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.
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