Saturday, March 30, 2019

Getting All Dolled Up Over This Pretty Steiff Kitty

It's not often that you come across something that is the best of all worlds. But such is the case with this week's special My Steifflife blog visitor! Check out this simply adorable - and remarkable - Steiff cat doll. There's no question you'd want to welcome her into your meow mix!

This pretty kitty is the whole package. Her official Steiff name is PuppKatz Cat Doll. She is is 22 cm tall, standing, and head jointed. Her body is solidly stuffed and made from tan flesh colored fabric that has a slightly velvet-like finish to it. Her feet are flat and designed for standing; they are lined in cardboard. Her arms hang softly at her sides. Her feet and the tops of her paws are made from white mohair. Her mohair head is typical to Steiff's early 1930s cat head designs and is gently tabby striped. Cat's pert ears are lined in felt. Her pensive face comes alive with teal green and black slit style pupil eyes and a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. Cat's clear monofilament whiskers have been lost to time. PuppKatz was made in 14, 22, and 28 cm from 1931-1943 overall.

This PuppKatz is part of a series of animal dolls Steiff produced in the 1930s and 1940s. Other species represented included bears, rabbits, dogs, elephants, and ducks. All shared the same stationary human form body. Most were made in 14, 22, and 28 cm and had removable clothing. As such, the original clothing was often lost to time, which is the case here with this PuppKatz. However, PuppKatz's current outfit of white underwear and a pretty belted dress, is perfectly scaled and adorable on her. She also came with a little pin with the name "Amy" on it. As such, that is her new name moving forward. 

The strategy behind the PuppKatz, and other animal doll patterns, is quite interesting and reflective of the prewar period in which they were made. These items launched in the early 1930s. Germany at this time was in a period of high unemployment and financial uncertainty. As a response to poor economic conditions, Steiff started making items that were simplified in design, used less expensive or even alternative materials, and were "theme and variation" in nature. The change in tone from items introduced from the end of the 1920s to the early 1930s is absolutely striking. Steiff's 1920-era items for the most part were colorful, fluffy, feminine, and childlike. Their early 1930-era items tended to be a bit glum looking, longer, narrower, and thinner

Steiff's animal dolls fit the needs of the 1930s business environment to a T. They were all on the same easy body that was made from inexpensive fabric and could be detailed in countless ways. In the case of this PuppKatz, she was made in three sizes, and each size was available in up to 11 different outfits over time. This one design ultimately represented 29 different SKUs in the product line. These outfits included sporting clothes, pajamas, suits, dresses, traditional clothing, and swimsuits, among others. These outfits were numbered and noted by a distinct code in the animal doll's article number. By having so many options for this one simple design, the company was able to fill its catalogs efficiently when product design and development resources, as well as raw materials, were severely limited by factors beyond the company's control. Steiff's 1938 catalog featured a whole spread of their animal dolls and various outfits; you can see that page here on the left. Please click on the photo to make it larger and more legible. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on PuppKatz has tickled your whiskers in the best possible way.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Just Who Is This Cunning Little Vixen?

It's easier to solve a mystery when you have material evidence at hand. And such is the case with today's Steiff conundrum. Check out this sweet, albeit sly, little gal. She's clearly a fox made by Steiff. But she does not appear in any reference books Steiffgal can find, and something about her is quite unusual. Read on to learn more.

This foxy friend is 12 cm, sitting, and unjointed. She is made from dralon and mohair; tan dralon on most of her body and tail, white dralon on her chest, and mohair on her muzzle. Her ears are lined in peach colored trivera velvet. She has lost her button, but has a small hole in her ear where it once resided. The backs of her ears, her feet, and her back are highlighted with black airbrushing. Her pensive face comes to life with brown and black pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and a bit of black airbrushing to highlight her eyes.

So just what makes this fox a cunning little vixen? She certainly has a strong resemblance to Steiff's beloved Xorry Desert fox pattern. This sitting, unjointed fox was made in 12 and 17 cm from 1957 through 1970. Xorry Desert fox is different than the company's standing, unjointed Xorry fox, which was produced in 11, 18, and 28 cm from 1960 through 1969. Both Xorry patterns were made from mohair. However, the Xorry under discussion here is made from mostly dralon, and other 1970-era fabrics.

Let's try and outfox her material-mashup. In the 1960s and 1970s, Steiff produced a great number of toy items in dralon materials. At the time, it was a good solution for toy making as it was relatively easy to work with, very durable, washable, and less expensive than fine woolen fabrics. Starting in the early to mid 1970s, Steiff included a touch of mohair fabrics on items that were predominately made from synthetic fabrics - perhaps to give them a more "upscale" presentation. For example the company's 12 and 18 cm Snuffy rabbit from 1974-1982 has mohair on the back of his ears, top of his tail, and on his two front legs. And their mostly dralon 18 and 25 cm Tapsy Bear Cub from 1972-1978 features a mohair muzzle.

Given all of this, it is Steiffgal's best thinking that this little dralon fox with mohair detailing was made as a sample, or in a very low production run, in the mid-1970s. Its mix of materials and familiar pattern strongly suggest that it was designed as possible lower-cost, next version alternative to the company's 1957-1970 timeframe mohair Xorry Desert Fox - but never released on a commercial scale.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this unusual Desert Fox has given you the warm and fuzzies. 

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

It's Sofa, So Good When It Comes To Steiff's Unusual Prewar Couch Animals

Steiffgal promises today's blog will be as laid back as possible. That's because we're going to put our feet up and look at a very cool Steiff rabbit who would want it no other way. Check out this lovely honey bunny and see what makes her so interesting from the historical and product development perspectives.

It's sofa, so good when it comes to this Steiff "Couch Rabbit." Rabbit is 11 cm tall and 20 cm wide. She is head jointed, made from white mohair, and solidly stuffed with excelsior. Her ears are lined in tan velvet. She has wonderful, well designed, long, skinny legs and feet; each padless foot has three hand embroidered claws on it. Her oversized head and face come to life with pink and red glass albino eyes, a pink nose, light pink mouth, and traces of her original monofilament whiskers. She left the Steiff factory wearing a silk ribbon and brass bell, and lying on an oval shaped felt mat finished with a ruffled ribbon edge. Couch Rabbit was made in 11 and 13 cm from 1928 through 1930.

The truth is - as far as Steiffgal can tell - is that Steiff made very few versions of these lying pets. It is possible that this design concept emerged as the company was actively pursuing all sorts of "novelty" patterns in the mid-1920s; these included a series of pull and clockwork toys on wheels. The only other documented sofa animal she can find is the company's "Couch Cat." This chill-axing cat was also made in two sizes (10 and 12 cm) and during the 1928 through 1930 time frame. Their names, body positions, and accessories suggest that the company's "couch animals" were designed as decorative items to display on living room furniture like sofas. After all, that's where you find household pets resting comfortably in real life, right? The page from the company's 1929 catalog advertising these sweet treats is here on the left, the photo is from Carsten Esser's Steiff Katalog 1920-1929.

Despite its relative rarity, Couch Rabbit has many details that are typical to the company's rabbits of the period. For example, her childlike appearance, with an oversized head and eyes, exactly mirrors the company's design aesthetic of the late 1920s. Her long, skinny, padless feet and chunky thighs are almost identical in shape and proportion to the company's beloved Record Hase. And her nose and mouth stitching, consisting of a solid triangular outlined nose and a simple cross-style mouth, is also seen on many rabbits of her era. You can see these design elements here on the Record Hase (made in 25 cm from 1926 through 1943) pictured here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's Couch Rabbit has been a restful experience for you.

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Prettier Than A Picture!

Picture the next great Steiff mystery! It might involve an unusual shape, size, or color of one of the company's beloved antique rarities. Or, it just might be about... a photograph. Check out this note from Kathryn from New York about this antique family image of her Grandfather and his Teddy bear. How would you frame your response? She shares:

"I’m sending you this beautiful photo of my grandfather who raised me. Unfortunately we do not have the bear anymore. I’m doing an oil painting of this photo and I want to do justice to the Teddy bear in the picture. I think it looks like a Steiff.

The mystery is why is the tag on the right ear instead of the left? It seems to have all the other features of a Steiff. I was hoping for your thoughts on this if you don’t mind.

My grandpa Henry is of German decent and was born in Jersey City in 1899. The photo was taken by a photographer in New York City. I think he is under the age of 10 in the photo so that would give us an idea of the bears age. I would also like to know the color you think it is for the painting. I started to paint it in a beige color with dark brown nose and lips and black eyes which are hard to see from the angle. This is the clearest copy I can get.

I just think this is such a beautiful photo of a child with his beloved Teddy bear.

I’m anxiously looking forward to hearing what you think. Is it some kind of rare thing? Or is it an imitation?

Thank you for your time and knowledge.
Sincerely, Kathryn" 

Ok, let's first focus our attention on the actual photograph. It is Steiffgal's best thinking that the picture was actually "flipped" at some point. This might have happened years ago, during the printing from the negative, or sometime more recent, via an "electronic" step. If you take the mirror image of the photo, the button is clearly in the right place and in the correct ear. And, if you look really, really closely, Steiffgal thinks you can even make out some part of an ear tag, too. You can see both versions of the photograph in the image here - both the "original" and "mirror" image. 

Now for a little color commentary. Given the hue contrasts, appearance, and scale of the bear in the photograph, it is Steiffgal's best thinking that he is most likely a white Steiff bear in the roughly c. 25 to 35 cm range from the c. 1906-1909 timeframe. And why is that?  

(For reference, here on the left we have two white Steiff cubs from about the same era as Henry's; the big boy is 40 cm tall and the little guy is 22 cm tall.) 

1. First, the date is pretty clear given the information provided by Kathryn. The photo is from about 1909. The bear could have been made a few years earlier than that - as early as about 1906, given its presentation. The Schwarz brothers started carrying Steiff in their stores here in America in 1906, and were the first stores to do so. 

2. Now the size. This has to be estimated purely through "back of the envelope" techniques. Today, an "average" 10 year old boy is 55 inches tall or about 140 cm. Henry could have been much taller, or shorter, than this - there is is no way of knowing. But given he was "average," his bear appears to be roughly about 20 to 25% of his height, putting his bear in at c. 28 to 35 cm tall. And although it's impossible to tell with certainty from the antique picture, it appears that Henry's bear may have a horizontally stitched nose - given there is no "prominent" vertical center stitch visible. This also hints that the bear is less than 40 cm tall. 

3.  And last but not least, his color. The bear is pretty much the "lightest" object in the shot. And his nose is not very dark - like Henry's hair or eyes. This suggests the nose is brown - and in turn, that the bear was white. 

Steiffgal hopes this photograph has given you a delightful snapshot of Steiff's enduring quality and appeal.

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

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Taking A Leap Of Faith On This Teeny Tiny Steiff Rabbit

Ok, here's a puzzler for you. How can something so small be such a huge mystery? Well, check out this bitty Steiff bunny pictured here on the left. Do you recognize her? Her origins and purpose are not clear at first glance. It's time to spring down a rabbit hole and see what we can unearth about her.

Size defies when it comes to this petite princess. She measures about 5 cm tall (without ears) and 8 cm wide. She is unjointed, lying, and made of mohair. Her back end and the backs of her ears are silvery-grey, while her front end, face, and tail are white. These fabrics are patched, not airbrushed or colored. Her tiny face comes to life with black button eyes and a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. She
 is solidly stuffed with excelsior. Her Steiff IDs include a long trailing "f" button and traces of her red ear tag. 

Now it's time for a little leap - of faith - in terms of rabbit's identification. Given her appearance, construction, and IDs, it is Steiffgal's best guess that she is the smallest (or almost smallest) version of a lying rabbit simply called "Hase." Hase is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment. Hase was officially produced in 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 cm from 1923-1928 overall in white and brown or white and black. With Steiff, it has been Steiffgal's experience that measurements are seldom "absolute" and can range sometimes as much as +/- 20%. The smaller sized versions of any given Steiff pattern sometimes look a little "simpler" than their larger sized relatives. And vintage brown mohair can oxidize or fade to a silvery color. So those "facts" may explain the coloring and presentation differences between the bitty bunny under discussion today from the "reference" Hase rabbits pictured in the Sortiment book.

But its possible to spin her tail a bit more. In the 1920s, Steiff focused on producing a great number of playful novelties as pull toys on wheels. These included pairs of animals on see-sawing "wiwag" carts, pairs of forward and backward moving animals on "galop" carts, and pairs of spinning animals on "roly droly" carts, among others. The animals featured on these carts for the most part were the smallest versions of standard line animals, like bears, monkeys, and dogs. In 1924 through 1934, Steiff produced a roly droly featuring a chick and a rabbit. And in 1926 through 1934, they made a roly droly featuring two tiny rabbits. If you look at these two photos - pictured here on the left - you can see that the rabbits look almost identical to the rabbit under discussion. Both photos are from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment. For reference, the chick pictured is 8 cm. It is quite possible that this tiny rabbit at one time was a passenger on a spring-themed Steiff roly droly! 

Steiffgal hopes that today's discussion on this tiny rabbit has brought a big smile to your face.

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