Saturday, July 28, 2018

Let Me Call You Sweetheart!

Won't you be my Teddy bear? All Steiff collectors agree - there's no better six words in the entire world! And that's just how Steiffgal felt when a new vintage friend joined her hug a few weeks ago. He was purchased at an auction in Germany sight unseen, and when he crossed the pond and arrived at his new home, he was even BETTER than expected. Don't you just love when that happens? Come meet Marshmallow, and learn why he is so interesting from the historical and product development perspectives.

This precious cub is as sweet as sugar! Marshmallow is 30 cm standing, 20 cm sitting, and fully jointed. He is made from white wool plush and is solidly stuffed with excelsior. His pads are made from flesh colored felt that has faded considerably. His simple but beautiful face comes to life with round black and brown glass pupil eyes and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. He has four brown claws on each of his paws. He has a non-working squeaker in his belly. Marshmallow's IDs have been lost to time, but it is Steiffgal's best guess that he was made in the mid-1930's to early 1940's, given his materials and presentation.

Now let's dive into material matters. Although wool plush is a lovely and very durable material, Steiff has usually made items from this fabric just before, during, or after periods of war or hardship. It is considered a "substitute" material, used in the place of more expensive and higher quality mohair. Sometimes these items also have linen or lesser quality felt on their pads or lining their ears as well.  Wool plush has a really old fashioned look to it, and has a "continuous" but bumpy feel on its surface - not like mohair which can feel softly "prickly" like a hooked rug. 

It is interesting to note that Steiff created many of its beloved and most popular 1930's-era designs in wool plush. Sometimes these items, like the company's Teddy baby bears, are specifically called out in the standard Steiff reference books. But others are not. For example, Steiffgal has a wool plush Jocko monkey in her hug; he is identical to the mohair version we all know and love. And as far as Steiffgal can tell, this white wool plush Teddy bear is not noted in the Sortiment books.  She handled a similar blonde wool plush Steiff bear for an auction client several years ago - so they were produced in some volume - but probably not many overall. 

Another factor that makes this wool plush bear quite the "looker" is his general appearance. His body has a distinctly long and lean look to it, and his dear face has quite a pensive expression. After studying bears from every decade, it has been Steiffgal's observation that bears from the mid-1930's to the early 1940's do indeed have this more "austere" look to them - perhaps matching the socio-economic climate of the time in Germany? Bears from this era also are usually produced in very basic hues, like white and blonde. Just for comparison, check out this photo on the left.  It features a similarly sized c.1906 Ted, a c.1929 Teddy Baby, and Marshmallow from the c.mid to late 1930's. What a difference a decade or two makes!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this wool plush cub has been beary enjoyable for you.

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

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!
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