cat's feet? This charming Steiff kitten! Do you recognize her classic design? She's from a very interesting production era at Steiff. Let's take a closer look at this pretty kitty with an eye towards her period features and place on the Steiff cat "family tree."

This purr-fectly lovely girl is an early version of Steiff's Susi cat. She is 17 cm tall, sitting, and head jointed. Susi is made from artificial silk plush. Her muzzle, front feet, and chest area are (were) white while her body, head, and tail are (were) grey. The grey areas are hand airbrushed with black stripes. Her face comes to life with back painted green and black slit pupil glass eyes and a pink embroidered nose and mouth. Her clear monofilament whiskers and her red claws have been lost to time. You can feel the squeaker in her belly, but it is not working now. This version of Susi was produced in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1948 to 1949 only.

Let's paws for a moment and take a peek at the history of this fabulous feline. Steiff debuted its original Susi cat in 1936. Prewar, she was produced in mohair in 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm through 1943. In Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment, she is described as "mohair plush, gray tabby, sitting, very pretty model, round shape." It is very unusual to find subjective or "flattering" descriptions in the Sortiment books as they are almost always entirely factual and literal. So Susi's design must have really caught someone's eye!

Given cats do have nine lives, and taking into account her date of introduction, it is possible Susi's updated pattern was designed to replace the company's legacy sitting, head jointed "Fluffy" cat pattern. Fluffy was introduced in the mid-1920's and reflected the "roaring 20's" aesthetic ideal of that era. Items designed for that period were often "fat, fluffy, and feminine," and sometimes featured "unnatural" color - like the blue on Fluffy's backside. But the times had clearly changed in the interim. You can see a photo of Fluffy here on the left; this example is from the collection of Shelley Smith.  

Post war, Susi remained the cat's meow.   She was produced in mohair from 1949 through 1978 overall in 10, 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm. Almost 40 years onward, she is still a classic favorite, with the smallest versions especially in demand among Steiff and doll collectors alike.

Now let's get into the meow-mix of Susi's period features.  This Susi is made from artificial silk plush.  This substitute fabric was used in the place of mohair during times of material shortages at Steiff.  It was seen on popular line items from the mid-1930's through the very early 1950's - just before, and just after WWII.  It is safe to say that Steiff items made from artificial silk plush were produced during very difficult political and economic times in Germany. Artificial silk plush wears out and get dirty easily, so its initial shine and good looks fade almost immediately. It is not a very durable or attractive fabric in the long run.  However, it was available for toy production, and to their credit, Steiff always found a way to get their job done - making fine playthings for children. 

This Susi cat's construction also has several "old fashioned" details that are not seen on later versions of this pattern.  These include a prominent white "triangular" shaped forehead and inset white front feet.  It is possible that these seams were eliminated for cost and labor saving reasons as the design evolved over time.  And early Susi's - like this one - were made from distinctly grey and white fabrics, while those produced years or decades later were all white with grey and black airbrushing to produce the same "fur" effects. 

And to button up this discussion, it's important to note artificial silk plush Susi's ID.  She proudly wears the somewhat rare STEIFF all capital letters button.  This button appeared approximately in the 1947 through 1952 timeframe, perfectly aligning with her actual production time.   
Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's rare early post war silk plush Susi cat has you feline groovy.

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Picturing A Perfect Steiff Arrival

It goes without saying that Steiff is first class in every way.  That includes the company's remarkable and very lifelike displays from the first quarter of the 20th century.  Check out this beautifully preserved black and white postcard from 1912. (You can click on it to make it larger.) It pictures a wonderful vignette of society travelers on the go.  Do you recognize a few familiar faces in it?

This pretty as a picture postcard above shows travelers emerging from a coach. The bottom text translates roughly to: "Artistic Toy Hall 1", "Arrival of the post coach" and "designed by Albert Scholpsnies." The back of the card is imprinted with a few words which translate roughly to "Bavarian Business 1912 in Munich Official Postcard." This piece of ephemera is probably from a trade fair held in 1912 in Munich; it is not clear whether Steiff participated as an attendee at the show or just provided this breathtaking and impressive display which graced the entrance to the toy section of this event. The presentation was credited to Albert Scholpsnies, a very creative and innovative designer who worked at Steiff as a freelancer on and off through the late 1920's. He specialized in product development and design; large fair, window, and event displays; and novel graphic design.

Size defies with this impressive display. In order to try and identify the items in the shot, it is important to figure out the actual scale of the display.  Starting in 1912, Steiff created a series of "upscale" adult dolls that were particularly well dressed and accessorized.  These were only produced in 50 cm.  It is Steiffgal's best guess that the both the man and woman emerging from the coach are these dolls, and are indeed 50 cm tall.  So this overall display is quite large!  Given that assumption is true, here are the items featured in this presentation.

These are most likely a 50 cm version of the company's Horse or Circus Horse design. These lifelike and elegant patterns appeared in the line from around 1911 through 1934 in sizes ranging from 50 to 100 cm. They were made in felt or mohair and produced with or without wheels. Their colors included white, brown and white, all brown, and other combinations. All were detailed with an open mouth, perfectly to scale saddles and headwear, and mohair manes and tails. (The photo on the left shows one version of Steiff's original Circus Horse, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.)

The horse's attendant: 
Given his scale, distinctive footwear, and cutaway style coat,  it is possible that this attendant is based on the company's 43 cm "Green" doll pattern. This finely tailored doll was produced as part of the company's amazingly detailed and comprehensive "Circus" series which launched around 1911. Green appeared in the line from 1911 through 1919. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Green, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.)
The lady:  
Given her long and flowing dress and big bonnet, the lady is most likely a custom-dressed version of one of the the company's 50 cm "society women." These included Beatrice, Betty, Sidonie, and Fanny. These dolls all were gorgeously dressed, with long, implanted hair, and eye-catching hats. Unlike the lady featured in the display, Beatrice, Betty, Sidonie, and Fanny all wore more "form fitting," not flowy, outfits. Steiff's society ladies appeared in the line from 1912 through 1919 overall. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Fanny, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.)

The gentleman helping the lady out of the coach: 
Given his dramatic coat and large hat, the gentleman is most likely a custom-dressed version of one of the the company's 50 cm "society men." These included Eduard, Ferdinand, Manfred, and Gustav. Like the society ladies, these men dolls donned tailor-made outfits sewn from the finest fabrics and wore felt hats.  Some even carried walking sticks! However, unlike the gentleman featured in the display, Eduard, Ferdinand, Manfred, and Gustav wore more traditional outerwear. These marvelous men appeared in the line from 1912 through 1917 overall. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Manfred, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 

The coach driver:  
Given his scale, big black boots, and top hat decorated with a large plume, it is possible that the coach driver is a based on the company's 43 cm "Circus Director" doll. Like "Green," this formally dressed doll was produced as part of the company's legendary "Circus" series. The Circus Director appeared in the line form 1911 through 1912. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's original Circus Director, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 
Attendant on the ladder:  
Given his scale, cap design, and big beard, it is possible that this attendant is based in part on the company's 35 cm "Matrose" sailor doll. This wonderful pattern is one of the company's earliest, launching in 1904 and appearing through 1918. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's Matrose, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 
Attendant to the left of the gentleman: 
Given his scale, great footwear, formal coat, and color (Steiffgal believes he may be African American), it is possible that this attendant is a based on the company's 35 cm "Negro Footman." This incredibly rare design, amongst the company's early efforts to capture different nationalities, appeared in 1913 only. (The photo on the left shows Steiff's Negro Footman, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 

Attendant to the right of the gentleman: Given his scale, white apron, hat, scale, and "workers" outfit, it is possible that this attendant is a based on the company's 35 cm "Host" doll. This was one of the company's "craftsman" dolls, produced in 35 and 50 cm from 1912-1920 overall. The series also included a stone cutter, tailor, butcher, and shoe maker; all had facial hair and were dressed in lose fitting, "everyday" clothes.  (The photo on the left shows Steiff's Host, it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.) 
Rolling along, it is also interesting to note that Steiff also used the general theme of this coach display in other advertising. Here above you can see a simplified version of this grand coach arrival which was used for print promotion. (You can click on it to make it larger.) This advertisement appeared on May 23, 1912 in a weekly German illustrated news magazine called Illustrirte Zeitung. The photo is from D. Ayers & D. Harrison's Advertising Art of Steiff, Teddy Bears & Playthings. 

Steiffgal hopes you enjoyed this time-traveling adventure based on Steiff's early and original transportation-themed displays. 

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

This Sample Steiff Alien Is Truly Out of This World!

Well, it appears that Steiffgal has had a close encounter of the Steiff kind!  She has recently had the pleasure of welcoming a new Steiff rarity to her collection, one that sent her to the moon and back! But please don't think she's a space-case, but she's not really sure of too much concerning his background or origins. Focus your telescope on this out-of-this-world Steiff creation. Can you believe your eyes?

There's no need to phone home over this Steiff alien.  He stands 30 cm tall and is made from a high quality, brown faux leather.  Most of his visible, decorative stitching is done in orange thread. His head/body is basically round with three "horns" on its top edge.  The middle one is the largest and about twice the size of the ones to the left and right.  It is possible that the middle one is supposed to represent his "nose" while the other two are his eyes. His "face" is defined by a separate rectangular mask of faux leather which is detailed with a small orange patch of orange velour or velvet. This mask can be moved slightly up and down, and is attached to the alien through the his arm joints. 

Alien's body is also of interstellar proportions. His arms are jointed in the traditional Steiff way, with double round cardboard disks and metal wire connectors. His hands are made of two digits, sort of like two thumbs. His legs have thin thighs and thick calves and ankles - the opposite of a typical human form! They not jointed. Both his arms and legs are lined in some sort of metal wires or chains. They are posable and "creak" when moved about. Alien stands on flat circular feet that have magnets on the bottom. These probably help weight him, as well as add a playful touch to where he can stand and how he can be posed. His construction and detailing are really quite spectacular and it is clear that he was made with a most loving, and exacting, touch.  

Also of note is his Steiff ID.  It consists simply of the company's yellow, double sided ribbon tag and a gold, rivet style button. It is pictured here on the left. The back of the tag reads, "Not for Sale!" and "Property of Margarete Steiff GmbH" in both German and English.  It also has a field for a date and a number, but these are not filled in. It is Steiffgal's best guess, based on this ID, that this item was indeed a sample or prototype from the c. 2002 time frame. She has another item with this identical tag and ID arrangement; in that case, the date on the tag is 7.03.02 and the number is 7.  Steiffgal is not sure if "number" refers to the total number of samples produced, or the order of the samples produced; but it is not an EAN or product number.  

So now the questions as big as the universe. Why was he made, and how did he arrive in Steiffgal's collection? Well, only he knows the answers for certain, and he's not talking.  So here are a few down to earth possibilities.  

First, why was he made?  Steiff employs the finest doll and toy designers in the world, and great people do great work. Perhaps the Steiff designers were asked by management to come up with truly out of the box ideas, and this was one result of that challenge. Maybe this design was the result of an independent vision a designer had, or maybe they wanted to test out the faux leather fabric and/or creaking metal skeleton for its toy-making potential. It is a possibility that the company was exploring a collection theme or idea (in this case, space travel or extraterrestrials) but decided not to move forward with it. Or perhaps it was created in response to a customer special order or inquiry which did not make it beyond the prototype phase.  

Steiffgal suspects that the big reason this little guy did not make it into the Steiff line was cost.  After all design, materials, and manpower factors were analyzed, this alien's production expenses were probably astronomical.

And how did the alien make the interstellar journey from Giengen to Steiffgal's hug?  It is Steiffgal's best guess that this item might have been sold during one of Steiff's Sommer Festivals a decade or so ago.  It is at these wonderful annual gatherings where Steiff offers samples, overstocks, overproduction models, and other "oddities" under a giant circus style tent.  Sometimes fantastic finds like this make their way to this sale. This item was purchased from a collector in Europe who found him at a German toy show.  As such, at least geography wise, it is possible that this was his map from there to here.

Steiffgal hopes this story on this unusual Steiff creation was as exciting as a UFO sighting!

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

This Ele-Fantastic Baby Has Movie Star Appeal!

Care to make a big deal out of a little fellow? Then consider this fantastic and all original Steiff Baby Hathi! This ele-fantastic example was produced as part the original Jungle Book set of characters made in conjunction with the Disney company in the late 1960's. Despite a half-century onward, he - and his cartoon colleagues - are still considered on and off screen favorites among Steiff collectors from every generation.

Trunk's up for this petite pachyderm! Baby Hathi is 20 cm tall, unjointed, and made from grey dralon. He has a very sweet open, smiling mouth, grey felt foot pads, grey felt ears, and black and white cartoon style eyes. He has an adorable matching swatch of grey mohair on the top of his head and on the tip of his tail. This particular model was made in this size only from 1968-1976. Baby Hathi has all of his IDs, including his lentil style button, yellow tag, and special co-branded Steiff/Disney chest tag that reads, "Baby Hathi/Cop. Walt Disney/Prod."

Let's get a little wild and check out the backstory behind this jungle gem. The Jungle Book, the 19th animated feature produced by Walt Disney Productions, debuted in the fall of 1967. It was the last film actually produced by Mr. Disney, who passed away during its production. Based on the book by author Rudyard Kipling, it was an immediate success upon its launch. The story featured a Bengal tiger named Shere Khan, a sloth bear named Baloo, an orangutan named King Louie, and a baby elephant named Baby Hathi, among other lovable characters. An early movie poster, promoting the film, is pictured here on the left. This film inspired a significant Steiff collaboration. To build on the film's popularity, Steiff initially produced these four animals from 1968 through the 1976 time frame. 

Now onto other material matters. The construction and materials selected for these early Jungle Book characters were both very typical to their time of manufacture. During the late 1960’s and 1970’s, Steiff was focused on saving costs and streamlining production at every juncture.  This was due in part to the increased worldwide marketplace competition for plush toys. All four of the Jungle Book animals were made from synthetic materials. These were very popular toy making materials for Steiff at that time. These fabrics were inexpensive, very durable, surface washable, and good for manufacturing items truly designed as playthings - not collectibles. The Jungle Book characters were also made with as few joints as possible, another cost savings measure.  Shere Khan was 35 cm tall, unjointed, sitting, and made from white and orange dralon. Baloo was 40 cm tall, head and arm jointed, and made from white and tan dralon. King Louis was 25 cm, head jointed, and made from brown and orange Crylor.  As noted on the Baby Hathi under discussion here, each left the factory in Giengen with a special chest tag noting their Steiff and Disney licensing partnership.  Above on the left you can see the four original Disney Jungle Book characters.  The photo is from Christie's and this lot sold in 2010 for 525 pounds.  That is equivalent of about $830 in today's dollars.  

Face it, once a rock star, always a rock star!  It is interesting to note, that because of this film's ongoing popularity and legacy, Steiff continued to occasionally produce characters based on it over several decades. Highlights of this ongoing collaboration include a set of four slightly smaller Jungle Book animals made from woven fur from 1979 through 1982 as well as mohair versions of King Louie and Baloo. These were both produced in 2003 as a 3,000-piece limited editions.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Baby Hathi and Steiff's Jungle Book collaboration has been like a match made in heaven for you.

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

This Long Brown Tipped Mohair Steiff Chimp Is One Head Turner Indeed!

When it comes to Steiff, it's always fun to monkey around. Primates have been an important part of the Steiff line since the late 1800's and many collectors really go ape over their expressive faces and playful presentations. Some of them even come with secrets - like this one. Check out this chimp-champ and see what makes him so interesting from the historical and product development perspective.

This sweet jungle-jem is unquestionably a mover and a shaker. His name is Chimpanzee, and he is 22 cm tall, sitting, and fully jointed. His long, narrow body, shapely arms, and bent legs are made from extra long brown tipped mohair. His face and hands and feet are made from tan felt. His charming face comes to life with black and brown glass pupil eyes set close together in eye pockets, a dimensional muzzle, a closed mouth, and a white mohair chin. And he has a delightful surprise - he has a tail moves head mechanism, which allows his head to rotate 360 degrees! Like many tail moves head items from this period, the mohair covering on this Chimp's metal tush-twister has been lost to time. He retains his large trailing f button and a trace of his red ear tag as his IDs. This great pattern was produced in nine sizes ranging from 13 to 66 cm from 1931-1934. Steiff also produced a closed mouth, long brown tipped mohair "Chimpanzee" without the tail moves head feature in five sizes ranging from 25 to 100 cm from 1928-1934 overall. 

Do you suspect any monkeyshines between Chimpanzee's design and that of his better known cousin, Jocko? Steiff's Chimpanzees did in part resemble the company's Jockos, but did have a few distinctively different features and treatments. For a comparison, please check out the photo on the left which features this 22 cm tail moves head Chimpanzee and his new best friend, a 23 cm wool plush Jocko; both were made in the early 1930's.

Steiff was really on the move in the 1920's and early 1930's, at least with its line of top-tier toy categories. Richard Steiff, although living in the United States at the time, was very involved with the company's product design and development pipeline. He constantly encouraged his family in Germany to create new and exciting novelties, to capture the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of the growing global marketplace. He did this by writing passionate and persuasive handwritten letters, in beautiful penmanship, on his personal letterhead. These letters often stressed the importance of quality, innovation, presentation, and advertising as keys to business growth and success. The Steiff design team came up with the idea of "tail moves head" animals as one of many responses to Richard's directives. The company applied for, and received patents for this technology in the early 1930's.

Overall, about 25 different tail turns head models were produced through the late 1930's and very early 1940's. These were advertised as, "The ingenious head-movement makes Steiff animals appear alive." For the most part, these were based on the best selling standard line patterns of the time and included cats, dogs, rabbits, penguins, goats, and lambs, and even Mickey Mouse, among others. However, there were exceptions to this rule, like a most unusual tabby tail moves head bulldog. Even more interesting to note is the fact that there was not a Teddy bear - perhaps the company's most popular product - on the pre-war production roster of tail moves head items. Steiff would go on to make a fully jointed, tail moves head bear in 18 and 25 cm in 1955 only. Today, this rare bear is one of the most sought after postwar bear examples among collectors.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this tail moves head Chimpanzee has been more fun than a barrel full of monkeys!

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