Sunday, August 25, 2019

Care To Take Flight With This Red Woolen Miniature Bird?

We all love to feather our nests with fine Steiff treasures! Some of us prefer bears, or dolls, or the company's delightful menagerie of other animals. Check out this note from a new friend in New York who just happens to love Steiff's woolen miniature birds. He came across an unusual example and wants to learn more about it. What do you think about his fine feathered friend? He shares, 

"I have been collecting Steiff wool birds for about 10 years. I have one odd item in my collection which I hope you might be able to shed some light on. This bird was purchased online a few years ago from the original owner. Around the late 1950s, she and her siblings received Steiff wool miniatures each year at Easter, purchased at F.A.O. Schwarz. This bird was one of those she received. I have not seen any others like it. .... Do you know if this bird was a standard item, or maybe a special for F.A.O. Schwarz? Any other information you can provide would be most appreciated."

Bird's the word with this thoughtful inquiry! It is Steffgal's suspicion that this bird was not made by Steiff, but was made by another company to somewhat resemble the company's woolen miniature "exotic songbird" pattern. These pretty Steiff pets are 9 cm tall, standing, head jointed, and made from colorful woolen yarns. They come to life with a small felt beak, felt tail feathers, pert, tiny black button eyes, and plastic feet and legs. These were produced in a number of colors including yellow and white, blue and white, green and white, and red and white from 1953-1958 overall. They were also packaged as a "bird tree" on a wooden display as a standard line item from 1953-1956. You can see the bird tree and the range of exotic birds here on the left. The photos are from Pfeiffer's Sortiment book; you can click on the image to make it larger.

Birds of a feather flock together, so it is no surprise that the differences between the inquirer's bird and the standard Steiff exotic bird are pretty subtle. The Steiff exotic songbird version has three longer, narrower top feathers while the inquirer's has four rounded ones that look more like a comb. The Steiff version has seven tail feathers that are more integral to the bird; the inquirer's version also has and seven tail feathers, but they fan out more like the letter V. The Steiff version has black eyes and a small black felt beak. The inquirer's bird has red eyes and a larger scaled, dark red felt beak. The legs on both versions are similar; this is entirely possible as it is Steiffgal's understanding that Steiff did not manufacture the plastic legs but purchased them from a specialty company. As such, the plastic manufacturer could provide the same legs to multiple customers. Steiffgal suspects that the company that made this bird changed up the details and coloration a bit from Steiff's to insure that they were not infringing on Steiff's designs.

Now let's catalog a little of this bird's retail origins. Even though this bird does not appear to be made by Steiff, it is entirely possible that it was purchased at F.A.O. Schwarz. Steiffgal has a woolen miniature bird in her collection that was not made by Steiff, but also purchased at F.A.O. Schwarz. F.A.O. Schwarz had multiple suppliers providing items across categories. The inquirer also asks about the possibility of this bird being an exclusive item for F.A.O Schwarz. Even if it were made by Steiff (and it almost certainly was not), this bird is too "small" with not enough "value" to make it worth either company's time in creating an exclusive product - which took alot of effort and resources on all ends. Having worked on Steiff and F.A.O. Schwarz exclusives firsthand in the past, Steiffgal can attest to this with certainty.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on exotic midcentury birds has been a rare treat for you.

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

It's Three Of A Kind With These Midcentury Steiff Panda Triplets

The devil - or the discovery - is in the details! And this is especially true when it comes to Steiff's World War II era (c. late 1930's-early 1950's) editions. Patterns that were made throughout these turbulent years often had slight design and/or material changes over time due to supply or manufacturing constraints. These differences are subtle, but extremely interesting as well. Here's one example that is pretty black and white in these regards.

Here we have three Steiff pandas. All are 12 inches tall or 30 cm, 5 ways jointed, and made from black and white mohair. They have small, somewhat triangular shaped open, peach colored felt lined mouths, brown and black pupil eyes, and black, horizontally stitched noses. The black around their eyes, as well as across their back, is airbrushed. Like Steiff's beloved Teddy baby pattern, these also have flat, cardboard lined feet made for standing and downcurved wrists.

This adorable, child-like Panda design was launched in 1938, the same time Pandas made their grand debut at several zoos across the world. Prewar, this perky Panda was made in 15 and 30 cm through 1942. Postwar, this identical Panda design appeared in the line in 30 cm from 1949-1950. In 1951, Steiff updated its Panda design, producing their happy black and white cub in 15, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm from 1951 through 1961. The new model was produced in larger sizes than previously offered and had a different facial configuration, including a rounder mouth and a fuller, more sculpted muzzle. He had grey felt paw pads from 1951 through 1956 and suede-like grey rubber material paw pads from 1956 onward. The "updated" design from 1951 onward is pictured here on the left for your comparison. 

So now let's jump to some material matters when it comes to this jolly trio of early Steiff Pandas pictured at the top of this post. It's true they could be triplets, sort of. All are the companies pre-1951 pattern. But check out their paw pads and IDs - they are really quite diverse. The one on the far left has thick grey felt pads that have black fibers woven within the fabric. His ID is a raised script button. The one in the middle has linen pads and a short trailing "f" button. And the one on the right has regular grey felt pads and his raised script button and yellow ear tag as his IDs. A close up shot of the unusual grey and black felt pads, and the linen pads, are featured here; you can click on the image to enlarge it.  

So what is their birth order here? 

Hum, well, this will take some sorting out... and not all the dates and time lines align perfectly here. That's pretty standard when it comes to Steiff "mid-century mysteries." 

So, that being said... it is Steiffgal's best guess that the one with the linen pads and long trailing "f" button is the oldest, given his detailing. He might just be prewar, or immediately post war, as you see this linen treatment in items from the 1940s. Next in age - or the "middle child" - is probably the one with the thick grey felt pads and raised script button. His felt is unusual, and a little odd for Steiff production, so Steiffgal suspects Steiff used what felt was available, or on hand, to produce this pattern. And Steiffgal is pretty certain the one with the standard grey felt pads is the "youngest," relatively speaking. His pads closely match the ones used in the 1951 updated Steiff Panda pattern. The photo on the left is from a late 1930s Steiff catalog and shows Steiff's 1938-1950 Panda palling around with dolls and rabbits from the same era.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's mid-century Panda design has not left you bamboozled. 

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

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Things Are Twice As Nice With This Spectacular Steiff Pull Toy!

It's been a few weeks since Steiffgal's been able to share a new surprise with you; she's been traveling and just didn't have a moment to write. In a round-about sort of way, this post should make up for all of that!

Today's highlight is nothing short of the wheel-deal! Steiffgal won this precious pull toy at an auction in early July, and it recently arrived at her home "across the pond." Here we have a Steiff "Roly Droly." The baby Jocko is 10 cm, fully jointed, and made from brown mohair which has mellowed to a caramel color. He has a felt face, as well as felt feet, hands, and ears. He retains his long trailing "f" button in his foot. His sidekick is a standing, unjointed bear made from brown mohair. He is a "circus bear" given his nose ring and chain. His tiny face comes to life with glass pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. He also retains his long trailing "f" 
button in his ear. 

Now let's check out their ride. These seatmates are each perched on a 8 cm in diameter yellow wooden disk. The bear holds onto a green wooden pole, and the monkey holds onto a red wooden pole. Each disk turns as the cart is pulled along. The chassis is made from metal and is green; it rides upon three red wooden wheels. The wagon itself is about 18 cm wide overall and has a red and white pull cord. The handle of the pull cord is red wood; when it was new, it had a Steiff button on the tip as decoration.

And just what makes this item a fifth-gear find? Roly Drolys are really, really rare, and for good reason. Unlike other types of Steiff treasures, these were specifically made and designed as hands-on play toys. And toys - especially with moving parts or designed for rough play - wear out, fall apart, or just get lost to time. For example, think about Steiff skittles. Those were designed as a sporting game, so losses and wear on skittle pins and balls are almost expected! This Roly Droly absolutely shows playwear, and even a little restoration. But given one makes an appearance every blue moon or so... it still is quite the bucket list score. Another example of a Roly Droly, this one with two little yellow mohair chicks as riders, is pictured to the left. 

Here's a bit more about this ingenious design. Roly Drolys are excellent examples of Steiff's prewar creativity. They were developed as a result of a mandate from Richard Steiff in the early 1920s to create more interesting, innovative, and novel items for the line. Roly Drolys get their name from the the German words "rollen" (to roll) and "drollig" (funny or droll). They appeared in the Steiff line from 1924 - 1934. These rotating pull toys were made with a variety of riders, including two chicks, two bears, a chick and rabbit, a dog and a cat, and two rabbits, among others. Other "wheeled wonders" of that era included "Wiwags," which appeared in the line from 1924 – 1927 and see-sawed up and down, and "Galop" toys which appeared in the line from 1926 – 1929 and moved back and forth. The catalog page from the mid-1920s featuring Roly Drolys is pictured here on the left. It is from Carsten Esser's 1920-1929 Steiff Kataloge. You can click on the image to make it easier to view and read. 

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on Steiff Roly Drolys really headspinning, but in the best possible way. 

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