Saturday, March 31, 2018

Satisfying Your Rabbit-Habit With These Two Great Easter Finds

What would you like to find in your Easter basket? A chocolate bunny, some neon-colored marshmallow Peeps, and jelly beans would be a good start for sure. But how about a Steiff rabbit surprise as well? No Steiff collector would say no to that! Steiffgal recently welcomed two Steiff rabbit rarities into her hug. Given the Easter rabbit is about to make his grand annual appearance, she though it would be a perfect time to share these honey-bunnies with the Steiff loving community.

It's a clothes call with this first cheerful-earful. Here we have Steiff's "Zappy" rabbit. He is 25 cm, head jointed, and made mostly from tan and white dralon. His footpads and the lining of his ears are the same dralon color - a very light peach. He is wearing green felt shorts and rust-brown felt suspenders. Little silver buttons join the suspenders to the shorts. His face is detailed with large brown and black pupil eyes, a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, pink airbrushing, and lots of clear monofilament whiskers. His IDs include a raised script button, a fully legible yellow ear tag which is numbered 8625,00, and a colorful, named, bear faced chest tag. His article number corresponds to 8=dolls and figures, 6=dralon plush, 25=25 cm, 00=without wheels and "normal color." Zappy was produced in this size only from 1966 through 1974.

So what secrets does Zappy hide deep within his rabbit den? It is interesting that at least from his numbering, we can tell that Steiff categorized this design more of a doll than a rabbit. And, a close look through the Sortiment reveals that he does indeed "live" in the dolls and figures chapter, not in the rabbits chapter. Awhile back, Steiffgal handled another example but that Zappy had lentil style Steiff buttons on his shorts, not plain ones like the example under discussion today. Zappy is one of the very last dressed animal dolls Steiff produced as part of its standard line. Steiff's animal dolls debuted in the late 1920's and were noted for their hybrid animal/human proportions and great outfits. Over time, their designs and clothing were simplified; the debut animals were made of mohair, fully jointed, and dressed to the nines. This dralon version with basic felt shorts truly represents the end of the line for Steiff's legacy animal doll production.

It's easy to warm up to this second Steiff rabbit rarity. This bunny is begging, unjointed, and measures 22 cm without ears and 28 cm with them. Her face, arms, legs, and ears are made from long tan dralon. The lining of her ears is made from apricot colored dralon. Her muzzle area is made from velour-like material. Her face comes to life with oversized black and brown pupil eyes, a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth augmented with brown paint, and clear monofilament whiskers. Bunny's body, which is shaped like an egg, is hollow and made from short green dralon. It is decorated with a red and yellow felt flower on a green felt stem. Her Steiff IDs include a lentil style button, a fully legible yellow ear tag, and a red and yellow split style generic chest tag. Steiffgal cannot find any mention of this item in any of the standard Steiff reference books. Given her arrangement of IDs, it is her best guess that this mystery rabbit was made in the c. 1972-1977 time frame. 

So just why is this rabbit hot stuff? It is Steiffgal's best guess that she was originally designed as a hot water bottle animal for a small child, given her size, appearance, and form. Her belly is hollow, and you can open and close it up on the back via strips of velcro. Her belly is also lined in an unusual, rigid material that probably has some heat-regulating properties to it. This fabric was probably put inside the rabbit to insulate it, as well as protect a child from getting scalded if the hot water bottle inside the rabbit's belly was extremely hot. However, this example did not come with the interior bottle, so it is impossible to guess what it looked liked or how it actually navigated within the the body cavity.

Steiff has a long history of creating fun and functional items, including purses, pajama bags, egg cozies, and other rarities - including hot water bottle animals. Most collectors are familiar with the company's adorable and fabulous hot water bottle bears, which were originally produced at the turn of last century in response to record cold winters in Berlin. Only a handful of these lace-up, mohair cubs were manufactured, and they always garner enormous collector's interest when they appear at auction. As far as Steiffgal is aware, this relatively modern hot water bottle rabbit is one of the few (if not the only) postwar hot water bottle animals made by Steiff.  

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion on these two rare Easter bunnies has satisfied your rabbit-habit!

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

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Who Nose Why This Turn Of Last Century Steiff Bear Is So Extraordinary?

This bears repeating - Steiffgal's never seen anything like this terrific Ted before! Steiffgal had the privilege of handing this astonishingly special cub for a friend. Yes, he's got traditionally handsome Steiff good looks, but he also has a little secret to him that places him at a really interesting point in Steiff's product development history. Can you guess what that might be? Let's take a closer look at this Steiff rarity and see what makes him outstanding in so many ways.

It's nothing but Teddy hugs when it comes to this fine fellow.  This bear is 35 cm sitting or 50 cm standing, fully jointed, and made from long, thick, white mohair.  He is solidly stuffed with excelsior. His paw pads are tan felt. He has five brown hand embroidered claws on each of his hands and feet.  Typical to very early Steiff bears, he has long and narrow feet, extra-long arms with prominently curved wrists, and a very pronounced back hump. His sweet and baby-like face comes to life with black shoe button eyes and and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth.   And just when you think things could not get better with him - they actually could.

His little secret just might test your metal. Believe it or not, this bear is rod jointed... dating him right at the turn of the last century. Steiff only produced white rod bears in 1904 and 1905! Steiff's rod jointed bears are extraordinary in their own right. These early bears are best known for their chunky forms, almost (American) football-shaped torsos, simple and somewhat "puppy like" expressions, and gutta percha noses. A somewhat more "typical" white rod bear is pictured here on the left. This photo is from Christies and this bear, which had its original elephant button, sold in 2010 for 13,125 pounds. But as you can see, the rod bear under discussion today really has the face - and the facial stitching - of a c. 1905 to 1912 Steiff bear!

So who nose what's going on here? There are a few possibilities, but it is clear that this all-original bear is a transitional example that spans the company's c. 1903 to 1905 rod bears with gutta percha noses and their c. 1905 onward disk jointed bears with embroidered facial features. As such, it is Steiffgal's best guess that this very bear was one of the very last rod jointed bears made - and at the same time - one of the very first bears to feature a hand stitched nose. How remarkable is that?

Let's take a breather here and talk about gutta percha. Gutta percha is a natural latex product made from the sap of the Palaquium gutta tree. Gutta percha noses were very labor intensive to produce on bears. Each one required an artisan to place individual drops of this black, sticky, rubbery substance on the tip of the bear's muzzle until enough built up to resemble a nose. The artisan also was required to constantly shape the cooling material into a nose shape, which explains why early and original gutta percha noses often are asymmetrical and have fingerprints and nicks on them. You can see a close up shot of a Steiff gutta percha nose here on the left. Richard Steiff himself thought this process was way too time consuming, and insisted that the company's bear production incorporated stitched noses from around 1905 onward.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this extremely rare transitional rod bear has been a one in a million experience for you!

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Go To The Head of The Class With This Amazing Steiff Student Doll

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Well, when it comes to Steiff, there is always something new to learn, no matter how old you are - or how many years you've been studying all things button-in-ear! Such is the case with this marvelous and extraordinarily rare black doll, best known through a Steiff schoolroom display from the turn of last century. (But more about that in a bit!) This "head of the class" little fellow belongs to a dear friend of Steiffgal. And boy does she have a schoolgirl crush on him indeed! Come see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

This delightful doll is cataloged as "Negro Boy" in the Steiff literature. He is 35 cm, standing, fully jointed - including special knee joints - and made from light brown felt. These knee joints allow him to sit easily and comfortably. He has the typical Steiff vertical facial seam and a quilted, set-in mouth and red painted lips. He comes to life with very unusual tri-colored, almond shaped glass eyes, prominent and dimensional ears, and distinctive hair made from black curled wool material. His outfit, which is correct in design but not original to him, consists of a striped shirt, red vest, and plaid pants. Unlike many of the Steiff dolls of his time, this pattern is purposely barefoot. He was produced in this size only from 1912 through 1918.

Now for a little history lesson on him. This boy was produced at a key time in the company's doll history. Starting in 1911, the company began manufacturing dolls representing different far away countries and dressing them accordingly. They were referred to as "nation types." These included a Mexican cowboy, a Sinhalese girl from Sri Lanka, and a man and a woman from Argentina, among several others. These were all idealized as well as stereotypical in design, with exaggerated facial features and detailing, dramatic skin tones, and perfectly-to-scale national outfits. It is very possible that this line was designed by Albert Schlopsnies, Steiff's creative consultant who was hired to help grow the company's doll line and marketshare starting around 1910.

Prior to Steiff's nation types doll series, Steiff did make dolls in local attire (like their series of German farmers starting in 1908) as well as dolls dressed in regional outfits (like their Dutch children also starting in 1908.) However, unlike the nation type dolls that had specific ethnic features, coloration, and distinctive outfits, the dolls in local attire or regional outfits were standard line dolls dressed in outfits that were slightly modified in shape, form, or proportion - not entirely new patterns.  The Dutch girl, Alida, is shown here on the left. She was She was made from 1909 through 1919 in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm.  She is described as "felt, jointed, Dutchwoman, original costume, Sunday best." "Sunday best" most likely meant she was wearing special or more upscale clothing for church - not an everyday outfit.

It's a clothes-call when it comes to Negro Boy's outfit. It is based on the clothing worn by schoolboys in a c. 1911 display. A photo of this display appears above, the picture is from the Cieslik's Button in Ear The History of the Teddy Bear and His Friends. In the photo you can see a black teacher giving a multiplication lesson to a classroom of black schoolboys. In the front rows are boys in yellow vests and red and white striped shirts; behind them are boys in orange vests and green and white striped shirts. Perhaps these different "uniforms" reflect the the boys' ages or grades. This one room school display is almost identical in theme to the company's one room school display featuring white children. You can read more about that display here.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this adorable Steiff schoolboy has you feeling like a genius!

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

This Pre-War Steiff Siamy Is Simply The Cat's Meow

It's always fun to add a little something unexpected to your Steiff meow mix! And such is the case with this wonderful feline treasure that snuck in on little cat's feet. Steiff's Siamy Siamese cats have been favorites with collectors since their introduction in 1930. Check out this very vintage version and see what makes her purr-fect in every way.

Despite being a bit mohair challenged, this pretty kitty has quite the tail to tell. She is 22 cm, sitting, head jointed, and made from mohair - tan on her body and head, and brown on her ears, muzzle, front legs, back foot pads, and tail. You can see traces of brown airbrushed highlights on her face. Her face comes to life with blue and black slit pupil style glass eyes and a simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. 
Her red claws are also hand embroidered. She proudly retains only one of her original clear monofilament whiskers. She has a non-working squeaker in her belly and sports a teeny tiny long trailing "F" button as her Steiff ID. Sitting, mohair Siamy was made in 14, 17, 22, 25, and 30 cm from 1930 through 1932 and then again from 1934 through 1942 overall. 

Given how many cat-calls she received from collectors, Siamy was produced in a number of forms. She appeared as a tail turns head model in 15, 18, 23, 26, and 31 cm from 1931 through 1933, and in wool plush in 14, 17, 22, 25, and 30 from 1930 through 1932. Siamy-inspired novelties included a 17 cm hand puppet called Punch Siamy that appeared in the line from 1930 though 1934 and a 30 x 30 cm Siamy pajama bag that appeared in the line from 1930 through 1937. The puppet and pajama bag are both incredibly rare on the secondary market.  Steiffgal has only dreamed about the Siamy pajama bag, and has only handled one Siamy puppet in over four decades of collecting all things button-in-ear. 

Siamy used one of her nine lives to reintroduce herself into the Steiff catalog after the company reopened for toymaking business at the conclusion of World War II. However, she was only made in 11, 15, and 23 cm from 1953 through 1954. The post-war pattern had several key design updates over the pre-war pattern. To see these obvious differences, compare the photos above! The cat on the left is a prewar 22 cm Siamy and the cat on the right is a postwar 23 cm Siamy. 

Specifically, these update included:

  • The postwar model was distinctively more plump and rounded than the prewar model.
  • The postwar model had its tan mohair tail and front legs painted brown, while the prewar model had a brown mohair tail and front legs. 
  • The postwar model appeared with either an open or closed mouth. Steiffgal has only seen closed mouthed prewar models. 
  • The postwar models had a somewhat inverted triangular shaped muzzle and forehead construction, while the prewar models had a simpler, rounded muzzle. 
  • The medium and largest postwar models had felt lined ears and the smallest had felt ears. Prewar Siamy cats all had brown mohair ears. 
But one thing about Siamy's pattern didn’t change significantly over time—she retained her famous trademark blue eyes which continue to melt the hearts of collectors almost 90 years after her debut.

Steiffgal hopes that this little discussion on Steiff's Siamys has been the cat's meow for you.

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

This Tiny, Turn of Last Century Steiff Pomeranian Is The Wheel-Deal Indeed!

What's the "best of all worlds" Steiff find for you? Everyone certainly has their own take on what that might be. For Steiffgal, that would include a small, prewar dog on wheels with ID with an interesting history. So it was a real treat when she was recently asked to help rehome just that from a fine estate in Ohio. Apparently his previous owner had a real life Pom, so its clear why this treasure was a crown jewel in her collection. So without further "pom" and circumstance, check out this petite treat and see what makes her so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.  

This little gal is the wheel-deal indeed. She's an early standing and unjointed 17 cm Steiff Pomeranian on wheels. Her legs, face, and ears are made from felt and her body and tail are made from lovely long mohair. Both started out more white but have mellowed to a vanilla color over time. Pom's adorable face is detailed with prominent seams, early black shoebutton eyes, a thin hand embroidered brown nose and mouth, and a touch of tan paint on her nose. Her legs are quite firm and appear to lined in metal rods to support her. These rods end at the tips of her paws in loops. These loops in turn secure her to the axles that connect to her metal wheels. Each wheel measures about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and has four spokes.

In terms of age and marks, this pretty Pom retains her tiny long trailing "F" Steiff button in ear as her ID. She was produced in 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm (measured top of head to toe, sans wheels) from 1902 through 1929 overall. This design appeared exclusively on metal wheels through 1916/17; as such, she was certainly made at the beginning of her manufacturing time frame.   

Pomeranian dogs are a legacy design for Steiff. The company's earliest felt and mohair Poms were manufactured in many configurations, including sitting, jointed, on a pincushion, and on wheels - like the example under discussion today. An interesting, unusual, and rare five ways jointed version was produced with its legs jointed and attached to the back end interior of the body torso - not along the outside of the hip area as typically seen. A great example of Steiff's Pom pincushion is shown here on the left; this item realized $700 in January, 2018 at a Theriaults doll auction. The photo is from Theriaults.

It goes without saying these antique Poms are charming - and charmed! Every turn of last century Pom that left the Steiff factory in Germany was decorated with a red cord with two pom-poms or tassels. This gave the dogs an undeniably “regal” appearance. The breed does have some connections to German royalty, which may explain why Steiff decorated them like “little kings.” Steiff's earliest Poms also have enormous appeal to vintage doll collectors, who love to pose them alongside antique dolls from the same era.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's early Pomeranian dogs has unleashed your desire to add one to your collection someday!

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