Sunday, September 22, 2019

So Many Elements Make This Steiff' "Sulphur Mate" Doll So Fantastic!

Cute as a button! There's simply no better description of this darling, and diminutive, Steiff doll. This petite treat recently joined Steiffgal's hug, and she couldn't be more excited about it. Please say hello to Sulphur Mate, and see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

Hat's off to this fine fellow! Bitty Sulphur Mate is 14 cm, standing, head jointed, and made primarily from felt. His body and outfit are one in the same and made from yellow felt. His oversized slip-in shoes are made from light orange felt. He dons a teal colored, removable hat decorated with tan paper buttons. His darling face beams with its horizontal shaped seam, side glancing, google-style black and white glass cartoon eyes, a pink stitched and painted mouth, and airbrushed features. His hair and beard are made from bright orange tipped mohair, which has faded a bit over time. 

In terms of IDs, this Sulphur Mate retains his trailing "f" button and yellow ear tag marked "114". In this case, the 1=standing and the 14=14cm. It is not clear if this pattern ever had a chest tag. This lucky charm was produced in 14 and 25 cm from 1933 through 1936 overall. The 25 cm version has tri-colored glass eyes, but is almost identical in every other way. Sulphur Mate's design was also repurposed as a coffee warmer in 44 cm in 1934. 

Sulphur Mate has several design features that are elemental to his appeal, and reflect the timeframe in which he was produced and sold. 

The first is his delightfully tipped orange mohair beard and hair. This type of happy, eye-catching material was very typical to the late 1920s/early 1930s; for example, think of Steiff's "Petsy" the Baby Bear, and Molly the Puppy - both are famous, in part, for their great tipped fabrics. 

The second is his accessories. His oversized slip-in shoes - which are most likely a nod to the clogs made famous by Steiff's earlier and well healed gnomes Snik and Snak - are made from orange felt. Steiff's earliest clogs were made from wood and leather; Sulphur Mate's are simple and made from felt. And his hat is inexpensively decorated with small, glued on cardboard circles. Earlier details like this would have been embroidered or painted. With Steiff, over time, it was not unusual for accessories to be sampled and streamlined over time as cost savings measures. This was especially true starting in the early 1930s.

The third is his facial construction. It is interesting to note that this gnome doll was one of the very last dolls designed and produced with Steiff's traditional horizontal or vertical seam face construction. His prominent horizontal seam was necessary create his prominent, large, flat nose; this seaming dates from the early 1900s and can be seen also on some of the company's early farmer dolls.  The company's dolls introduced from the mid-1930's onward all had seamless, pressed felt face assemblies. 

Despite his impish presence and personality, Sulphur Mate has a somewhat scandalous history with Steiff. According to the Cieslik's Button in Ear book, this doll pattern was originally designed by artist Charlotte M. Kirchhoff as a logo for a Bavarian hotel chain owned by Anton Gross. In the early 1930s, Gross asked Steiff to produce Sulphur Mate as a toy. A sample was made, but Gross never placed an order. The sample was placed in the archives. 

In 1933, Otto Steiff came across the sample, really liked it, and put it into production. Between 1933 and 1936, 1,315 Sulphur Mate dolls were made. In 1936, Steiff received a cease and desist letter from Kirchhoff's lawyer, accusing the company of plagiarizing the design. Recognizing the error, Steiff immediately stopped Sulphur Mate's production, and paid Kirchhoff based on their sales of her pattern. Steiff replaced Sulphur Mate in its line with another little gnome in 1937; he was called "Lucky Fellow." He had a somewhat similar body to Sulphur Mate but had a pressed felt face and a mushroom looking hat. You can see Lucky Fellow here on the left; the picture of this little guy is from LiveAuctioneers.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of this well-heeled Sulphur Mate doll has been a "shoe-in" for you!

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