Saturday, July 14, 2018

Patching Up The Story Behind This Early 1930's Steiff Pony

Every girl wants a pony at some point in her life, right? Well, good things come to those who wait. Several decades past childhood, Steiffgal has finally welcomed the perfect horse to her collection.  This particular barnyard buddy doesn't require boarding, special shoes, or exercise, and she certainly won't eat Steiffgal out of house and home! Check out this excellent equine and see what makes her so lovely - and interesting - from the design and historical perspectives. 

No horsing around - this pretty filly is the mane event. She is 17 cm, standing, and unjointed. She is made from short white and brown mohair. Her tail is very long and made from white mohair threads. It's literally a "pony tail" in so much that it could be braided or combed! Her mane is made from short white mohair. Her face comes to life with brown and black glass pupil eyes, little white felt ears, and a pink airbrushed mouth and small nostrils. She was produced in 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1931 through 1939.  This example retains her long trailing "f" button and traces of her red ear tag; you can see those IDs in the picture towards the end of this post. 

Pony was produced at a very interesting transition point in Steiff's history, and has a pair of design elements that span two distinctive periods at Steiff - the 1920s and the 1930s. 

The first is her coloration. Through the very early 1930's, when an animal was multicolored, the company often patched in different hued fabric as part of its construction. As in the case of this horse, her distinctive brown coloring is made from its own piece of brown mohair. Over time, this more expensive, more labor intensive way of constructing multicolored items was replaced by a less expensive method - airbrushing. For the most part, if you see a vintage item that was constructed by dramatically patched or seamed mohair in different colors, it probably dates from before the early 1930s. You can see a great example of that here on the left in this play duck in terms of his construction and detailing. He was produced in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1925 through 1932.

The second is her general presentation. Starting in the early 1930's, when most everything in Germany started getting more difficult due to the emerging socio-political climate, Steiff also adjusted their design and manufacturing processes to be more economically conservative. You've probably noticed that items designed and produced in the 1930's are far less complicated, jointed, colorful, and detailed than those produced during "the roaring '20s." For example, Teddy bears from the 20's are "fuzzy, fat, and feminine;" some appeared in jellybean colors and tipped mohair. Those from the 30's are leaner, more serious in expression, and made from short mohair or substitute fabrics, like wool plush or artificial silk plush - and usually in more subdued hues. The same is true with this horse pattern, which is clearly designed for simplicity and efficiency. It's lines are very basic, it is unjointed, does not have embroidered features, and doesn't have accessories like a saddle or reins.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this Steiff pony has set your heart a-blaze.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Come Learn Moor About This Wonderful Steiff Studio Sheep

Let's not be sheepish here - this week's find is truly awesome. Steiffgal recently added this lovely beast to her collection. He was listed on eBay and with a little luck, she placed the winning bid. However, it wasn't clear from the photos just how large, or how well made he was. It's always a treat to be surprised about those things. Take a look at this fuzzy friend to learn moor!

Let's sound the horn over this amazing rarity. Here we have Steiff's studio Moorland Sheep. He is standing on all fours and unjointed. He measures about 18 inches tall (measured vertically, head to toe) and 27 inches long (measured horizontally, nose to end of tail.) His body is made from ultra long white fuzzy mohair. His tail, ears, legs, and face are made from short black mohair. His huge, curling, 3D horns are made from felt, stuffed with excelsior, and have airbrushed highlights. And his face comes to life with green and black glass pupil eyes and a simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. Steiffgal had to provide replacement eyes as he arrived without any at all! This studio Moorland Sheep was produced in 1960 only and technically at 50 cm, which roughly corresponds with his height measurements. 

Buttoning up his Steiff identity is his great hand written yellow tag and raised script button. The tag reads 1350,90. This translates to 1=standing, 3=mohair, 50=size of 50 cm, 9=display animal or special edition, and 0=normal coloring (probably meaning color found in nature.) So his article number pretty much captures his characteristics in a nutshell! Often times unusual items, rarer studio items, or special orders have hand written tags. This is so because so few are/were produced, it is not worth the time, effort, or money to have just a handful of eartags printed up for these editions. 

Moorland sheep are native to Germany and come in a few genetic variations. This one created by Steiff is based on the "German Grey Heath" sheep, which are known for their distinctive black and white coloration, as well as prominent horns. They are born all white but their ears, face, tail, and legs become black at around two years old. You can see a real German Grey Heath pictured here on the left. Steiff's version is certainly cuter, don't you think?

Now let's play the name game. It is interesting to note that the scientific name of Moorland sheep is "Heidschnucke." Steiff has produced a number of horned black and white sheep over time, the most famous being their "Snucki" mountain sheep. This design, which also features shaggy white mohair, short black mohair, and fantastic horns, was produced in 12, 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1959 through 1974. The 22 cm Snucki is pictured here on the left. Although not identified SPECIFICALLY as a Moorland sheep, it is Steiffgal's best guess that the company's Snucki is based on the design and details of this great German native species.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Heidschnucke didn't have you counting sheep.

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

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Getting All Wound Up Over This Amazing Auction Discovery

Good things come in threes, but sometimes in the most unexpected ways. Steiffgal, and probably a significant number of other Steiff enthusiasts, spent a few hours on Saturday, June 30th watching the annual Steiff Festival auction on the computer. Hosted by Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH and broadcast on, this comprehensive sale offered 183 lots of fine vintage Steiff, with prices realized ranging from 43 to 18,910 euro or about $56 to $22,131. From the business and collector's perspectives, it was very encouraging to see the number of bids and the robust results of the sale. As always, the finest and rarest items will always generate lots of interest and top dollar.

So what's the connection to the number 3? Well, the one offering that really got Steiffgal's wheels spinning in this sale was lot #78, an utterly fantastic Steiff doll on a three wheeled scooter. It was estimated at 2,500-5,000 euro and cataloged as.... 
"Steiff Urboy, produced 1926, felt doll on a three-wheeled vehicle with clock mechanism drive, case is made of sheet metal, wheels are made of wood, maneuverable, 21 cm, button with long stretched F, good readable white cloth tag label, item No.: 9322 (in the literature the Urboy is wrongly mentioned with the item-No.: 9318, but that is the item-No. of the monkeys Urfips. the correct item-No. is 9322, as it was mentioned in the main catalog from 1926 ), swivel head, black glass eyes, whole clothes and cap original, while driving the Boy is pedalling with the feet, clock mechanism is intact, because of the adjustable front wheel the Urboy can drive straight ahead or in a circle, extremely rare,perfect unused original condition." 

This wind-up wonder had 82 bids and hammered at 12,500 euro ($14,629) and realized 15,250 euro ($17,848.)

There are so many things to love about this crossover item, which may help to explain its popularity on the auction block. It has enormous appeal to doll collectors, Steiff collectors, wind-up and tin toy collectors, as well as vehicle collectors. Steiff produced a series of novelty clockwork vehicles - both three and four wheeled - in the 1926 through 1929 time frame. Their drivers included this boy, a white mohair chimp, a brown mohair chimp, and a Teddy. According to the Cieslik's Button in Ear book, 724 examples of the boy were produced and 1,583 examples of the Teddy bear were produced. The 1927 catalog page advertising these high-end items is pictured here on the left, the illustration is from Carsten Esser's Steiff Kataloge 1920-1929.  

It's so easy to have a plush crush on the doll driver. His condition appears all but flawless. The little fellow has an irresistible, impish presentation and personality. Although the company started to move away from their center seamed face design in the early 1920's with the introduction of the Schlopsnies dolls, this late 1920's novelty clearly has this legacy facial construction. It is also interesting that the Urboy doll has black eyes, and not distinctive, two color glass pupil eyes, like most dolls produced after around 1910 or so. His green and blue felt outfit is relatively simple, but its hard to miss his pert yellow newsboy styled cap detailed with brown embroidery. 

His tricycle is also the wheel-deal. The chassis is made from red and yellow painted metal and houses the clockwork mechanism in its underside. The wheels are made from wood. The boy's feet are sewn to the bike's pedals, so when the toy is wound up, it appears like he is pedaling. This is very cool and life-like. Given the appeal - and the rarity - of these novelties, Steiff made replica versions of two of their 1920s-era clockwork tricycle riding monkeys in the late 1990s. You can see a demonstration of the mechanics behind this model's movement in the video posted above. It was made by filming the clockwork mechanism of a 1996 replica of the company's 1926 "Urfips" motorized tricycle monkey.

Buttoning up this discussion is a review of Urboy's IDs. As noted in the cataloging, his article number is actually 9322, not 9318 as shown in the Steiff Sortiment. 9318 is the article number of the clockwork chimp on a tricycle. It is interesting to note that 9322 means 9=clockwork, 3=mohair, and 22=22 cm.  Given he is almost entirely made from felt, it is surprising that the "3" in his numbering is not actually a "1," which means "felt." If you look at his tag, which is shown here on the left, you can see that it is made of a white linen-paper with small threads woven throughout it, probably to strengthen it. The red ear tag was introduced in 1926, so his white tag is most likely one of the last ones used in production before this change was made. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this clockwork tricycle boy has been worth your time!

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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

This Steiff Rabbit Is Such A Blue Belle!

In the mood to learn about a bouncing bundle of joy?  Of course you are!  And it's a boy - really!  Steiffgal was delighted to add this big blue baby bunny to her Steiff hug recently.  He's got such a great personality, and exemplifies many of Steiff typical 1920's era characteristics.  Take a look... you'll certainly fall for this cheerful-earful as well!

If this isn't hoppi-ness, then what is?  Here we have Steiff's sitting rabbit. He is head jointed and measures 20 cm tall (not including his ears, which are typically not included in rabbit measurements.) He is made from blue mohair, while his chest and the fronts of his ears are white mohair. He has a proportionally petite tail and short, thin, curvy arms and legs. His face comes to life with oversized brown and black pupil eyes, a pink hand embroidered nose, and a black hand embroidered mouth. He even retains a few mono filament whiskers. His big ears are lined in wire and are posable. He is stuffed with a combination of crunchy excelsior and soft kapok. Rabbit retains his long trailing f button and bits of his red ear tag as his Steiff IDs. 

This design was produced in mohair in 11, 15, 18, and 23 cm from 1926 through 1932. It was also made in velvet in 11, 15, and 18 cm from 1927 through 1933.

So just what makes this rabbit such a blue belle? Colors can be tricky with Steiff. When you have a vintage piece in hand, always look in "places where the sun don't shine" to discover its true and original color. Although this rabbit today looks cream or tan, if you peek in the crotch, deep in the neck joint, under the tail, under the glass eyes, and in its "armpits," you can absolutely see traces of a baby blue color both on its fabric backing and its mohair covering. Dyes used in the first quarter of the 20th century can fade, wash out, or change color dramatically over time, due to the nature of their chemical composition. So don't always assume that your 1920-1930's era Steiff items, although perhaps tan or grey today, didn't start out life in a much more colorful manner. Here on the left you can see traces of his blue coloring on the underside of his tiny tail.

This rabbit is a delightful example of a delightful product development era at Steiff - the mid 1920's through the early 1930's. Here's what makes this beautiful boy so period to the "roaring 20's:"

His color: Steiff did alot with colored and tipped mohair starting in the mid-1920's. It was not unusual to see rabbits, bears, dogs and other popular animals produced in "jelly bean" colored mohair, or tipped mohair though the early 1930's. Think of Teddy Rose, Molly the puppy, Charly the King Charles, and other favorites from that period. These color choices were the result of a directive from Richard Steiff, who insisted in the mid-1920's that the company's products include lighter, happier colors that reflected popular cultural trends of the time. Here on the left, you can see another colorful example from c. 1929, he is the 11 cm version of the blue bunny under discussion today, but in pink (which has also faded a bit over time.)

His proportions: During this period, many of the items produced moved away from lifelike proportions to appealing proportions. Items designed during this period were more round, chubbier, and toddler-esque than in the past. Teddy baby, who debuted in 1929, is a perfect example of this. As you can see with this rabbit, its head and body are quite oversized, while its legs are quite thin and narrow - not lifelike, but very endearing. Here on the left you can see a picture of a number of colorful rabbits that also fit this description; the photo is a 1929 Steiff advertisement and is taken is from Carsten Esser's Steiff Kataloge 1920-1929.

His detailing: Steiff items produced in the mid-1920's through the early 1930's have playful and happy personalities which come alive thorough subtle design elements. In this case, the rabbit's ears are lined in metal wires, making them posable and more interactive.  Think of Petsy the baby bear, who also had this detailing. And his oversized eyes, placed low and wide on his very symmetrical face, give him a distinctly innocent, appealing, and inviting look.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this blue bunny has left you jumping for joy.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

There's Nothing Scary About This Fantastic Pre-War Steiff Tom Cat

It's time to cast a little black magic, in the best possible way. Cats are one of Steiff's most popular and prolific lines, but there is one example in particular that has every collector feline groovy. That's the company's Tom cat, the all black kitten on all fours with an arched back and prominent tail. Steiffgal would like to introduce you to a somewhat rare example she recently added to her collection.

It's no tall tail to say that this Steiff Tom cat is quite the looker! He measures 14 cm head to toe, and 25 cm top of tail to toe. He is standing, unjointed, and made from black mohair. His body, limbs, and head are made from shorter mohair, while his tail is made from much longer mohair. His tiny triangular shaped ears are made from velvet. He has a red embroidered nose and mouth, and three matching red claws on each foot. His teal-green and black eyes are in the slit-pupil style, and he has clear monofilament whiskers on his muzzle and forehead. He has a very serious, pensive look to him. His red silk ribbon may be original to him, his brass bell has been lost to time. He retains his short trailing "F" button as his Steiff ID. Tom cat was made in 8, 10, 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1923-1943; the two smallest sizes were made with velvet bodies and heads.

Steiff's Tom cat design literally has had nine lives - or maybe even more! The original Tom cat was produced in both black and white velvet. Both versions were very skinny, standing on all fours, unjointed, and had arched backs and open mouths. They all left the factory in Giengen, Germany wearing a silk ribbon and bell. Black Tom cats were produced in 10, 14, and 17 cm from 1904-1918. White Tom cats were produced in 14 and 17 cm for three years only - from 1906-1908 - and are exceptionally rare. Steiffgal has never actually seen an early white velvet Tom Cat! Steiff's next version of its Tom cat was the one under discussion today. Then once the factory reopened for toymaking business after WWII, Steiff produced its Tom cats in 8, 10, 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1950-1976. These post war models were very similar in appearance to their 1920's-40's versions.

One thing that's the cat's meow about this pattern is how long it has appeared in the Steiff line. It debuted in a photograph featured in the 1903-1904 Steiff catalog... in the same picture that introduced PB55... the world's first jointed Teddy bear! This got Steiffgal thinking about other named Steiff legacy pets that have stood the test of time and have not changed significantly in appearance over many decades - appearing prominently both pre- and post- war. Of course, there's Jocko the Chimp, who's design debuted in 1909. Molly the Puppy was "born" in 1925, while Waldi the Dachshund appeared on the scene in 1933. These timeless treasures remind us how good design transcends years, generations, and borders.

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on Steiff's pre-war Tom cat close to purr-fect.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I'll Tumble For You!

Talk about (s)tumbling onto a fantastic Steiff find! Robin was at the right place at the right time when she found this absolutely amazing and extremely rare early Steiff bear novelty. She shares,

"Hi Steiffgal,

Here's the item I told you about. He is pretty cool and definitely something I’ve never seen before. Before I received him, I thought he might be a skittle like the bear ones I already have, and the bear himself is very similar but he’s much bigger and the base is totally different.

The bear himself is 10" tall and about 5" elbow to elbow. The base is 5-1/2" in diameter and 2-1/2" high. The base is wood with some kind of metal weight inset, that allow him to rock and spin without falling over. It is quite heavy."

Wow, it is easy to lose balance over this delightful turn of last century toy. He's actually a wonderful example of Steiff's early Tumbling Bear. He's standing, unjointed, and made from an early plush material. His eyes are black, and his nose and mouth are embroidered in a very early style. He is mounted on a weighted, wooden hemisphere. This allows him to wobble about, like a very early "weeble" but not fall down. He left the factory holding a wooden stick between his paws and a chain connecting his nose to the stick - to resemble a circus bear of the time.  You can see traces of the stitching on his paws that would have held the stick in place. These real-life bears would travel from city to city at the turn of last century as part of roaming circus companies. Robin's tumbling bear was produced in 35 cm from 1899 through 1918 overall. 

Check out this tumbler in action here!

Robin's tumbler has a key role in the history of the development of the jointed Teddy bear as we know him today. In the late 1890's, Steiff produced a number of bear novelties. They were made to give the toys action and movement. The picture on the left shows a few examples of these early bear toys. Left to right, they include bears on platforms with bristles supporting them; a bear on a cart with metal wheels; and three tumblers in different sizes and configurations. The bears on the platforms with bristles would move when someone tapped the table on which they were standing - so they would sort of "shimmy" about.

Richard Steiff wanted to create far more playful, dynamic, and child-friendly versions of these static/moving bears, and he took this challenge very seriously. He studied the way real bears move at the zoo. Mohair, a fabric perfect for soft, durable toys, became available on a commercial level around 1902. He married those two facts, inserted his great creativity, and came up with the patterns for a series of fully jointed bears, starting with string jointing, then rod jointing, then disk jointing. The company's disk jointing system has not changed much since its introduction over a century ago.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Robin's tumbler has left you steady on your feet!

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Thumbs Up Over This Fantastic Paddy Walrus Hand Puppet!

It's all hands in the air for Steiff's great mohair puppets - especially the really rare ones. Steiff started creating these high quality puppets in the early 1900's in the likenesses of some of their most popular characters and designs. This tradition was carried out for the most part through the 1970's; after then, the company's puppets were mostly constructed from plush, plastic, and other materials. Let's take a deep dive and check out one of the most unusual post-war mohair examples and see what makes him so interesting from the product design and historical perspectives.

It's not unusual to see collectors fighting tooth and nail over this walrus hand puppet. This unjointed rarity is 20 cm tall and made from tan mohair that has been airbrushed with brown and tan spots, shading, and highlights. He has a pair of dimensional flippers; the tips are stuffed with excelsior. His oversized, very round head is solidly stuffed with excelsior. His face come to life with two black and white google style eyes, jowls, a long, brown tipped mohair beard, a pink hand embroidered nose, and two white tusks. This walrus puppet was made in this size only in 1962 as an exclusive for high end toy retailer FAO Schwarz.

This perky puppet of course is based on the company's standard line Paddy walrus design. Paddy was produced in 10, 14, and 22 cm in the 1959 through 1965 time frame. It was not unusual in the 1950's and 1960's for Steiff to retool popular items as exclusives for FAO Schwarz. By "retool," Steiffgal means making an item in a bigger or smaller size; sitting instead of standing (or vice versa); dressing a piece in a fancy outfit or giving it a distinctive accessory, or taking a basic design and producing it in another toy category. That's what you see here - the Paddy design being reinterpreted as a puppet. 

To keep things twice as nice, Steiff also produced Paddy as a pajama bag as an exclusive for FAO Schwarz from 1962 through 1972. This delightful and functional collectible was 45 cm nose to tail; made from short brown mohair or dralon plush which was carefully airbrushed on its face, flippers, and tail; and was lined in blue colored silk material. He had a zipper up his belly and was "hollow", meaning that you could indeed store your adult sized pajamas inside of his torso!

Steiffgal's Paddy puppet clearly was someone's best friend at one point in his life, which is a good thing. He has some play wear to him, his beard is quite thin, and he lacked his traditional tusks upon arrival. So the question is, how important is condition when making a Steiff purchase? Of course, everyone has their very own algorithm for this, and it always comes down to personal choices and preferences. But if it is helpful in any way, here are three key things that Steiffgal considers when making a purchase decision for her own collection.

1. Do I have this item in my collection already? If not, then it may be a good choice, all things being equal. If you already do, is this example in better shape than the one you already have? If yes, then consider purchasing it and rehoming your lesser quality example. If no, then maybe pass on the opportunity.

2. How often do examples of this item come up for sale? If the item seldom if ever appears on the secondary market, condition plays somewhat of a lesser role in the decision making process. If the item is almost never seen for sale or at auction, consider adding it to your collection. If you have seen examples of the item come up for sale two or more times in the last year or so, and the item you are considering adopting today is not in great shape, consider waiting for the next purchase opportunity.

3. How "bad" is the condition? In the case of this puppet, he was really dirty, had a small tear in his beard, and had lost his tusks to time. These things can be fixed or restored, and that's exactly what Steiffgal did here. She cleaned him, stitched his beard, and made him tusks out of white Fimo clay. (After all, its not uncommon to need custom tooth implants over the age of 50 these days!) If you (or someone you know) can fix the item's condition to a state that you are comfortable with, and/or stabilizes it so it is around for many more decades to come, then consider the purchase. Just make sure that you fully disclose these repairs if you move the piece along sometime in the future.

If the item is in really rough shape, may attract insects, or has other condition issues that make its time on Earth quite limited, perhaps consider waiting for the next big find - which is always just around the corner!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this Paddy walrus puppet has been a happy handful for you. 

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

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Have You Ever Seen 14 Carrot Mohair On A Steiff Rabbit?

Anyone out there have a rabbit-habit? Steiffgal does for sure, especially when it comes to Steiff's unusual vintage bunnies. And this fantastic example under discussion here is not only breathtaking to look at, but also is a bit mysterious in terms of his construction and dating. Take a look and this bouncing bundle of joy and see what you think.  Jill shares...

"Here are a few pictures of the orange rabbit I was telling you about. He is 11" in height without his ears, which are floppy. His head and front paws are jointed. He has a non-working squeaker. 

I thought maybe he was from the 1920-30s, BUT he has a raised script button, not an FF button. Could he be prewar stock that was buttoned and sold until after the war? I was not able to find him in any Steiff reference book.

Thank you for any help or insights you can provide."

Orange you glad you checked out the blog this week to see this wonderful treat?  There are three key things to note about this happy hopper.  

The first, of course, is his 14 carrot mohair.  It is bright orange with a little white tipping to it. Tipping and/or bright colors were very popular fabric choices for charming things designed and produced in the mid- to late 1920's through the 1930's at Steiff. For example, think of the company's wonderful "jellybean" colored begging and sitting rabbits and the bright orange Bully the Bulldog patterns produced during this time - and of course Petsy the Baby Bear, famous for his brown tipped fur.   

Now let's move and grove with his second feature, his jointing. According to Jill, this example is head and arm jointed.  He has a very similar presentation to the company's tail moves head rabbits, which appeared in the line from c. 1931 through 1938 overall.  This is especially true when you look at his neck area, which is somewhat elongated.  You can see an example of one of Steiff's tail moves head rabbits here on the left for comparison. This photo is from Morphy Auctions. However, Jill's rabbit is absolutely not tail moves head jointed.  

And finally, let's button up this analysis with a look at his ID. Apparently Jill's rabbit came with a raised script button.  This ID would indicate that he was produced in the c. 1952-1969 time frame. However, his color, pattern, and presentation strongly suggest that he was made prewar.

So do you feel you've just been lead down a rabbit hole? Well, Jill's orange rabbit is confusing in part, but here's Steiffgal's best take on him.  He may be an undocumented, one-off sample or prototype made in the mid-1930's and based on a little known rabbit that appeared in the Steiff line in 21 and 30 cm in 1935 through 1936 only. (Jill's rabbit is 28 cm, so it is entirely possible that he started out life at 30 cm, or shrunk a little over time, like all good things seem to do.)  This cataloged rabbit, which is pictured here on the left, was begging, at least head jointed, and produced in long, soft grey/brown mohair tipped in white.  This model is specially called out for its distinctive fabric, as noted in his cataloging. This photo is from Pfeiffer's Sortiment 1892-1943; you can click on it to make it larger. 

It's unclear exactly why Jill's rabbit was not produced on a commercial scale, but it most likely had something to do with the general business realities of the 1930's in Germany.  It is possible that his orange mohair was either too expensive or simply not available in commercial quantities necessary for manufacturing, and/or that Steiff decided that he would not sell in enough volume to justify his costs.  And what about his ID? As Jill suspects - and Steiffgal concurs - he may have been made pre-war, put into storage, and buttoned and sold in the very early 1950's, explaining his raised script style button. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Jill's fabulous rabbit has been a cheerful-earful for you. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Heavens To Betsy!

Collecting, and the way we learn about the things that we love, has changed so much over the years. Alot of this is the result of the Internet and social media. These "invisible" resources enable seamless information exchange as well as facilitate new and often unexpected relationships. This is entirely true in the case of Steiff, where mysteries are solved, information shared, and great finds are celebrated worldwide with just the click of a button. Check out this note from a new friend as a case in point here. Judy from St. George, UT shares,

"I saw a YouTube video recently where you were presenting some of your Teddy Baby Steiff bears, and lo and behold, there was the sister to my Betsy Bear, who has been with me for 72 plus years now. I've never seen another one like her, but I knew a little. She has excelsior stuffing, measures 10" tall, and had a Steiff ear tag in her left ear for many years, but it fell out.

I received her for my 5th birthday on Dec. 23, 1945 when I lived in military housing in Mannheim Germany. My Dad probably bought her at the Army PX. I have never received a better birthday present in all my 77 years! 

I even wrote a book about her for my grandkids and family, The Life and Times of Betsy Bear, because her story is really the story of my life as well. In my little book about Betsy's life, I showed her sitting with other dolls that have the same body but with different animal heads. I don't know exactly why I thought that Steiff made interchangeable animals during that phase, but my Dad may have mentioned that he had a choice of dolls and he picked the bear for me.  

I want to give her to my granddaughter, Emily, but so far I can't seem to part with Betsy. I've always told my husband if the house burns, SAVE BETSY! That's how much I love her.

Betsy's mohair is very scant and patchy now. There's still a little color of pink in her open mouth. She has shoebutton eyes. Her original body was like stocking material with mohair paws and I think I remember her original feet as being a little longer, but my mom had to resew her body, arms and legs after Betsy went through a typhoon when we lived on the island of Okinawa in 1948. Later in about the 1960's I hand sewed another set of arms and legs. Like I said, she's had an adventurous life!"

Heavens to Betsy! What a great note, and a wonderful story. Yes, what Judy has here is an example of Steiff's WWII-era silk Plush, rayon, and stockinette animal dolls. They are 22 cm tall, standing, and head jointed. Their bodies are made from stockinette (which looks and feels just like a thick lady's stocking), while their hands, feet, and heads are made from artificial silk plush. They are dressed in simple and inexpensive rayon outfits made from checked or floral prints. They left the factory in Giengen with a button and yellow ear tag as their Steiff IDs. Steiffgal has never seen any company specific cataloging on these items. Given their production timeline, it is most likely that Steiff did not advertise or thoroughly document these dolls in their records. Here on the left you can see a photo of a little boy and girl version of this doll pattern, the photo was taken at the Puppenhaus Museum in Basel, Switzerland.

These animal dolls are extremely ephemeral, and as such, quite rare.  They are based on the company's most popular designs of the time, but every element of their construction was done in very low end, substitute fabrics. This is understandable given the absolute dearth of materials available for toy manufacturing in the 1940's in Germany. Steiffgal actually can't think of any other pattern Steiff item made from this stockinette material. Here on the left is another picture of one of these rarities, it is from our friends at Teddy Dorado.

Given that there is no official documentation, the question that many collectors have about these dolls is when exactly they were made - before, during, or after WWII. The power of the Internet has answered this question, sort of. Judy received her doll in late 1945, just a few months after the conclusion of WWII. According to company records, Steiff announced that the government forbid them to manufacture toys of any form as of 4/15/43.  We also know Steiff started producing a very small number of artificial silk items as early as 1945, and that these items could only be sold to American troops - not to stores or civilians. Given Judy's dating, where Betsy was purchased, and Steiff's manufacturing history timeline, it is Steiffgal's suspicion that these floppy dolls were the first, or one of the absolute earliest, toys produced once the Steiff factory slowly started emerging from the WWII imposed shutdown.  

Another very interesting tidbit shared by Judy is her drawing of Betsy and her friends.  You can see that illustration here on the left. Steiffgal has seen and handled several Teddy Baby style animal dolls.  She also has a rabbit stockinette and artificial silk plush animal doll in her personal collection.  But Betsy's illustration also shows a cat and a dog version of these dolls - in addition to the known versions.  How cool is that?  Is it possible that Steiff also made cat and dog dolls at the same time as the Teddy Baby and rabbit versions?  Well, with Steiff, you never know... but if Judy's father's purchase choice recollection is true... then maybe yes!  

The next great Steiff hunt has begun!

Steiffgal hopes this information on Judy's Steiff friend-for-life and book has been a great read for you!  

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Here's Looking At You, Kid!

Steiffgal's not trying to get your goat here, but she's betting you haven't seen this Steiff rarity before! All kid-ding aside, this young mountain-dwelling friend is not only darling, but has some wonderful period detailing on him. Check out this baby Chamois and see what makes him so delightful from the design and product development perspectives.

Here's looking at you, kid! This Chamois kid is 22 cm tall, unjointed, and made from light and dark tan woolen mohair. He is airbrushed with darker brown highlighting on his back. His claws are designated by black airbrushing. He has a sweet, stubby tail, curvy legs, and a non-working squeaker in his belly. His youthful and appealing face comes to life with brown and black glass pupil eyes, two embroidered black nostrils, a simple black embroidered mouth, and black airbrushing around his eyes. The insides of his pert ears are highlighted with a touch of pink airbrushing. He retains his short trailing "f" button and yellow ear tag as his Steiff IDs. This Chamois kid was produced in this size only from 1933 through 1943.

Steiff also made an adult Chamois, who looks quite similar to the "kid' - except for black fabric horns and a more "adult" expression - in 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1938 through 1943.

So what exactly is a Chamois? These somewhat hybrid goat-antelopes are native to the mountains of Europe, although they can also be found in New Zealand - which also known for its altitudes! Several species of Chamois are protected by law in order to preserve their populations and well being. Fully grown males are usually around 30 inches tall and can weigh in the 66–132 pound range. As usually found in nature, the males are a little larger than females. Interestingly, both adult males and females have horns. According to Wiki, "Distinct characteristics are white contrasting marks on the sides of the head with pronounced black stripes below the eyes, a white rump and a black stripe along the back." The Steiff Chamois under discussion today indeed sports these breed-specific features.

This young Chamois certainly hides his age well! He has two key features that really reflect the time in which he was produced - just at the start of World War II.

The first is his material. He is made from woolen mohair, not Steiff's traditional mohair plush. You often see items in the Steiff line made from woolen mohair, wool plush, short pile plush, or artificial silk plush from the early to mid-1930's onward. Steiff used these substitute materials from the early 1930's through the very early 1950's when regular mohair plush was in short supply as it was being allocated for military purposes. Chamois' woolen mohair texture is a bit more coarse and flat due to its short nap and fabric properties. 

The second is his construction. He has delightful "color patching" seam work. That means that the different colors that are used to bring him to life are actually made from distinctive fabrics - not one fabric that has been painted or airbrushed to show contrast. This is especially noticeable on the deep "V" shapes on his neck and forehead. This multi-fabric detailing is expensive in terms of time and labor to do. One way to approximately date Steiff animals is to look for this old fashioned "patched color" construction. Earlier items have it, while most items dating from the mid-1950's rely on airbrushing for color differentiation.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this high-altitude early Chamois kid has left you breathless!

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

Friday, May 4, 2018

There's No Place Like Home - Come Take A Virtual Tour Of Richard Steiff's House In America!

What's on your Steiff bucket list? It's easy to come up with a list of great Steiff toys that qualify as truly dreamy acquisitions. But in Steiffgal's case, her list also included visiting the home of her Steiff superhero - Richard Steiff! And dreams can come true, as they did last weekend when she had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Jackson, Michigan home where Richard lived in the late 1920's and 1930's when he resided in America. Come take a tour of this happy, historic home and see if you too can feel Richard's playful spirit!

Richard lived at 610 Harwood Road in Jackson, MI. Steiffgal has a number of notes he wrote on his personal letterhead; that is how she knew his exact address. She penned a letter to the family that lives there now, and asked if it would be possible to stop by for a quick tour with friends. The family was extremely gracious, and said yes. Then, through a series of emails and Facebook chats, the meeting was set for late April. 

Here on the left you can see the exterior of Richard's house. The neighborhood is really pleasant and family oriented, and apparently everyone knows everyone and is quite friendly.  The house, which was probably built in the 19-teens or early 1920's, has a distinctly arts and crafts look and feel to it. The front stairs are made from concrete, and the home features a marvelous outdoor sitting porch that extends the entire length of the house. The building itself may have been a "prefab" house that was ordered from a catalog like Sears and then built on site; this was somewhat common through the 1920's in America. 

The interior of the house is lovely and modern. Clearly, many changes and updates in both its decor and the layout were made over time by the various owners since 1939. This would have been done for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. For example, the original kitchen, which was tiny, was repurposed as a study. However, there are some exciting details in the house that clearly existed when Richard resided there. Perhaps the most obvious is the fine woodwork and paneling which appear in almost every room. You can see an example of that here on the left. The current owners said that the woodwork had been painted an "unnatural" color and that they stripped it to bring this detailing back to its original condition. Can you imagine Richard going up and down these steps? He certainly did about a zillion times when living here.

Another great feature of the house is a number of built-in storage units that are clearly original to the home. They are well constructed, with a charming, old fashioned look to them - earnest and practical at the same time. This storage unit, located at the top of the stairs, looks to be perhaps a linen closet for towels and sheets. There is also a built in china cabinet located in the dining room; the family suspects at one time it had glass doors. Today it is just open and displays a collection of vintage tableware. 

The attic in this house is open, light, and accessible by a staircase from the second floor. Although there are no physical indications today that Richard did work in this space, the room itself is extremely conducive to creativity given its layout, storage potential, sight lines, and window-configuration.  

The home's period details also include more decorative features like knobs, pulls, light switches, and vents. Here on the left you can see a very pretty floor vent located right near where the original kitchen was located. Of course, Steiffgal brought along the "Terrible Trio" of Bitty Bub, Mini Mopsy, and Petite Penelope on the visit. They, like Steiffgal, are batty over Richard Steiff - and that is why they decided to pose upside down on it. 

Richard's house features two laundry chutes. These allowed people on the upper floors to put their dirty clothes down a pipe leading to the basement where the "washing machine" was located - but more about that in a bit. Here you can see the bottom of the chute, which is basically just a large wooden box with a mesh wire door. The wood is quite worn and may have been "repurposed"; i.e., it started out life as shipping crates for produce or something like that. It was very cool to open and close this door, and realize that Richard had done so as well.

Speaking of laundry, it is most likely that the family did its laundry in this big granite sink tub. It is located just a few steps away from the laundry chute. Today it is allocated for storage, but its size, location, and materials perfectly align with 1930's usage. And right above the tub is a series of hooks - a set on one side of the basement and a symmetrical set on the other side of the basement. It is suspected that the family strung rope or lines between these sets of hooks, and used this setup as an indoor clothesline for drying laundry. You can see the tub and half the hooks pictured here on the left. 

Of course, Steiffgal has saved the best for last in this virtual tour. Perhaps the most thrilling part of this visit was to stand in Richard Steiff's workbench area. This is also located in the basement of the house - in the farthermost, back corner. It is a dark space, and the drawers and cabinets are all made from wood, which also may have been "repurposed" like that of the laundry chute receptacle. This area consists of series of drawers, shelves, and a well worn bench top. It is a truly magical space. Steiffgal ran her hands along the bench top, and on the drawers, just to touch something that was also very near and dear to Richard. It is interesting to note that this area has a similar feeling and construction to Richard's workbench area featured in the Steiff museum in Giengen. You can see a collage of Richard's Jackson workbench area pictured above. 

Steiffgal is incredibly thankful to Cheri Valkuchak and her family for opening their doors and hearts to this crazy collector and her traveling companions. Cheri runs a popular day care service for working families out of this house. Steiffgal can't think of a better use of this legacy Steiff space - and can only imagine Richard smiling at the thought of his home filled with happy, laughing children.

Steiffgal hopes you enjoyed this tour of the Steiff action in Jackson!

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Penny For Your Thoughts On This Steiff Copper Canine

Mark Twain once wrote, “The more I know about people, the better I like my dog.” Is it possible he was referring also to Steiff's wonderful line of pooches? As most collectors know, canines have been well represented in the company's product mix from the late 1800's onward... and are probably second only to Teddy bears as Steiff's most favored collectibles worldwide. 

A penny for your thoughts here! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of welcoming one of the company's blue-ribbon beauties to her collection - a lovely, early 1950's copper-colored "Cockie" Cocker Spaniel. Although not terribly vintage, or extremely rare from the collector's perspective, Cockie's presentation, construction, and detailing really make her one top dog. Come take a look and see if you too don't also feel the "puppy love!" 

It's easy to have a plush crush on this canine-cutie! Cockie is standing on all fours, head jointed, and is made mostly from mohair. Her soft and floppy ears are made from long mohair, her head is made from short mohair, and her body is made from medium length mohair. She simply glows with well executed, fabulous, and realistic looking airbrushed copper colored highlights. She has three black hand embroidered claws on each of her paws. Cockie's expressive face and muzzle are quite detailed. She has pert brown and black glass pupil eyes and a hand embroidered black nose. Her muzzle and mouth are made from mohair and velvet and are remarkably constructed with dimensional jowls. You can see this detailing in the close up photo here on the left. Cockie retains her raised script button, fully legible ear tag, and US Zone tag as her Steiff IDs. This design was manufactured in 10, 17, and 25 cm between 1952 and 1957. 

Knowing copper Cockie was on a roll, Steiff also produced the 10 cm version of her on blue eccentric wooden wheels from 1954 through 1977, and then again in 1960.  She sashays back and forth, much like a real dog, as she is pulled along on her off-center carriage axles and wheels. This happy handful is pictured here on the left.

Steiff's Cocker Spaniel production can be measured in dog-years. It is interesting to note that this breed did not appear in the Steiff line until the early postwar era. However, the company quickly made up for lost time starting in 1951 when the first Steiff Cocker Spaniel was introduced. The company's earliest Cocker Spaniel, also named Cockie, is sitting, head jointed, and made from brown and white mohair. Like her copper colored cousin, debut Cockie has an elaborately constructed muzzle and a smiling, velvet lined mouth. Sitting brown and white Cockie appeared in the line from 1951 through 1959 in 10, 14, 17, 22, 25, 28, and 30 cm.  The smallest version of this pretty puppy is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal hopes you enjoyed learning about this wonderful copper (show) stopper of a pooch!

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

Horsing Around With This 1930's-Era Steiff Pony On Wheels

Whoa Nelly! Can one simple digit make all the difference when identifying and dating vintage Steiff?  In this case - yes!  Check out this lovely vintage horse on wheels. Everything about her goes by the numbers!

This pretty pony belongs to one of Steiffgal's Steiff pals. The horse measures about 28 cm by 28 cm. She is standing, made from soft, very lightly textured brown and white fabric, and comes to life with a black plush mane and tail. She is authentically dressed in red leather reins and a saddle, along with a green felt blanket. She rides upon four red wooden wheels. This is one of Steiff's most beloved and legacy pre-war patterns, and was produced in a number of materials and sizes - ranging from 12 to 80 cm - in the c. 1892 through 1943 time frame. Early on, she was also available paired with a number of complementary items, including a doll, jockey, cart, or sled. Pony retains her long trailing F button and her fully legible red ear tag, dating her initially in the broad c. 1926 to 1934 time frame.

Given her materials, presentation, and age, this is one excellent equine indeed!

But there's something really interesting about this horse that sent Steiffgal into a full gallop. At very first glance, both Steiffgal and her pal thought she was made from felt. If that were the case, her condition truly would be outstanding, given how prewar items made from felt or with felt detailing (like paw pads) almost always have at least a few holes or nibbles in them. But this fabric was flawless! So what's going on here? Check out her red ear tag, which reads "1228." This corresponds to: 1=standing, 2=short pile plush/coat plush, and 28=28 cm. 

Hold your horses! It turns out that Steiff was making their horse on wheels pattern in another fabric called "coat plush" in 22, 28, and 35 cm from 1932 through 1934.  It is interesting to note that in the 1930's, the company started using alot of "substitute" fabrics like wool plush, curled wood plush, and artificial silk plush on some of their most beloved patterns. That was most likely due to supply chain and socio-political issues of the era. These alternative fabrics were still available and affordable. And except for artificial silk plush, all were really quite durable - which helps to explain in part why this horse is in such nice shape. If you look closely at the horse's fabric, you will see that indeed it has a light "fuzzy" texture and feel to it.  And, because the surface is not flat and almost completely even like felt, the seams are not as smooth and "fluid" between the different fabrics. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this great 1930's Steiff horse has set you a'blaze!

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

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