Sunday, October 29, 2017

Feeling Bullish Over This Fantastic and Early Steiff Comic Strip Dog

It's no laughing matter when it comes to Steiff's early cartoon-based creations!  And this one is a canine comic legend.  After many years of searching, Steiffgal finally welcomed this blue-ribbon buddy into her collection.  And besides a few really senior Teddy bears, he is now amongst the oldest Steiff items in her hug. Please say hello to Tige the Bull Terrier!
Things couldn't be merrier when it comes to this Terrier. Tige measures 17 cm tall standing and 25 cm long from head to fanny, not including his long, skinny tail. He is five ways jointed and made from brown short pile plush. This material feels like an itchy old coat or blanket, with its fibers smooth to the surface instead of vertical to it, like mohair. His broad chest and front two paws are made from traditional white mohair. He has three black hand embroidered claws on each of his paws and floppy, brown felt lined ears. Tige's face comes to life with black shoe button eyes, a prominent black hand embroidered nose and mouth, dimensional jowls, and a white stitch to indicate a tooth at the intersection of his mouth lines. He also has black painted lines all over his face most likely to suggests folds and coloration, as well as a few spots and lines on his body and limbs. This Tige was produced in 17, 22, 28, 35, and 43 cm from 1906 through 1917 overall. Tige retains his long trailing "F" button and traces of his white ear tag as his IDs. He left the factory with a collar and leash which unfortunately in this case has been lost to time. He was also available with a muzzle in the place of the collar for a few years.

Steiff went a little bull-istic on this wonderful Bull Terrier design.  In addition to the short pile plush version, he was also produced in the same pattern in brown mohair with a white mohair chest and white front feet.  Like his short pile plush cousin, the mohair Tige was made in 17, 22, 28, 35, and 43 cm but appeared in the line from 1907 through 1918.  Both the short pile plush and the mohair versions were also available with tri-colored (white, brown, and black), round, movable glass "eccentric eyes." These eccentric eyes were available only for a handful of years and are rarer than the shoe button eyes, especially on the short pile plush versions.  

Tige of course is modeled on the forever friend of the comic hero Buster Brown.  This American comic strip debuted in 1902 and was penned by Richard F. Outcault.  It starred the earnest prankster Buster Brown, his gal pal Mary Jane, and a host of well meaning society adults. The cartoon proved so popular and was such a commercial success that the characters were soon used to sell shoes, as well as clothing, books, baked goods, and a huge range of other novelties for children. Did you know that girl's "Mary Jane" style shoes with straps are named after the female lead from this beloved comic strip?

For a wonderful overview of early and original Buster Brown comic strips, please click here to view a great document provided by The Smithsonian Libraries. It takes awhile to load, and the cartoons start around page 7, but all of this is totally worth it!

Seeing how popular Bull Terriers were in America - perhaps because of the "Buster Brown effect" - Steiff began producing their own version of this dog breed for national and international distribution.  However, the company did not secure a licence to produce a Buster Brown or Mary Jane felt doll.  Over time, Steiff produced a few special order dolls in the likeness of Buster Brown for customers in London and New York.  It wasn't until 1913 that the company added their versions of Buster Brown and Mary Jane to their standard catalog offering.  Named Willy and Lilly, both were 43 cm and fully 
jointed. They were designed as elegant playthings and as such, each was detailed with elegantly tailored velvet clothing and long, hand-rooted hair. Lilly is pictured here on the left, the photo is from Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH. However, according to company records, in 1913 Steiff only sold 27 Willy dolls and 26 Lilly dolls, so their time in the line was extremely short.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's early Tige Bull Terriers has left you feeling bullish.

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

This Bitty Steiff Adventure Promises To Be A Boatload of Fun!

Anchors aweigh! It's time for a little road trip with one of the biggest troublemakers of all - Bitty Bub! This weekend, Cambridge, Massachusetts hosted the 53rd annual Head of the Charles Regatta. This fantastic race, the world’s largest two-day rowing event, draws more than 11,000 competitors from all around the globe every year. These top notch athletes compete in 55 different race events over the course of the weekend.  And its no fish tale to report that it takes 1,700 loyal volunteers to help make make this water race possible every year.  Bitty Bub lives just a stone's throw from the Charles River and the main venues of this race.  Come take a look at this event through his mischievous eyes - and be sure to click on any photo to make it larger!

It's hip to be square, especially when it comes to this classic annual fall event. All venues related to the event are situated right outside of Harvard Square, which itself is a huge year-round tourist destination known for the Harvard University campus, a number of world-class museums, fun shopping, and great restaurants. Bitty Bub is pleased as punch to be an ambassador for his beloved home town. 

The Charles River weaves along the edge of Cambridge and is an important part of the city's identity, character, and history.  For a map of the Charles River, and the race course, please click here. During this race, the banks of the Charles overflow with visitors cheering on their favorite teams and rowers. Dogs, strollers, skateboards, and picnics are all key elements of this city-wide celebration.  Here you can see Bitty Bub viewing the races from his luxury box seating. 

Care to see a what a snippet of the race looks like - and sounds like?  Then check out this video for a first hand account (at least from this cub's perspective.) Or, click here!

There are race observers, photographers, and referees along the entire stretch of the river where the rowing occurs. According to the race officials, the course is three miles long and stretches from the start at Boston University's DeWolfe Boathouse near the Charles River Basin to the finish just after the Eliot Bridge and before Northeastern University's Henderson Boathouse. For some reason, Bitty Bub was particularly drawn to this official area. Could it be the red warning cones and "caution tape" calling to his natural inclination towards mischief?

Of course, it would not be a party without some fine refreshment options.  Food trucks, booths, and "pop up" restaurants plant themselves on both sides of the river during race weekend. Around these parts, "chowda" is sort of slang for "chowder," a creamy fish or clam based soup. It is very popular in New England, especially with visitors. Bitty Bub particularly liked this stretch of offerings, and even volunteered to be the official taste tester for the event. And with a mouth like his, who could resist that offer!

It's a bit late for Oktoberfest, but it's always a good time for a cold brew outdoors. Several organizations and breweries set up outside biergartens along the event venue.  Bitty Bub forgot his ID, and could not flirt his way past security.  Given his irresistible good looks, he is usually successful in such attempts. In this case, unfortunately, he could only observe these drinking areas from afar. 

Vendors selling all sorts of services, home goods, clothing, souvenirs, nutritional supplements, and insurance, among other things, set up tents alongside the food and drink areas.  Bitty Bub could not help but make friends with the giant blow up gecko lizard from the Geico Insurance company.  Here they are; within a few moments the lizard had Bitty Bub in the palm of his hand.  When asked what he thought of all of this afterward, Bitty Bub replied, "He looks smaller on TV."

Bitty Bub thought it also would be a boatload of fun to hang out at the US Coast Guard's display on water safety.  Can you spot him amongst the floatation devices, oars, and other aquatic articles?

Prime places to watch the boats go by include the several bridges that span the river. People line up two or three deep to cheer on the boats that zip by every 15 seconds or so.  Here you can see Bitty Bub taking it all in from the Western Avenue Bridge, looking towards Harvard Square and the University. 

It truly was a beautiful and memorable day, and Bitty Bub managed to stay out of the river - as well as out of major mischief, at least for the most part.  He trusts that you enjoyed your virtual visit, and encourages you to come and see this fall New England splendor in person some day!

Steiffgal hopes that today's adventure to the 2017 Head of the Charles Regatta has been a watershed moment for you.

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Things Are Spot on With This Delightful Pre-War Steiff Giraffe!

Steiffgal's gonna stick her neck out here and say that you will undoubtedly develop a plush-crush on this week's blog friend. She bought him based on a photo from a sale in Europe, as something about him really called to her. As a fellow collector, she is certain you know that feeling all too well! So how about following a tall order and checking him out?

Things are spot on with this delightful pre-war Steiff giraffe. He is 35 cm tall, unjointed, and made from light orange wool plush. He is hand spotted with darker orange spots. His mane is made from short light orange mohair, while the tip of his tail is made from longer orange mohair. His face comes to life with two pert horns, black button eyes, a painted orange mouth, and ears lined in peach colored felt. This pattern was made in 28 and 35 cm from 1936 through 1943.  

Despite his simple and charming appearance, this delightful example is actually outstanding in two ways. 

First, material matters. Giraffes are a legacy pattern for Steiff. Giraffes were featured in the company's debut 1892 catalog. Wheeled and simple standing ones were available in sizes ranging from 17 cm to 65 cm overall through 1909. This pattern was updated in 1909 and produced in an even greater spectrum of sizes - from 28 to 260 cm through 1942 overall. The larger sizes were designed for riding and were constructed with a stabilizing internal metal frame and detailed with steering and leather saddles. Except for a lone 110 cm example made in 1933, all of these gorgeous giraffes were made of felt.  Given the elegant lines of these animals, as well as their need for precise spot detailing, this makes perfect sense from the manufacturing, economic, and design perspectives. 

So then, what's the big deal with this little guy? This giraffe under discussion today is really the first non-felt version produced as a standard line item for any length of time. And its fabric - wool plush - aligns perfectly with its period of manufacture. Its detailing materials - felt on the ears, and mohair on the mane and tail tip - are used as minimally as possible, yet really add to the giraffe's appeal and sense of quality. Felt and mohair were beginning to become less and less available for toymaking in the mid-1930's due to geo-political reasons. As such, Steiff was very careful with the limited quantities of these upscale fabrics they had available to them. Here on the left is the catalog entry for this giraffe in Steiff's Hauptkatalog (main catalog) dated D 1938/39.

Giraffe's second fantastic feature is a heavy-metal favorite. His "knopf" is the most unusual BRASS colored Steiff button. It is the short trailing "f" style and 6 mm in diameter. This button appeared on some Steiff items from 1933/34 through 1943. This are pretty uncommon; this is only the second item in Steiffgal's collection of vintage Steiff treasures bearing this distinctive trademark. Most of the time, for items produced in the mid 1930's through early 1940's time frame, Steiff used a silver colored short trailing "f" button.  You can see this brass button, with traces of the yellow ear tag, here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this delightful tall drink of water has whetted your appetite for Steiff's late pre-war wool plush rarities. 

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

This Mystery is More Fun Than A Barrel Full Of (Steiff) Monkeys!

Steiffgal goes bananas over interesting Steiff mysteries! So she was delighted to receive an inquiry from a dear friend who asks about a new chimp-champ he recently welcomed into his hug. Would it be possible to figure out the origins of this mystery monkey? Tim from the East Coast writes,

"Hi Steiffgal,

I just wanted to know if this monkey was made by Steiff, and how old he might be. He’s in excellent condition and is fully jointed. He has excelsior stuffing and I believe is centered seamed. He measures 23 cm sitting and 33 cm standing. He has no evidence of a button in ear or a chest tag. To me, he looks more like one that might have been shown in the in older Sortiment volume riding a tricycle.

Best, Tim"

Well, let's dive right into this monkey business. It is Steiffgal's best guess that this primate was not made by Steiff. Steiffgal does think that he was designed after Steiff's beloved Jocko chimp pattern but has subtle design differences. These variances are different enough that they probably avoid patent or pattern infringement, but small enough that the average consumer would not notice them. They include detailing on the the monkey's felt face, ears, hands, and feet. For comparison, let's take a look at these features compared to a known, "standard" Steiff Jocko that measures 25 cm sitting and 32 cm standing.

Face: Steiff's 25 cm sitting Jocko monkeys have open mouths, and their white mohair chins are far more prominent than the one on Tim's monkey. There is also too much "distance" between Tim's monkey's nostrils and his mouth line - these proportions are also not typical Steiff. The Steiff example is pictured here on the left, the "mystery monkey" is on the right.

Ears: Steiff's 25 cm sitting Jockos with felt ears have distinctive "earlobes" which are rounded at the bottom and not sewn into the head. They also have airbrushed highlights and black edging. This mystery monkey's ears are not typically shaped and seamed, and its earlobes appear to be flush to the head. The Steiff example is pictured here on the left, the "mystery monkey" is on the right.

Hands and feet: Steiff's 25 cm sitting Jockos have elegant felt hands and feet, with long, narrow thumbs and big toes. The hands and feet before the digits are graceful and lean, and the digits lie flat and are unstuffed. They are detailed with fingernails. Tim's monkey has "thick" hands, feet, and digits. The Steiff example is pictured here on the left, the "mystery monkey" is on the right.

Steiff's Jockos have a long and wonderful legacy. Jocko was basically "born" in 1909, making him one of the longest running patterns produced by Steiff in their history. It was in this year that Steiff updated a version of their basic 1903 model monkey towards an even more lifelike appearance. This new chimp design featured natural body proportions, as well as detailed felt hands, feet and facial features. One key design element on larger models of the new chimp was in the inclusion of felt eye pockets. This meant that his glass pupil eyes were surrounded by raised felt eyelids; they were not simply sewn onto his face as before. Additionally, larger sized chimps also sported a white mohair chin. The updated pattern was produced in 15 sizes, ranging from 10 to 90 cm, at various times from 1909 through 1943. Post war, Jocko was one of the very first items produced; this model appeared in the line continuously again from 1948 through the 1990's.  Here on the left you can see a collection of post-war Jockos in various sizes. 

Given his longevity, actually identifying the production date of a Jocko sans a button or other ID is quite hard. This is because his basic pattern really didn't change over about eight decades. Some collectors think the older, prewar models have a more "soulful" look, but that is more subjective than objective. A more objective metric would have to be an example's eyes, with glass eyes found on "earlier" Jockos and plastic eyes on "later" Jockos.  Here on the left, you can see three "earlier" Jockos, dating from the mid-1930's through around 1950. 

One final note on early Steiff Jocko monkeys. In reality, Steiffgal finds chimps to be one of the absolute hardest animals to identify if they are not Steiff. Elephants are a close second! A version of a brown mohair monkey with felt features was produced by practically every fine European plush company from the 19-teens onward, given how popular monkeys are/were. These happy primates appealed to both boys and girls as playthings, and to adults as companions as well as home decorative items. As such, when you are looking to identity an unbranded mohair "mystery monkey," always especially study the felt areas of the piece, usually the face, ears, hands, and feet. These are the few areas that toy companies could "tweak" to differentiate their products from Steiff's world-class offerings. It is Steiffgal's best guess that Tim's monkey is from the c. 1920's or 1930's, and was produced in Europe, but can't get more specific than that.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Jockos and their lookalike buddies has not thrown a monkey wrench into your collecting endeavors.  

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

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