Friday, October 26, 2018

Can't Miss Steiff and Teddy Bear Fun In Billund, Denmark!

What could be more exciting and interesting than an ENTIRE museum dedicated to Teddy bears? How about one located in a gorgeous and historical villa in Denmark? Just the thought of such a destination gets most cub collectors scrambling to find their passports! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of speaking to Laura Beatrice Ricks, who has the dream job of being the General Manager of the Teddy Bear Art Museum in Billund, Denmark. This museum (pictured above) opened in May of 2018 and is already capturing the eyes - and the hearts - of Teddy bear enthusiasts worldwide. Come learn what she had to say about this destination that needs to be on the to-do list of every bear fan. 

Steiffgal: Thank you for taking the time to speak with the MySteiffLife readers today. Could you please tell us why you decided to create a museum based on Teddy bears and art.

Laura Beatrice Ricks: For us, it was important to show that a Teddy bear is not just a toy, but a work of art. Our name "Teddy Bear Art Museum" is to emphasize this. Just as a blank canvas can become a painter’s masterpiece so too can a length of mohair and some sewing thread become a one of a kind Teddy bear. Every one of the Museum’s 1,000 exhibits has a special expression and look, backing up the idea of art.

Steiffgal: Tell us the relationship between the museum and Lego.

LBR: Teddy Bear Art Museum is owned by Gunhild Kirk Johansen and her husband, Mogens. Gunhild was a child in the house where the Museum is now situated, built in 1959. Gunhild’s grandfather, Ole Kirk Christiansen, founded LEGO. Her father, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, made LEGO the success it is today. Gunhild’s younger brother, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, continued the good work and is Chairman of the Board at LEGO. The small town of Billund would be nothing without this entrepreneurial and hard-working family who have made it the Capital of Children and a wonderful place to visit, particularly with children. Although this house was previously a private home, it is very spacious as in the early days of LEGO Billund did not have any hotels which meant that guests were able to stay the night in the family villa.

Steiffgal: Tell us about your typical visitors.

LBR: The typical visitor is a woman from 50 years old and up. Luckily, we also have many children with their parents or grandchildren. Billund has a large international airport (Denmark’s 2nd biggest airport after Copenhagen – and again, thanks to the LEGO family who founded the airport). This means we have many visitors from abroad.

Steiffgal: Many museums now include significant activities and attractions specifically for children. Is this true at your museum, and if so, what are you doing for children?

LBR: We consider children to be a very important part of a museum. If children do not visit museums then they may not come as adults either. Our child-focused programing and activities include:

1. A number of large, cuddly Teddy bears for children to play with dotted around the Museum.

2. Several different versions of treasure hunts for children, and the children do not need to be able to read to enjoy these adventures. 

3. A wall display with a magnetic, dress-up Muffy VanderBear. 

4. A table in our Teddy Bear CafĂ© with drawing materials and bear books, Paddington, as well as Muffy bears they can dress. 

5. During school holidays, we arrange Teddy bear-related courses for children. These are designed for children aged 7 and up and include painting stones with Teddy bears, sewing felt Teddy bears, and making brooches of silk clay, among others. 

6. We have 30 minute “pop in“ workshops where a child visiting the Museum can make a small project. 

7. We have had one “Night at the Teddy Bear Museum” event when 12 children spent the night in the VanderBear exhibition. We made Teddy bear shaped pizzas and craft projects and then slept with 1,000 Teddy bears. The children all brought their own Teddy bears to the event. It was a huge success. 

Steiffgal: Where do most of the bears on display come from? Were they part of the owner’s original collection, or were they purchased specifically for the museum, or something else?

LBR: We have two main permanent collection from approximately 14 countries: Johnny and Gitte Pinholt Thorsen’s eclectic collection of one of a kind Teddy bears and the Museum’s owner, Gunhild Kirk Johansen’s collection of the VanderBear family and one of a kind Teddy bears. The collections predate the Museum as private collections.

Steiffgal: How is it decided what specific bears will be on exhibit in the museum?

LBR: Gitte Thorsen, the Museum’s Design Master and Curator, selects the Teddy bears. We have bears produced by commercial makers, bears made by artists, and of course, the original and historic Alfonzo from Steiff - the Prince of our museum!

Steiffgal: How often do you create special exhibits, and how often do you update your exhibits?  

LBR: The first special exhibition is on display from our opening in May until December 2018. Our guest exhibition with Paddington is also on display from May-December 2018. We are closed in January and re-open in February, 2019 with a new exhibition on Steiff.

Steiffgal: Tell us more about this upcoming special exhibition on Steiff bears. Will you have a party to launch this new display? 

LBR: It is an exclusive Steiff exhibition with items from Steiff’s archives in Giengen, Germany and includes bears and animals. The Museum’s oldest bear is Peachy, a Steiff bear from 1905-1907. He is pictured here on the left. Steiff is kindly lending the Museum articles from their collection. And yes, the Museum will hold a party to open the new exhibition!

Steiffgal: If an artist has a bear that they would like the museum to show or have, or if a collector has a very unusual bear they would like the museum to show or have, does the museum take these sorts of offers?  

LBR: We have received a number of donations of special Teddy bears. We regularly purchase artist bears. We also purchased Steiff’s Alfonzo from Teddy Bears of Witney after Ian Pout contacted us about this. He was keen to provide Alfonzo with a good new home where he would be on display rather than disappearing in a private collection. As the mother of Alfonzo’s original owner, Princess Xenia, was Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark, the world-famous Teddy bear already had a Danish connection. She is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal: And finally, if collectors are not able to make the journey to your museum, but want to visit or follow it virtually, how can they do that?

LBR: We have a virtual link around the Museum kindly filmed by our friend and associate Sebastian Marqvardt. Please click on this link to view this tour.
  You can also learn more on our website Homepage, Facebook and Instagram pages, and our Newsletter.

Steiffgal: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing all of this exciting news and information about the museum. Please keep us posted on the February, 2019 Steiff exhibit - we'd love to see photos from it and learn about some of the featured Steiff highlights!

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

All Treats and No Tricks With These Tiny Orange Steiff Treasures

When you were a kid, what was your favorite Halloween score? For Steiffgal, it was Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. How times have changed! Today, a REAL hair-raising treat would be a palm sized Steiff goodie in a Halloween pail, wouldn't you agree? So, to celebrate this spooky season in a more grownup fashion, here are a few orange hued "snack sized" treats to satisfy your Steiff sweet tooth. (Please click on any photo to enlarge it for viewing and study.) 

It's hard to outfox this teeny tiny Steiff woolen miniature Pitty fox. He is sitting, measures 5 cm, and is made from orange and white woolen threads. His face comes to life with an itty-bitty black bead nose and eyes and felt ears. Steiff's woolen miniatures are often head jointed, but Steiffgal is not sure if this is the case here as he remains in his original cardboard and plastic packaging. Steiff created a series of ten Pitty woolen miniature animals in the 1977 through 1981 time frame; all were distributed in similar bubble style packaging. It is Steiffgal's best guess is that this is the case so they could be merchandised and sold off of a standard counter rack.

Steiffgal's also nuts over this woolen miniature squirrel. She is also from the "Pitty" line. She is begging, measures 5 cm, and is made from orange woolen threads. She has a peach colored base and hands, orange felt ears, and a black button nose and eyes. Like Pitty fox, it is not clear if she is head jointed or not. On the back of her cardboard packaging, she has a white paper price tag from Saks Fifth Avenue. It notes that she costs $5. Adjusted for inflation, $5.00 in 1980 is equal to $16.07 in 2018. Pitty squirrel certainly packs alot of personality into a very small presentation!

This next happy handful is a late 1920s-era Steiff Charly King Charles Spaniel dog. He has distinctive orange mohair highlights on his ears, backside, and tail. Most of Steiff's Charly dogs were produced with brown mohair highlights, so this one is a little more unusual. Charly is sitting and head jointed. He has extremely long fuzzy ears; large, childlike brown and black-pupil eyes; a very detailed facial seam structure; and a prominent tail. Steiff made this Charly pattern both sitting (10, 14, 17, 22, 25, 30, and 35 cm) and standing (7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 22, 25, and 36 cm) through 1939.

Charly likes to troop the colors with this similarly hued Bully the Bulldog. This white and orange mohair pup is 10 cm, sitting, head jointed, and made from orange and white mohair. Orange and white Bully dogs are a little rarer than black and white Bully dogs as they were in the line for fewer years. Bully's face and muzzle area are tan velvet. He has very large brown and black glass pupil eyes and a black, hand-embroidered nose. Most remarkably, Bully retains his original and traditional horsehair collar. This is made from a long, thin strip of material which is doubled over width-wise; the horsehair fibers are sewn in between the faces of the material. The horsehair collar was a typical pre-war accessory and indicated a "regal" nature of the item wearing it. Bully was made in velvet and mohair, as well as sitting and standing, in sizes ranging from 10 to 50 cm in the 1927 through 1937 time frame overall. 

And this discussion would be unbearable without a cub representative in the mix. Here we have a 6 cm Teddy Baby Replica 1930. He is technically cataloged as "maize" in color to reflect his corn colored hue. This tiny Ted is fully jointed and has all the traditional Teddy Baby characteristics - including downturned wrists, flat feet made for standing, and a charming, youthful face - albeit on a super small scale. Maize Teddy Baby appeared in the line from 1998 through 2001.

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion of tiny orange treasures all treats and no tricks. 

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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Oh, Shoot!

"Welcome to our world of toys!" When you think of those words, what comes to mind? F.A.O. Schwarz, of course! And the good news is that all Steiff, doll, and toy collectors will soon have the opportunity to hear that delightful tune again, as the store reopens for business on November 16th, 2018 in Rockefeller Center in New York City. It's the update we've all be waiting for, after tearfully saying goodbye to this world-class institution for what we all thought was forever in 2015. Do whatever you have to do... walk, take a car, bus, train, plane, or the subway to visit the new store when it debuts soon. Steiffgal is certain that you will experience "The Return to Wonder" the store promises! (The photo of a mini "pop up" F.A.O. Schwarz store shown above is from

As part of this grand opening celebration, Steiffgal (and her collection) had the pleasure of contributing to a short film that will be shown as part of the store's debut in a few weeks. The movie focuses on the remarkable legacy of the F.A.O. Schwarz company and the instrumental role the Schwarz family had in the world economy and business community from the mid-1800s onward. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at how a very long day of filming here at Steiffgal's house will help bring parts of that story to life.

After a week of frenetic planning, the crew from the Ewers Brothers film production company arrived on location around 9am. The team included a director, a producer, an assistant producer, a cinematographer, and an assistant cinematographer. All were fantastic, extremely professional, respectful of the collection and house, and just plain fun to be around. The team brought an enormous amount of movie-making items in hard cases, tubes, suitcases, rolls, and just about any packing case you can imagine. As the parking and traffic was crazy in Steiffgal's neighborhood at this time, load-in was a little complicated logistically, but everyone was in good humor and this task was accomplished within 30 minutes or so. Given the amount of materials they brought, these items took over much of Steiffgal's first floor, including the kitchen! 

Next, the crew toured the house to find the best place to "set up camp" for the interview sessions. They needed an area with an interesting background, the right light, and enough space to arrange what seemed like an infinite amount of technologies, a huge camera, multiple screens, and other filming apparatus. It was decided that this would take place in Steiffgal's living room, which is also the largest room in the house. Within an hour, this usually quiet space (which just that morning was where Steiffgal and family enjoyed a low-keyed breakfast and coffee) was transformed into what looked like an international broadcasting booth!

An important part of putting together a film like this is the inclusion of old photos, letters, catalogs, and other ephemeral things to round out the story and to ground it in history. Steiffgal, with the help of the Schwarz family and some wonderful and generous toy-colleagues, pulled together a table full of these items expressly for this purpose. The film team brought along an electronic scanner. The assistant producer studied these historical documents and scanned the ones that would be relevant and helpful to the project. It took her practically the entire day to complete this herculean task.

The main interview set took about two hours to arrange and finalize. This time was spent adjusting light levels, angles, volumes, noise controls, and other factors that all come together to make the ideal venue. Steiffgal was surprised when simple black metal chairs from her porch were selected as the interview seats, not the couch as she anticipated. All in all, the set from the interviewee's perspective consisted of two chairs facing each other, about two feet apart. The camera was behind one of the chairs. The person being interviewed faced the camera; the interviewer sat in the other chair and never appeared on camera. There were various lights, screens, and other apparatus all within that very small space. The producer held a device about the size of a tablet that allowed her to view what the camera saw and make adjustments as needed.

Overall, the crew interviewed three people during the day - two members of the F.A.O. Schwarz family and Steiffgal. Each interview took about an hour and was casual and very conversational. The interviewer had carefully prepared a slate of general questions for everyone, as well as specific questions per person. For example, family members were asked about their memories of the store and their relatives, what it was like to "grow up Schwarz," and the role of toys and play in their lives. Steiffgal was asked what the store means to collectors, why F.A.O. Schwarz editions are coveted even today, the role of the catalog, and all about Steiff's life-sized animals that are practically synonymous with the store. Because of street sounds and sirens, filming was occasionally put on hold until these noises passed. But for the most part, the hour long interview just flew by, and the interviewer did a masterful job at developing rapport and making his interviewees feel as comfortable - and sound as articulate - as possible! And, in case you were wondering, Steiffgal did indeed hold a special and meaningful Steiff animal in her arms during filming. So stay tuned about that!

Once the interviews were completed, the crew again rearranged the house for shooting "B" roll. These are shots or images that are used in the film between segments or as transitional visuals. It took at least another hour to set up the cameras and lights for this. The camera was positioned on a multi-wheeled dolly and could be fluidly and evenly moved to film panoramic images of the collection. The team was interested in capturing the size, scale, and variety of the studio pieces, as well as the beauty and range of Steiff animals that appeared on the shelves of F.A.O. Schwarz over the years. Steiffgal was delighted that Jocko chimps of all sizes and shapes, as well as a number of other collector's favorites, were prominently featured in the "B" roll shots. Here on the left you can see cinematographer Chris Ewers preparing a few familiar Steiff faces for filming.

The crew's final shooting location was the second floor of the house, including Steiffgal's study and her stairway landing, where a few cases of Steiff are on display. Many of the items from these areas have provenance to F.A.O Schwarz so it was important that these treasures were included in the filming. All of the movie making apparatus used for the "B" roll was brought into these small spaces and there was hardly any room to stand! But the crew did a masterful job in working around the limited footprint and truly brought the collection to life under their magic touch.

The full day of shooting wrapped up around 7pm. Everyone felt great about the quality and quantity of footage generated. The team quickly packed, bundled, and cased up all of their filmmaking tools and loaded up their vehicles. They also helped to reconfigure the house back to its original condition. Hugs and high fives were exchanged. Once the team left Steiffgal's home, there was no physical trace of the extraordinary things that had occurred in the space that day. But you can best believe that the wonderful memories of this once-in-a-lifetime experience will last forever!

Steiffgal's hopes that you enjoyed this sneak peak into some of the preparations going into the relaunch of the world's most favorite and beloved toy store in November, 2018. Steiffgal extends a huge thank you to the Ewers Brothers team for a job well done, and cannot recommend them highly enough for their professionalism, insight, humor, and just plain wonderfulness! Director Erik Ewers (here on the left, under the supervision of a Steiff Moorland sheep) and crew have recently completed a documentary on the Mayo Clinic, airing on PBS. You can read more about that by clicking here. For more information on F.A.O. Schwarz, please follow all the happenings and excitement at Once this movie has been completed and launched, Steiffgal will share the link and post a copy here on the blog.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Let The Good Times Roll With This Vintage Steiff Molly Dog On Wheels

Mark Twain once wrote, “The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven not man’s.” And who could disagree? No company can match Steiff's attention to detail, quality, and appeal when it comes to our favorite canines. Next to Teddy bears, dogs have always been Steiff's most beloved and popular editions.  

Steiff's pre-war dogs on wheels could easily be considered the best of all worlds. These endearing, softly proportioned pets are adorable on their own, as well as the perfect pals for turn of last century dolls. Their wheels give them a distinctly playful - and old fashioned - appearance. So Steiffgal was more than delighted to learn of a very large - perhaps lifesized - 1920s era Steiff Molly on the go! This particular Molly on wheels is scaled to be either a large pull toy, or a small riding animal for a toddler. 

This Steiff pretty puppy is the wheel-deal indeed. She is standing, unjointed, and 35 cm tall. She is made from very long tipped tan mohair which has faded overall to a vanilla color over time, but is still very lush and full. Her floppy ears are "folded over" as they have been since her launch in the mid-1920's. She has oversized brown and black pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. She rides upon four red wooden wheels. Molly on wheels was made in 28 and 35 cm from 1927-1943 overall. This example was made in the earliest part of that time frame, given that she retains her long trailing "f" button and traces of her red ear tag, as pictured here.  

Steiff's Molly the Puppy is a very important design for three key reason.

1.  First, she is one of the very few Steiff dogs that doesn’t have a “breed” associated with her. For example, Terry is the Steiff Airedale, Foxy is the Steiff Fox Terrier, and Snobby is the Steiff Poodle. This model is simply known as Molly the Puppy.

2.  Second, her 1925 introduction was so successful that she can be credited for opening the floodgates to a huge influx of Steiff dog designs. Between 1925 and 1938, close to 40 new canine species were noted in the Steiff catalogs after her debut. These included the now classic Bully Bulldog, Arco the German Shepherd, and Peky the Pekinese, as well as some lesser-known designs including Cheerio, the laughing dog, Putzi, a caricatured standing dog, and Lord the Great Dane.

3.  And third, she was a prime source of highly successful “theme and variation” product launches. Through the early 1940s, Molly appeared sitting and standing and in numerous color combinations, including red and white, green and white, and blue and white. She appeared as a puppet, purse, pincushion, music box, and Charleston animal, among other items. Smaller versions appeared standing on eccentric wheels, while larger ones, like the example under discussion today, appeared on centered wheels. Steiff used her basic appealing, endearing “young dog” pattern on other lesser known dogs of the 1920s and 1930s, including Trolly (a white, yellow, and brown St. Bernhard puppy), Flock (a blonde and white puppy), Zotty (a white puppy) and Fellow (a black and white puppy). A picture of Fellow and Molly are featured here on the left, the photo is from Theriaults. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's prewar Molly the Puppy on wheels has been more fun than a joyride for you!

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