Sunday, April 26, 2020

Hat's Off To Steiff's Ever Cheerful Clown Puppets and Dolls!

Steiff continues to bring joy and engagement to collectors all over the world during this ongoing period of social distancing and bad news. Our button-in-ear friends just seem to have a magical way of lifting spirits in a most universal way. In order to keep up this positive energy, Steiffgal wanted to share another happy Steiff treasure with you - the company's delightful Clownie clown as a hand puppet. This cute commedian has been joking around with collectors since his introduction over a half century ago. Take a look at him and just try not to smile!

First a little background on Steiff's playful pranksters, to give you some context for today's "clown chat." Steiff has incorporated clown themes in just about every doll and novelty you can imagine... including ball-dolls (figures with a goofy ball shaped bodies and "normal" limbs), musical figures, pom-pom characters, skittles (perched on wooden pins for a bowling style game), and roly-polys (on half-spheres that wobble about.) From what Steiffgal can tell, the first clown to appear in the Steiff range might have been a 28 cm version with a felt body and colorful felt clothing in 1894. Perhaps the most famous - or perhaps most coveted - antique Steiff clowns are the ones designed by Albert Schlopsnies in the 19-teens as part of his Schlopsnies Circus window displays. 

Now let's send in the clowns regarding today's special guest. Clownie puppet is based on a beloved Steiff doll named Clownie that was produced from 1956 through 1975 in 14, 19, and 43 cm. He was also available as a 120 cm display piece by special order in the mid-1960s. Clownie dolls sported blue pants with red and yellow felt patches, a white or calico shirt, white gloved hands, a black rimmed hat, and oversized black shoes. Here on the left, you can see the 1967 catalog page advertising the nearly lifesized (120 cm = c. 4 feet tall) Clownie studio doll. 

Steiff has a long tradition of producing hand puppets based on its most popular patterns. So it’s no surprise that Clownie doll would be produced as a puppet as well. Clownie puppet is 17 cm, with a molded head and felt body. He is detailed with red mohair hair, a black felt hat, white felt gloves, and a blue felt top with red and yellow patches. This puppet was produced from 1967 through 1976; earlier versions had plastic heads while those from 1974 had PVC heads. The Clownie under discussion here today has a PVC head.

Steiff also produced another clown puppet - but this one is far rarer and lesser known than Steiff's standard line Clownie puppet. In 1962, in order to celebrate F.A.O. Schwarz's 100 year anniversary, Steiff produced a 30 cm otherwise undocumented “Clownie” puppet. This one, pictured here on the left, had a distinctly feminine appearance, but shared many of the same design elements and outfit details as Clownie. Her head was oversized and elaborately painted, and she had wild, long, red mohair hair. Her Steiff chest tag simply said "Clownie." Girl Clownie puppet appeared in the centennial F.A.O. Schwarz catalog in a section titled “Presenting For Our 100th Anniversary One Hundred Unusual Toys Available Only From F.A.O. Schwarz.”

Steiffgal hopes you've enjoyed clowning around today, at least for a little bit!

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

Sunday, April 19, 2020

This Fantastic Midcentury Steiff Donkey Is All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go!

It's safe to say that the dress code for many of us has changed recently. For office folks now working from home, pajamas have become the new standard in "business casual," while those conducting business over Skype or Zoom have been "caught" adorned in a coat, tie, shirt... and sweatpants. A bright spot in today's sea of bad news for Steiffgal was a recent Steiff acquisition that's been "dressed for success" for nearly 70 years. Take a look at this delightfully detailed donkey and see why he's so interesting from the design and product development perspectives.

This farm favorite can't help but be your beast of burden. Here we have Steiff's classic Esel or Donkey. He is 12 cm, standing, unjointed, and made from velvet. He has a very short black mane. His dimensional, velvet tail is tipped with long black mohair. He has black airbrush highlights down his back, on the tips of his ears, and marking his hooves. Esel's face is sweet and babylike; it is detailed with shiny black button eyes and delicate airbrushing to define his nose and mouth area. Esel retains his original accessories, including a red leather brindle with tiny green tassels and a red and black checkered felt blanket secured to him by a ribbon. His IDs include a raised script button, very early postwar ear tag, and a US Zone tag. Esel was manufactured in 12, 14, 22, and 28 cm; the smallest size was made in velvet from 1950 through 1969 while the larger sizes were made in mohair from 1950 though 1961.

When it comes to precisely dating this fine fellow, the devil is in the details. This example has two elements that are different from other 12 cm models of his design Steiffgal has handled in the past. First, of course, are his handsome additional accessories: the green wool tassels on his bridle and his styling' blanket. Steiffgal has only seen this model with an un-tasseled red brindle and no blanket. The second is his excelsior stuffed velvet tail tipped in mohair. Steiffgal has only seen this model with a plain cord tail. In Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Sortiment, this design has unusual cataloging noting "12 cm velvet, 1950/51 with blanket." There is no mention of the tassels, but it is Steiffgal's strongest suspicion that her example - based on this nugget of information and his IDs - is one of these 1950/51 examples.

Given that this donkey design was introduced in 1950, it is possible that the earliest 12 cm versions were made with the more expensive, labor intensive details noted above. Perhaps as early as 1952, the pattern was simplified to a cord tail and minimal accessories - saving time, money, and labor. Many of the smallest, early postwar animal editions, including the company's zebras and camels, were made from velvet and had cord tails, so this direction is somewhat consistent with trends of the era.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this sharp dressed donkey has been a clothes call for you.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Do Steiff's Rod Jointed Bears Test Your Metal?

Steiff is truly the ideal international ambassador. The reach of the brand, and the goodwill it generates, is simply universal! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of speaking with a lovely collector from the Isle of Man, which is part of the United Kingdom. It was Steiffgal's first time connecting with someone from this small, rugged island territory that has a population of less than 85,000. (Just the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts - where Steiffgal lives - has a population of 119,000!)

Man-O-Man, did this collector have something to share! She recently added a very special bear to her hug and wanted to know more about it. Her new vintage friend just happened to be a delightful and very early Steiff rod bear! This bear was a blonde PB28 - Steiff's c. 1904 era, solidly stuffed and fully jointed cub. This fine, 40 cm tall example retained two of its "crowning glories," its all original black gutta percha nose, as well as its elephant ear button. (You can see a photo of this button at the bottom of this post.) He also sported black shoe button eyes, a prominent back hump, an "American" football shaped torso, felt pads, and five hand embroidered claws on each of his paws - all design elements typical to Steiff's early turn of last century production. A gorgeous example all around. 

Do Steiff's rod bears test your metal? One of the things that makes these turn of last century cubs so interesting is how varied they truly are - despite their limited time and appearance in the line. They were technically only produced in blonde and white in two sizes (28 cm sitting/40 cm standing and 35 cm sitting/50 cm standing) from 1904 through 1905. Steiffgal has handled only 8 examples professionally, but none of them really looked anything alike. Some were long and lean; others were quite chubby and cub-like. Their faces ranged from serious and pensive to "dazed and confused." And the fabrics included short cinnamon mohair to long and wavy apricot plush - and everything in betweenIt is most unusual to see such variety in manufacturing, especially from a company famous for its precision, consistency, and quality control. So how can this be?

It's Steiffgal's best guess that each rod bear is almost a "one of a kind" because of their era of production. Jointed bears were truly an entirely new category for Steiff; made, stuffed, and detailed by hand; and based on quickly evolving patterns. So the manufacturing "learning curve" had not kicked in yet. And mohair became commercially available in 1903 - just a year before their launch. As such, it is possible that Steiff used a variety of mohairs on these earliest bears because that is what was available at the time. 

Steiffgal hopes you note that this discussion of rod bear finds - and differences - has been a joint effort.

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

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Embrace This Window Of Opportunity To Bring Joy To The World Through Your Teddy Bears!

This bears repeating: there's no better place in the world for your Teds right now than in your windows!

Perhaps you've heard of this new movement - where people all over the world are putting Teddy bears and other stuffed friends in the street facing windows of their homes. And the reason for this? So children (and adult children, like us) can spot them on "Teddy bear scavenger hunts" on family walks during this global health crisis. And given that stories about this phenomenon have appeared on media outlets like the BBC, FOX, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and many others - it just goes to prove what doll and bear collectors have known all along... that there is nothing more universally healing and comforting than a Teddy bear.

Steiffgal immediately embraced this unusual "window of opportunity" and sprang into action. The front of her home, which has two bay windows, faces a well-travelled street walked by locals and visitors alike. The bays usually display a collection of succulents, given their full sun exposure. Steiffgal moved all the greenery into one bay, so the other could feature bears. The cubs selected for display include a 75 cm replica Teddy baby, an 80 cm studio Zotty, two 35 cm Teddy baby replicas, three 15 cm Teddy baby replicas, and three teeny-tiny 10 cm cubs. All the bears are sitting or standing on blue and white checkered risers - as a nod to their Bavarian heritage. A few wooden flowers - also made by Steiff in the late 1960s - early 1970s as part of a floral construction/puzzle set - add a spot or two of primary color to the display. 

The bears chosen for the window display were selected to bring a smile to your face - literally. Most of the cubs have open, smiling mouths. From the collector's perspective, the most interesting one is the 80 cm studio Zotty bear. This fine fellow was made in the mid-1960s and was produced in both 80 cm and a whopping 100 cm. He really translates proportionally well in this huge size, but is quite chunky - definitely too large and heavy to be a hands-on plaything. This handsome hunk retains his original yellow silk ribbon, as well as his huge chest tag, large raised script button, and handwritten, yellow ear tag as his Steiff IDs. The 1967 catalog page for studio Zotty is featured here on the left. 

So what's been the feedback on this contribution to the Teddy bear scavenger hunt? It has been delightful to see walkers of all ages stop, point, and study the vignette. Some people take photos, other take selfies with the bear display in the backdrop. One youngster was so excited to see the bears he started squealing in delight (or maybe fear?) The display does seem to offer passers-by a spot of happiness and levity in a period seriously devoid of both. 

If you are willing and able, I would ask you to consider also putting a Steiff or two in a visible window in your home, apartment, or condo. Please help spread universal love, goodwill, and kindness through this no-cost gesture. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on displaying Teddy bears in your windows has been absolutely "pane"-less to you. 

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