Saturday, November 30, 2019

Care To Feather Your Nest With This Steiff Prewar Woolen Miniature Owl?

Whoooo loves ya babe? Well, perhaps this remarkable and very rare miniature marvel is best suited to answer that question! Steiff launched its very successful series of tiny Nomotta yarn animals in the early 1930s. This particular bird is amongst the most eye-catching, and desirable, of the company's prewar collection. Check out his story to see what makes him so fantastic from the design and historical perspectives.

This fine feathered friend is Steiff's owl.He is 8 cm tall, head jointed, and made of dense, high quality woolen yarns. His coloring includes white, yellow and purple/grey threads. His tiny, wise, and inquisitive face comes to life with black and brown glass pupil eyes and a perfectly to scale single-thick tan felt beak. He stands upon two metal legs and feet that have been painted dark brown. His original IDs, which have been lost to time in this case, consisted of a red or white tag held in place with a Steiff button around one of his ankles. Woolen miniature owl was produced in this size and this color set only from 1934-1939.

It is simply astonishing how real this tiny treasure looks compared to his real life inspiration. Woolen threads interpret well into feathers, and in this case, a light touch of airbrushed dots and specks on his back and chest truly help him take flight. His jointed head, when slightly cocked at an angle, suggests he's thinking about ways to solve for world peace or another major global issue! And his playful and prominent feet and legs are a marvelous take on those oversized features seen on owls in the wild.

Steiff's prewar woolen miniature birds debuted in 1931, and were an immediate sensation with children and collectors alike - given their low price point and incredibly appealing presentations. It seemed like everyone wanted to feather their nests with these happy handfuls! Steiff's first woolen miniature songbird-style birds were quite simple and generic. They had felt beaks and tails, metal legs and feet, and were produced in six basic color combinations in 4 and 8 cm. Starting in 1933, specific songbird breeds in the form of robins, woodpeckers, finches, blue tits, sparrows, and gold buntings were introduced. 

More detailed,"exotic" bird woolen miniature rarities - including a canary, parakeet, and this owl - were Steiff catalog highlights from 1934 through 1940. These three beaked beauties featured proportional, elongated bodies and extraordinary, true-to-life shaded coloration. The canary and parakeet sported lifelike, long felt tail feathers and were also available as a novelties perched on wooden and metal stands. Today, these prewar pretties are as rare as crow's teeth!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this handsome prewar Steiff woolen miniature owl has been a great learning experience for you.

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

Friday, November 22, 2019

When It Comes To Steiff, Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Given that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, how about spicing things up around here, too... Steiff style! Steiffgal was recently in London at the fantastic 200 Years of Childhood weekend. This grand multi-day affair featured a gala dinner as well as antique toy related lectures and a breathtaking salesroom. Steiffgal spotted this happy handful out of the corner of her eye, and it was love at first sight. Now he's crossed the pond with her and happily living amongst lots of new Steiff friends. Check out this sweet boy and see what makes him such a treat for all the senses.

Here we have a most unusual prewar Steiff Jocko on wheels; this design is also "officially" named Record Peter. This example is 20 cm and fully jointed. He is made from mohair and his hands, feet, face, and ears are made from tan colored felt. Jocko's gentle face comes to life with brown and black glass pupil eyes, a seamed mouth, and light airbrushed highlights on his nose area and forehead. He rides upon a black metal, four-wheeled cart. The centered wheels are solid wood and painted red. When Record Peter is pulled, his arms and legs move back and forth vigorously, giving the appearance that he’s working hard to keep his cart moving. When he left the factory in Giengen, Germany nearly a century ago, he had a pull cord attached to the front of his vehicle.

Prewar, Record Peter appeared in the standard Steiff catalog in 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 cm in deep chocolate brown from 1913-1943 and in white in 18 cm from 1925-1934. He was also produced in blue, yellow, green, red, or black mohair in 20 or 25 cm from 1913-1917 overall. However, these specific jewel toned examples are EXTRAORDINARILY rare. Steiffgal knows of only one on the entire planet! But returning to Earth... you can see a close up of this Jocko's face and distinctive coloration here on the left.

There are two factors that make today's ape-on-the-go the wheel deal. The first, of course, is his awesome hue. He's made from cinnamon mohair. Cinnamon is not a standard mohair color when it comes to Steiff's Jocko, monkey, or ape production, wheeled or otherwise. However, once in a blue moon cinnamon examples turn up and they can be of great interest to collectors given their rarity.  In January, 2019 Vectis Auctions sold a very appealing, 28 cm fully jointed cinnamon mohair Jocko in fine condition for 2,900 GBP. This beautiful boy is pictured here on the left.

The second is his proportions. The vast majority of mohair Record Peters that Steiffgal has seen or handled have been the 25 cm size. This is probably the case as the 25 cm versions were made both pre and post war. Steiffgal has never personally handled a 10 or 15 cm Record Peter, ever (but would welcome the opportunity to do so!) Those smaller than 25 cm are just really, really rare overall. 

Rolling onward, how does this 20 cm cinnamon fellow under discussion today compare to the brown mohair 25 cm Record Peter most of us know and love? In terms of the drivers, the 25 cm and 20 cm Jocko chimps have several key design differences. For example, the 25 cm versions have dimensional ears, eyes in eye pockets, and a white mohair chin, while the 20 cm versions have simple felt ears, no eye pockets, and a felt chin. And in terms of their carts, 25 cm Jocko's cart measures 22 cm wide with 8 cm diameter wheels, and 20 cm Jocko's cart measures 18 cm wide with 6 cm diameter wheels. You can see these two Sunday drivers pictured side by side here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this cinnamon Record Peter has been a savory delight for you. 

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Isn't She Pretty In Pink?

It's OK to squeal in delight over this week's fantastic Steiff find! And this one certainly qualifies as both an oldie and a goodie! Check out this absolutely charming barnyard friend and see what makes her so interesting from the historical and product development perspectives.

This perfect little porker is truly a sight for sore eyes. She is standing, unjointed, and measures 6 cm tall by 11 cm long. She is made from pink velvet which has darkened and browned a bit over time. You can see her original vivid coloring in the folds of her ears. Her velvet has a few traces of very light brown detailing here and there. Her tail is long, thin, and authentically curled, just like her live counterpart. Her ears are triangular. Piggy's face comes to life with tiny black seed button eyes, a red tipped snout, and a simple, hand embroidered mouth. This happy handful was made in 8, 12, 14, and 22 cm from 1899-1935 overall.

Piggy's design has a few very cool, and very legacy, details that date this example to the very early part of her production time frame. First of all, she does not have a button, and there is no indication that she ever did. Given Steiff's button branding debuted in 1904, and piggy has been in the line since 1899, it is very possible that she is from the pre-button era. Second, she has tiny, black seed bead style eyes. These are the identical eyes that are featured on the company's earliest, smallest (i.e., 10 cm standing) Teddy bears which debuted in 1909. She is made from velvet - which along with felt - was Steiff's primary toy making material through c. 1903, when mohair became available on a commercial scale. And her nose, which is made from red felt and "appliqu├ęd" on with tiny stitches, is also noted on the felt version of this design... which debuted in 1892!

It is also interesting to note that this particular pig has tiny pinprick sized marks/indentations on her back and sides, hinting that she just might have been used as a pincushion at some point in her life.

Steiff made a number of pigs through the first half of the 20th century. Historically, pigs are associated with good luck, being able to feed one's family, and prosperity. So they are always popular and in demand! And from the manufacturing perspective, they are relatively simple in design and don't require jointing or elaborate seaming or finishes. As such, Steiff built upon these factors and produced pigs in felt, mohair, velvet (like this one under discussion today), and lamb's wool plush. They also appeared fully jointed, on regular and eccentric wheels, as a brush, as a pincushion, and on skittles, just to name a few novelties. The photo here on the left, from Dottie Ayers and Donna Harrison's Adverting Art of Steiff is probably from the very early 19-teens and shows a litter of these perfectly porcine pals. You can click on the photo to make it bigger.

Steiffgal hopes you've enjoyed pigging out on the details surrounding this happy hog.

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

Monday, November 4, 2019

Let's Make Some Noise About This Unusual 1930s-Era Steiff Cub!

Care to take a stroll down (Steiff) memory lane? Then this seldom-seen and almost antique walking Ted just may fit the bill. Check out this kinetic cub and see what makes him so delightful and noteworthy from the design and product development perspectives. 

Let's make some noise about this bear on the go. He is officially named Growling Bear or "Brummbaer." He measures 9 cm tall and 25 cm from end to end. He is on all fours and in a natural walking position. Ted is unjointed and made from brown mohair with a tan mohair muzzle and paw pads. He has pert, perfectly proportional mohair ears and four black hand embroidered claws on each paw. His face comes to life with brown and black glass pupil eyes placed exactly on his muzzle seam and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. He has a large but nonworking side-squeaker in his tummy area. Brummbaer was made in 17, 25, and 32 cm from 1934-1943 overall. This example is the medium sized version.

Brummbaer was "born" at a period of great uncertainty at Steiff. Starting in the mid-1930s, the effects of national geopolitical realities really began to hit Steiff and most businesses throughout Germany. As such, high quality toy making materials such as mohair and felt were becoming more expensive, and less available, due to military rationing. Local, regional, and international distribution channels began to dry up, eventually all but disappearing by the early 1940s. And the great majority of consumers did not have, or were not spending, money on discretionary playthings. So, as always, Steiff made the most of what they did have, and could control, and produced items like Brummbaer starting in the mid-1930s.

So how exactly does Brummbaer fit the mid-1930s Steiff ethos? In a nutshell, it is a great example of a well designed product strategically engineered to deliver "the max for the minimum" in terms of appearance, presentation, materials, and economy. Brummbaer's "walking" form is unusual and appealing. It is interesting how his bent limbs appear dynamic, and moving, without the item actually being jointed (which is expensive and time consuming) in any way. His interesting, eye-catching form arguably has a higher perceived "value" than a standard, static bear bear on all fours; yet from the business perspective, requires about the same amount of material and time to construct. It is also interesting to note, and probably not a coincidence, that Brummbaer was launched just as many of the company's higher end "tail moves head" animals - including a very similarly styled bear on all fours - were being phased out of the line. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's prewar Brummbaer has given you a leg up on this interesting design!

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