Sunday, June 30, 2019

A One In A Million Steiff Doll Treasure

The power of technology has made the world alot smaller. Imagine sitting in the comfort of your study or living room, cold drink in hand, dogs at your feet... and participating LIVE in real time in an action event happening on the other side of the world. That's just what Steiffgal did this past weekend - sans jetlag or a four figure airplane ticket! 

On June 29, 2019, Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH auction house held their annual Steiff summer sales event associated with the Steiff company's annual Steiff Sommer event in Giengen, Germany. 146 fine and interesting Steiff lots were on offer; all but one sold. Although there were a handful of "bargains," many items delivered extraordinary results - sometimes 5 or even 10 times over estimate!

One of the sale's unusual treasures really caught Steiffgal's eye, and heart. It was lot #33, an odd but extremely appealing late pre-war era doll. It was cataloged as...

"Prototype Steiff felt doll "Purzel/Wichtel", button with short F, yellow ear cloth tag label with handwritten item number "35", breast sign with handwritten names "Purzel", 35 cm, white-black cross-eyed glass eyes, fivefold jointed, originals felt clothes, in 1939 there were only a few this prototypes with different clothes and different neck marks, all with handwritten names "Purzel" and "Wichtel", the neck mark "Purzel" belongs to a a similar test doll from the same year, according to the archive prototype and the entry at the district court the doll has the name "Wichtel"; probably were the neck marks Purzel and Wichtel interchanged at the completion of the dolls, this doll is from Giengen by the descendants of a former Steiff-employee, the blue felt jacket is minimal faded, otherwise in very good original condition, Wichtel /Purzel is extremely rare, with expertise by the company Margarete Steiff GmbH, Giengen."

Estimated at €800 - €1,600, it hammered for €6,500 with 46 bids; with the 22% buyer's premium it traded hands at €7,930 or just over $9,000.

And just what makes this little felt Sprite (Wichtel translates to "Imp" from German to English) so hugely interesting? He is an otherwise unknown example of the company's mid 1930s - early 1950s pressed felt face doll production. These dolls were made without Steiff's traditional center seam construction. With these dolls, their detailed and textured faces held their molded form via a plastic interior support mask.

Many collectors are aware of Steiff's little boy and girl pressed felt face dolls from this time frame. These were made in 35 and 43 cm; all had felt bodies, jointed heads and legs, and dangling arms. Their faces were detailed with delicate, hand painted facial features, rosy cheeks, glass or painted pupil eyes, and mohair wigs. Their removable clothing, including lace-trimmed underwear, was beautifully tailored with a look of cheery childhood innocence. And, true to Steiff tradition, the girls all had fine shoes and hats. Steiff also introduced a few pressed felt faced dolls in regional or cultural costumes at the same time. You can see a small collection of these precious beauties above. 

Steiff also used this seamless, pressed felt form on a few lesser known items of the late 1930s and early 1940s.  The three that Steiffgal knows of are...

3.  A 30 cm brown mohair chimpanzee (1937-40). The chimp is pictured here on the left, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment. 

It appears that Purzel/Wichtel has a few similar features to other Steiff pressed felt items of the era. These include his size (same as the standard line children and clown dolls), sewn on ears (like the chimps and the clowns), and black and white glass cartoon eyes (like the Lucky Dog good luck doll.) However, Purzel/Wichtel is five ways jointed, while the other items, except for the chimp, are not. This implies that he might have been designed as a higher end or more expensive model. 

It is not clear why Purzel/Wichtel, or other dolls like him in his series, were never produced on a commercial scale. It is safe to assume that he was quite costly and labor intensive to manufacture, given his full jointing, elaborate facial detailing, and top-tier materials. That, and given the German geopolitical and socioeconomic realities of the era, hint that that there would be little demand, and little profit, associated with a "luxury" item of this sort. Needless to say, Purzel/Wichtel is not on his way to join Steiffgal's hug, and that hurts her heart just a little. But as all optimistic collectors say, "the next great find is just around the corner."

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this sample Purzel/Wichtel doll has been a one of a kind experience for you.

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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

On the Up and Up With This Tiny Steiff Pup!

Friends for life! Collectors will recognize this slogan as one of Steiff's tag lines in terms of its toy production. But this "promise" also extends to the company's business relationships with other beloved brands and characters over time. Check out his note from a new friend on the west coast who asks about a tiny Poodle that appeared mid-century with dolls from the Nancy Ann Storybook Company.  She writes, in part...

"Several of my doll collecting friends have been helping me research the question of Steiff's Poodle being the dog that Nancy Ann Storybook Company used. 

...I have acquired all the reference books available for Nancy Ann and the company catalog photos that they contain, and even though the salesman's sheet doesn't say that the Poodle in the container is Steiff, my fellow collectors all agree that it is a Steiff Poodle that we see in the containers. You can see the Steiff tag around the belly of the dog.  

...Who knows why Nancy Ann didn't say in their catalog that it was a Steiff Poodle? Vogue Doll company didn't say in their Ginny catalog that Ginny's dog was a Steiff either. The Poodle was available in Muffie catalogs from 1956-1960. it was available in 3 colors from (what I understand): white, gray, and black."

What a best-of-show inquiry! So let's first paws and take a look at the Poodle in question, which is INDEED made by Steiff. This model was made as part of the company's very popular post-war woolen miniature collection, and could be one of the smallest dogs Steiff ever made! These are 6 cm tall, standing, leg and arm jointed, and made from wool and felt. Their faces, arms, and legs are like pom-poms, while their ears and body are felt. They come to life with a little black cord tail and black bead eyes. All models left the factory in Germany wearing a tiny red cord collar. This Poodle was produced from 1955-1978 in grey, black, and white. You can see all three here on the left. They are so tiny that they wear their yellow "eartag" like a bracelet around their middles; this is secured with a tiny Steiff button. These IDs were often lost to time, as noted on the dogs in this picture. Because of their size, they never had a chest tag. 

This precious design remains a collector's favorite today, given how nice they look posed with small to medium scaled mid century dolls.

As far as Steiffgal's understanding and research reveals, Steiff did not specifically make a dog for dolls in this line. However, it is entirely possible that the Nancy Ann Storybook Company "adopted" this dog pattern into its line and made it part of its merchandising and product line - given how delightful the two go together! The Nancy Ann Storybook Company most likely purchased a bunch of these woolen miniature Poodles then boxed them and distributed them through their regular sales channels from their own business headquarters. Steiff usually includes some Steiff branding on their packaging that is factory original. Steiffgal can't tell if there is Steiff branding on the Nancy Ann Storybook Company packing on the photos above, but it is not obvious. It also appears that some of the Nancy Ann packaging for the accessories is quite similar. That also suggests that the packaging was done by Nancy Ann in house and not Steiff. Finally, it is not clear why the Nancy Ann Storybook Company did not promote these as made by Steiff... perhaps for some sort of licensing or business reason? 
The Poodle design "adopted" by the Nancy Ann Storybook Company was not a "company exclusive" and was available through worldwide sales channels. You can see the 1961 Steiff catalog page showing these in white, black, and grey, here on the left. (You can click on the photo to make it bigger.) So what would make a product an "exclusive?" It has been Steiffgal's experience that company exclusives often are standard line items with a little something different to them. For example, in the case of these Poodles - if the collars were a different color or style (say blue or green, etc.), or they came in a different color, like brown - that could suggest an exclusive.  But Steiffgal has not personally seen any examples like that, at least not yet! Have you?

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's woolen miniature Poodles has been enormously interesting for you!

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Tune In For More Information About This Superstar Steiff Cat!

Look who just appeared on little cat's feet - really! This pretty kitty was a surprise find on an online auction. And, when she arrived, she was an even FINER feline than advertised! Check out this 1920's Steiff superstar. Steiffgal is certain you'll agree... she's simply the cat's meow!

This marmalade Tabby turns Steiff's legs to jelly! She is 10 cm tall, standing on all fours, head jointed, and made from tan mohair that has been striped with fantastic and realistically detailed orange highlights. Her limbs and tail are elegant, proportional, and shapely. Her face comes to life with oversized teal and black slit pupil style glass eyes, a light pink embroidered nose and mouth, a bunch of clear, monofilament whiskers, and a spot of red right on her lips. She has a particularly pensive look to her. She retains her original blue silk ribbon and bell. This cool cat was made in mohair in 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1928 through 1937. 

Tab - you're it - when it comes to this cat's outstanding and original IDs. She retains her long trailing 'F' Steiff button, crisp and fully legible red ear tag, and perfectly preserved red imprinted chest tag with its "watermelon" shaped bear face. The numbers on her ear tag, 1310,0, correspond to: 1 = standing; 3 = mohair; 10 = 10 cm (standing height); and ,0=without wheels. All of these IDs strongly suggest that this kitten left the factory in Giengen in the late 1920s or early 1930s. And what a well preserved specimen she is - we should all look so good c. nine decades onward! 

Although Steiff had been selling its items in the USA since the turn of last century, it appears that the company really started investing heavily in American consumer advertising a few years after the conclusion of WWI. In the late 1920s, Steiff was promoted on the radio by an on-air personality named "Uncle Andy Claus" as part of a program sponsored by Erwin-Wasey and Co. Erwin-Wasey was an international advertising company that specialized in radio advertising; the agency was famous for its product sampling campaigns. Although it would be challenging, and expensive, to "sample" Steiff products nationally, Erwin-Wasey and Co. came up with the idea of sending Steiff letters, pins, and brochures to children who responded to a direct on-air marketing campaign promoted through Uncle Andy Claus. Here on the left you can see the letter that went out to children as part of this very early "Steiff club." You can click on it to make it bigger. Personally, Steiffgal finds it a little weird that Margarete "signed" this note from the late 1920s, given that she passed away in 1909. Details, details... 

The letter also talks about a little brochure that accompanied the mailing. This cheerful, orange and black printed pamphlet gives a brief history of the company and calls out the "superstar" items of the era, including Treff the Bloodhound, a horse on wheels, Fluffy cat, a bear on wheels, Charly the King Charles Spaniel, an elephant on wheels, Molly the puppy, a donkey on wheels, Bully the Bulldog, Teddy Clown, a mosaic ball, stick horse... and this very Tabby cat under discussion today. Her description reads, "A most lifelike cat with a "come hither" expression in standing position. Fine quality plush, most natural coloring, sewn in glass eyes, assorted colored ribbons." You can see this illustration and description here above on the left.

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on this marmalade Tabby a sweet treat.

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

Monday, June 3, 2019

This Antique Steiff French Soldier Doll Is Five Stars All The Way!

It's safe to say that this week's topic will have uniform appeal! Check out this absolutely handsome Steiff doll that recently marched into Steiffgal's collection. He was an attic find and listed on eBay, which only proves there's no telling where the next great find will surface.

This soldier doll truly stands and delivers. He is 50 cm tall, five ways jointed, and made from felt. His face comes to life with blue and black glass pupil eyes, a prominent nose, and a ginger inset mohair mustache. His inset mohair hair exactly matches the color, length, and density of his mustache. Soldier's body, legs, and feet are super long and skinny while his ears and nose are exaggerated. He retains his tiny button-in-ear as his Steiff ID. Given his overall presentation, Steiffgal would consider him a "transitional" doll in terms of Steiff's early doll production. This means meaning his aesthetic and production falls between the company's earliest and more cartoon-like "Karikaturpuppen" dolls (c. 1903-1914) and their truly human scale dolls (c. 1908 - 1930).

Not surprisingly, this soldier's timing and production align with military precision here. This doll, called "Kuerassier" and secondarily noted as a French soldier, was only made in this size - about 20 inches tall -  in 1912. Cuirassiers were cavalry equipped with armour, swords, and well embellished helmets. They appeared in late 15th-century Europe through the beginning of WWI. Today they may attend state occasions for ceremonial, non-combat related purposes. When this Kuerassier doll left the factory in Giengen, Germany over a century ago, he did indeed carry a metal sword, much like his namesake. Unfortunately it has been lost to time. 

Kuerassier's military outfit is five stars all the way. It aligns with the uniforms worn by French Calvary soldiers during the late Franco-Prussian era. His fitted jacket is made from blue felt and is integral to his body. It has a loose peplum on the bottom. It is detailed with tiny buttons up the front and on the sleeves, red embroidered piping, and red felt patches on the wrists and collar. Another eye catching features of his coat include its epaulets, which are made from felt, ribbon, and string. They attach to his shoulders via metals buttons that match the ones down the front of his coat. His pants are made from red felt and resemble jodhpurs, which make room in the legs for movement. His black, knee high boot are handmade from leather and have brown leather soles. They are pictured here on the left. His stunning solid brass helmet is decorated with a now lilac colored woolen fringe and resembles the helmets worn by his namesake French Cuirassier Troopers in the late 1800s. It has a partial metal chin strap. You can see an illustration of an early 20th century French Calvary soldier a little bit up and on the left; the similarities between the uniforms are so interesting! The image is from the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Steiff’s soldier dolls were an important segment of the company’s line and business in during the first quarter of the 20th century. In a span of about 20 years, Steiff produced examples representing German, Scottish, Moroccan, Turkish, Dutch, Russian, American, Belgian, French, Italian, and Austrian armed forces, among others. Well over 100 distinct designs were produced during this time frame; most of these patterns were made in multiple sizes. However, after WWI, interest in soldier dolls understandably plummeted. The company filled this void in the 1920’s by realigning its doll production efforts towards a series of toddler dolls, dressed animal and bear dolls, popular cartoon inspired dolls, and other happy go lucky novelties.

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on this Kuerassier soldier doll worthy of a 21 gun salute.

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