Sunday, November 25, 2018

My Lips Are Sealed Over This Rare Steiff Closed Mouth Teddy Baby Bear

Smile, and the world smiles with you. But sometimes with Steiff, a treasure does not have to be "bearing" a grin to make the world happy. Such is the case with this petite treat that Steiffgal recently added to her collection. Take a look at this happy handful and see what makes him so distinctive from the design and product development perspectives.

Oh baby! Steiff enthusiasts are certain to recognize this beloved pattern as that of Teddy baby. This version is about 17 cm tall, standing, fully jointed and made from chocolate brown mohair. His paw pads are made from tan felt. He has all the legacy Teddy baby features, including flat, cardboard lined feet designed for standing; downward curving paws; a prominent muzzle; and a delightful, childlike appearance. However, unlike most prewar Teddy baby bears 15 cm tall and larger, this one has a closed mouth - making him quite the rare bear indeed!  

Let's give a shout out to this pensive pattern. Just for comparison, consider the following history. Steiff's beloved, open mouthed brown mohair Teddy babies were made prewar in 13 sizes ranging from 9 to 65 cm from 1930 - 1943 overall. Given the number of years and sizes produced, these appear with somewhat regularity on the secondary market. However, Steiff manufactured its brown mohair closed mouthed Teddy babies only in six sizes ranging from 15 to 45 cm from 1929 - 1931 overall. So simply based on the numbers, finding a Steiff prewar, closed mouth Teddy baby is sort of like hitting the lottery! Here on the left you can see three Steiff brown Teddy baby bears: the one on the left is the closed mouth version under discussion today, the one in the middle is an open mouthed version from the 1950s, and the one on the right is an open mouthed version from the 1930s.

It's always fun, and interesting, to think about why a pattern was produced for only a handful of years. Clearly, the closed mouth version was introduced with optimism, as shown in this leaflet from October, 1929. The picture is from Carsten Esser's Steiff Katalog 1920-1929. Although there is nothing exactly documented (at least that Steiffgal can find) about why the closed mouth pattern was discontinued so quickly, here are three possible reasons why.

The first, from the business/financial perspective, is that the open mouth version simply sold much better than the closed mouth version. Although the two are similar, the open mouth version appears sweeter and kinder than the closed mouth, more "pouty" version. This may have called to consumers' preferences, and pocketbooks, and the company simply "fished where the fish are."

The second, from the product development perspective, is that the open mouthed version might have better reflected the company's design priorities than did the closed mouth version. The general Teddy baby pattern was invented due to a late 1920's directive of Richard Steiff. He asked that the company develop products with "smiling faces that come alive." It is pretty clear that the open mouthed version is more "smile-ly" than the closed mouth version.  

The third is a bit more esoteric. From the historical and public relations perspectives, it is possible that the open mouth version might have projected a kinder, more welcoming face for the company than did the more solemn, closed mouth version. This is important when you consider what was happening in Germany and the world at the time that the pattern launched. Germany entered a period of economic depression and widespread unemployment in 1929 while growing anti-German sentiment were starting to cripple Steiff's export markets. As such, the happy-go-lucky open mouthed Teddy baby was the perfect, joyful fit as the company's brand ambassador at a most challenging time.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on closed mouth Teddy baby bears has opened up new ways of thinking for you about this delightful legacy pattern. 

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hammering Out A Few Steiff Highlights From Special Auction Services' November, 2018 Sales Event!

Is it possible for most Steiff collectors to catalog their interest in the brand? Probably not... but thankfully there are publications that can at least capture some of our Steiff wishes and dreams! Steiffgal just got her hands on one fine example of this - the catalog from the upcoming Special Auction Services (SAS) sale featuring Teddy bears and soft toys. This event, to be held on Tuesday November 27th in London, features almost 600 lots of delightful modern to antique temptations. There is truly something for every Steiff and soft plush enthusiast at this important auction. Here are three Steiff lots that caught Steiffgal's eye - and why!

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. This pretty much sums up this first highlight pick, and NO, it has nothing to do with a wedding. Here we have lot #260, which is cataloged as, "A Steiff limited edition Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit 100 Years Anniversary Edition, 2922 for the year 2002, in original box with tag certificate." This modern day Peter Rabbit is estimated at 50 - 80 GBP, which equals about $62 - 104.
What's not to love about this happy hopper? Peter Rabbit is a legacy pattern for Steiff, and was one of the company's earliest licensed characters from literature, culture, or the arts. (For more about that, please click here.) This modern edition incorporates the best of the old - blue jacket and slippers - and the new - a felt carrot and a distinctly impish presentation - elements associated with this beloved fictional character. And, for friends outside of London, did you know that Peter is also the "Money Bunny?" He and other Beatrix Potter pals are featured on a series of 50 pence coins created in 2016 and 2017 for the United Kingdom. Steiffgal had the pleasure of discovering one of these coins in a handful of change she received for a transaction made during a recent trip to London.

Tag, you're it with this second selection. Here we have lot #436, an adorable Steiff Jackie bear in the smallest size made. She is cataloged as, "A rare Steiff Jackie Jubilee Teddy Bear 1953, With beige mohair, brown and black glass eyes, brown stitched nose, mouth and claws, cream stitched highlight to nose, swivel head, jointed limbs with felt pads, inoperative squeaker, remains of US Zone tag in arm seam, original pink ribbon and large chest tag with Eulan shop stamp on reverse —6¾in. (17cm.) high (thinning spot to forehead) - Jackie was made in 1953 to celebrate 50 years of the Teddy Bear, stock number 5317 - 22,862 pieces were made in this size." This Steiff Jackie bear is estimated at 300 - 400 GBP, which equals about $383 - 511.

Collectors are universally tickled pink over this legacy Steiff pattern, with fine examples sometimes realizing big four figures at auction.  A 35 cm version sold for €6,400 at the 2018 Steiff Sommer festival auction presented by Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH. What is particularly appealing about the one on offer at SAS is its impressive and large chest tag. Steiffgal has owned and handled a number of Jackie bears over time, but none retained this key form of identification. There is no Steiff collector on the planet who would say "no" to a Jackie retaining this impressive, and seemingly fleeting, ID. And of course, you can't but help notice this particular Jackie's endearing and pouty facial expression that exudes "take me home!" Steiffgals' current Jackie family is pictured here on the left; for more about Steiff's Jackie bears, please click here. 

And we're really going to the dogs with this third and final auction favorite. Here we have lot #431, a prewar Steiff Sealyham pup made from artificial silk plush. She is cataloged as, "A fine Steiff Sealyham late 1930s-1940s, with light golden artificial silk plush, orange and black glass eyes, black stitched nose and mouth, white mohair muzzle, pink airbrushing to claws, around nose and eyes, swivel head, standing, red leather collar, STEIFF button with yellow cloth tag No.1614,0 and card tag on collar —8in. (20.5cm.) long." This Steiff Sealyham is estimated at 200 - 300 GBP, which equals about $255 - 383.

Artificial silk plush holds a soft spot in Steiffgal's heart. This material, used a few years before and after WWII, was a substitute for higher end, natural fabrics including wool plush, felt, alpaca, and mohair when these materials were not available or limited for toy making due to rationing or wartime priorities. Sometimes artificial silk plush was used for every element of the toy's construction. Other times, this wartime fabric was used on the vast majority of the body, with the small balance constructed out of mohair or felt highlights as is in the case of this dog. For the most part, artificial silk plush looks shiny, silky, and inviting for a very short time.  It thins and looses its gloss and softness quickly even with light playwear. So finding a piece such as this canine - in lovely condition, with all IDs - happens once in a blue moon. And its form, that of a Sealyham, only adds to its appeal. Steiff has done a masterful job on the dog's muzzle, integrating just a touch of longer and slightly contrasting white mohair into the design. This attention to detail really brings the piece to life. A collection of art silk items is shown here above on the left; for more information on this interesting material please click here. 

Steiffgal hopes that three's a charm when it comes to this SAS auction highlight tour! The sale will be held at SAS's Auction Room One, located 81 Greenham Business Park, Newbury, RG19 6HW on November 27th, 2018 starting at 10am. For more information, please see the SAS website, located at

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Look Who Reappeared On Little Cats Feet?

Reunited, and it feels so good! Childhood and Steiff often go hand in hand, so it is always a sweet treat to come across a old button-in-ear friend from long ago. This just happened to a new friend from across the pond, who asks about her blue-eyed beauty. Vicki from the UK writes...

"Hi, I recently found my childhood toy in my dad's under stair cupboard. She is what appears to me to be a leopard I have attached a photo of front and back. She's a hand puppet with a stuffed head with a solid finger hole in her head (difficult to describe) the button is in her ear with some yellow fabric still present although ragged. She has blue glassy eyes and whiskers. I would like to know if you can tell me the age as I can't find anything similar when I search online just cats but she's not tabby. Thanks for your help. I'm from Hertfordshire. She has no claw stitches but her nose is sewn with pink thread. Inside the fabric is very rough but I'm guessing it's mohair (I wasn't sure if real fur?) I've had her since I was little and I'm 38."

Well, isn't this the cat's meow? What we have here is not actually a leopard but a kitty, although the two probably share alot of the same feline DNA in real life. Steiff has named her "Hand Minka Cat." This oversized puppet measures about 30 cm tall and is made from white and patterned woven fur. Her head is stuffed with soft foam, which has a tendency to break down over time. Her face comes alive with a pronounced white muzzle, oversized blue and black pupil eyes, a pink nose, and dark whiskers. She left the factory wearing a red ribbon. Minka Cat appeared in the line in this size and color combination only from 1978 to 1984. Given Vicki was born in 1980, her ownership timeline corresponds perfectly to the production era of this puppet.

Puppets are legacy novelties for Steiff, and a cat puppet has been in the line since about 1912. As for Vicki's particular cat puppet, it is part of a series of larger, all woven fur puppets from 1978. These included a bear, rabbit, dog, owl, donkey, penguin, and this cat. All were 30 cm in size and had charming, childlike presentations to them. They were more soft and silly than serious - and clearly designed for play. 

The 1970's were a challenging time at Steiff in terms of production and costs, as the competition with products from Japan really disrupted the toy marketplace. The year after Minka debuted, in 1979, Steiff launched its "Hand Cat" puppet, which was 27 cm in size and had a blue trevira velvet body. Only its head and paws were made from patterned plush. His only "detail" was  small white felt collar. All of these updates to the pattern were probably done for the purpose of making a smaller, cheaper, more efficient-to-produce cat puppet for the line. Hand Cat appeared though 1983. You can see this Hand Cat puppet here on the left; the picture is from Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Sortiment

Like a cat with nine lives, it is interesting to note that in 1984, Steiff re-engineered its trevira bodied Hand Cat puppet - again.  It now featured an even simpler face, which saved on labor costs, and was made in a much more basic grey plush fabric, which saved on material costs. This model appeared in the line from 1984 through 1992 overall. You can see this cat - and other soft plush puppets on offer at the time - pictured here on the left; the photo is from Steiff's "Steiff Collection 1992" customer catalog. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Vicki's cat 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!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Rolling Out The Red Carpet For This Amazing Steiff Ball Rabbit

It's easy to have a ball with Steiff! Especially when it comes to the company's tiny and wonderful "baby balltier" or ball animals designed for babies. Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of adding one of these bitty bunnies to her Steiff hug. Check out what makes these unusual novelties so interesting from the historical and product development perspectives.

Rounding things out, this adorable, 9 cm tall bunny is head jointed and made from tan colored mohair. His body is a simple, round form about the size of an apricot. His head is about the size of a ping-pong ball and is detailed with black and brown glass pupil eyes and a simple, red hand embroidered nose and mouth. His ears are made from felt. Rabbit's two front limbs and little tail are all made from tan colored woolen pom-poms. His clear monofilament whiskers have unfortunately been lost to time. This ball rabbit pattern was made from 1934 through 1943. This excellent example has a long trailing "F" button, dating him to the earlier part of this time frame.

Steiff also produced a larger 15 cm version of this bouncing bundle of joy from 1932 through 1942. This bigger bunny featured dimensional mohair ears and limbs as well as a rubberized, pastel colored ribbon band so he could be used as a "toss and catch" toy or perhaps even as a pram toy. This ribbon feature is so ephemeral that Steiffgal has never actually seen one in person. The 15 cm version of this novelty is pictured here on the left; the photo is from Pfeiffer's Steiff 1892-1943 Sortiment.

Steiff rolled out a series of teeny-tiny ball animals starting in the early 1930s. This would prove to be a challenging decade for the company. Germany entered a period of economic depression and widespread unemployment in 1929. At the same time, growing overseas sentiment began negatively impacting Steiff's export markets. As a result, Steiff's product development strategy included focusing on creating a range of lower-tier (i.e. affordable and efficient to produce) products for their domestic market to keep their toymaking business viable. It is interesting to note that the company's inexpensive, palm sized woolen miniature animals (including numerous rabbits in various body positions) also debuted around this same time. 

Coming full circle, Steiff produced about eight types of ball style animals overall. These were all based on simplified patterns of the company's most popular designs of the time. In addition to the rabbits discussed above, the collection also included Teddy bears, elephants, ducks, cats, lions, a Chin-Chin dog, and a Molly the Puppy. What's amazing about these items is that any survived at all given they were made to fit in the palm of a child's hand and designed as toys for youngsters! Here on the left you can see the page from the 1938 Steiff catalog featuring an assortment of these well-rounded items. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on these charming Steiff baby toys has put you in a playful mood indeed.

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