Sunday, July 26, 2020

Bird's This Word With This Fantastic Wooden Steiff Cuckoo Novelty

Wooden it be nice to come across a really rare Steiff novelty? Of course it would! And here's your chance, thanks to a new friend from far away who is interested in learning more about her unusual Steiff treasure. Take a look at this singing sweetie... Steiffgal is certain you will go cuckoo over it as well.

What we have here is Steiff's whistling wooden bird on a seesaw toy. He is standing, 12 cm, and gloriously painted as a cuckoo. His legs are made from metal. He stands on a platform, that when pinched back and forth, makes a chirping sound. This fantastic find was produced from 1926-1935. In addition to the cuckoo model, Steiff also produced this same product concept as a wooden duck and swallow; both were made in 12 cm from 1926-1931.

Although most people associate soft toys and collectibles with the Steiff name, the company also has a long tradition of manufacturing wooden playthings, too. In the late 19-teens and early 1920's, Steiff began producing large numbers of wooden items - in part because mohair and other softer materials were in short supply post World War l. These treasures included block sets; wooden characters on rocking bases and wooden wheels; building sets; trains; pull wagons; and animal-themed wagons. Birds on wheels were exceptionally popular; ducks, finches, tits, geese, hens, chicks, and swallows were produced in the c. 1919-1941 time frame. The catalog describes these pre-war models as "Top quality wood, rounded edges and smooth surface, detailed painting." Post war, wooden toys became much less prominent in the line; animal pull toys were manufactured through the 1970's but their designs were far less detailed than their pre-war cousins. Here on the left you can see this cuckoo whistling toy as pictured in Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.

The timing and design of this cuckoo toy whistle also are noteworthy. Starting in the mid-1920s, Steiff began really emphasizing novelties in their product development priorities. This was most likely in response to pressures in the marketplace, competition amongst other toymakers, and the desire to be seen as a really innovative, responsive company - especially in the United States. As a result, items like novelty bears (Teddy Clown, Teddy Rose, Petsy, etc.) and playful pull toys (roly-dolys, gallops, and wi-wags) took center stage in the Steiff catalog. The company's whistling wooden birds, which were small, interactive, attractive, and unique, were also a perfect fit for Steiff's novelty focus. 

The basic concept behind cuckoo's chirping mechanism was repurposed for another charming novelty that appeared in the line from 1932-1943. This was Steiff's "Chirp Couple." This ephemeral item consisted of two Steiff woolen miniature birds on a green "seesaw" type of movable platform. When the platform was moved up and down, the birds appeared to sing and bow to each other. In July, 2020, an example of a Chirp Couple realized almost $450 at auction. It is pictured here on the left; the photo is from The Chirp Couple was also featured in the 1932 F.A.O. Schwarz catalog under the category of "Unusual Stocking Toys." The listing read: "Pair of Wooly Birds on 4-1/2" voice bellow platform. $0.75." $0.75 in 1932 has the buying power of $14.11 today in 2020.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's fantastic and rare chirping cuckoo has been music to your ears.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2020

And They Call It Puppy Love!

Steiffgal is in seventh heaven! And why is that? Because she's just welcomed this teeny-tiny and completely irresistible 7 cm pup into her collection! Come take a look at this petite pooch and see what makes him so hugely interesting from the scale and design perspectives.

This bitty baby is, of course, an example of Steiff's prewar Bully the Bulldog design. He is sitting, made from black and tan velvet, and unjointed. His adorable face comes to life with an inset muzzle, dimensional jowls, black and brown glass pupil eyes, a hand stitched black nose, and a touch of black and pink airbrushed highlighting. Even though he is only 7 cm tall, he still has a delightful and realistic form, including defined haunches, a pert tail, and a muscular build. He retains his original bell, as well as his metal rimmed chest tag, long trailing "f" button, and traces of his red ear tag as his Steiff IDs. 

Sitting black and white velvet Bully dogs were produced in 4 sizes ranging from 7 to 17 cm from 1927 through 1939 overall. They also appeared in blue and white velvet and orange and white velvet in that timeframe as well. Given his ID configuration, it is Steiffgal's best guess that this example was manufactured at the very beginning of this production timeline.

Hold your horses! This happy handful retains his important early 20th century accessory - his original and traditional horsehair collar. It is made from long, thin strips of tan fabric which are doubled over width-wise; the horsehair fibers are sewn in between the faces of the material. The collar is held together with a little knot under Bully's chin. The horsehair collar was a typical accessory of the 1920s and indicated a "regal" nature of the item wearing it. 

And what a difference a little more than an inch makes! The smallest black and white velvet Bully dogs were produced in 7 and 10 cm. There are several subtle design modifications between the two, most likely because of manufacturing realities and ease. Smaller items can be tricky to cut out, sew, and turn the fabrics right side out, given their scale. As such, it is not uncommon to see the smallest versions of some of Steiff's beloved legacy designs with light simplifications from their larger brothers and sisters. In this particular case, they include:

  • Jointing. The 7 cm Bully is unjointed while the 10 cm Bully is head jointed.
  • Materials. The 7 cm Bully has a felt muzzle while the 10 cm Bully is entirely made from velvet.
  • Coloration. The 7 cm Bully has an all tan velvet body, while the 10 cm Bully has a tan velvet body with a black velvet inset rear end and tail. 
Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this baby Bully has generated a whole bunch of puppy love for you. 

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Steiff Bucket List Beauty.... Or Not?

What's on your Steiff bucket list? An item or two that has gained nearly mythical status in your mind due to its elusiveness? In Steiffgal's case, that would be a mid-1920s Schlopsnies doll. A new friend writes about what she's looking for... but does it really exist? Joyce shares,

"I'm wondering and would be interested in the Steiff Clown Replica in blue or red. I've never seen it in those colors. Did they make them in the blue and red? They are not even listed in the Steiff Sortiment book, but are pictured on the original tag of the light yellow Circus Dolly bear, article number 0164/30. I have the green, yellow and purple. I don't want to keep looking if they don't exist. thanks much!"

So let's take a deep dive here and see if we can solve this Steiff mystery. What Joyce is describing is a series of colorful, 32 cm Teddy bears Steiff produced in the 1987-1989 timeframe as exclusive products for the US market. They are pictured here on the left; the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Sortiment book. They were based on Steiff's "Dolly" Teddy bear pattern that was introduced in 1913 in honor of the inauguration of Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the USA. Unlike Roosevelt and Taft, Wilson did not have an animal mascot associated with him. Roosevelt of course had the Teddy bear, and Taft had an opossum. To welcome the new President into office, Steiff designed its Dolly bear, and launched this novelty at the 1913 Leipzig Spring Trade Fair.

Legacy Dolly bears were known for their distinct coloration and novel neckwear. All had a white head but their bodies and limbs were made in jewel tones including red, blue, yellow, and green. Apparently there was a violet version that was produced as a prototype, but it never went into full production. Dolly bears were detailed with a festive neck ruff, black shoebutton eyes, and brown facial stitching. Brown facial stitching was traditionally used on early white bears, so that color choice here makes sense. Each had a "hug me" voice in its belly. The original Dolly bears appeared in the line from 1913 through 1918 in 25, 30, and 32 cm. Here you can see a blue and white version from the early 19-teens; the photo is from Christies. 

Today, original Dolly bears are extremely rare and seldom seen on the secondary market. Steiffgal is aware of maybe one or two that have come up for sale at auction in memory. Steiff has produced them a few times in replica form, most notably in the late 1980s as part of the company's circus theme of that era. These are the bears Joyce is referring to in her note. In 1987, the company mistakenly produced a Dolly bear as part of this series in very pale yellow and white mohair. Very few were made and this particular color combination is considered really collectible. This pale yellow was replaced with a brighter yellow, and the company would go on to make these Teds in white and bright yellow, green, and violet mohair from 1987-1989. You can see this pale yellow Dolly bear here on the left.

As Joyce notes, the hang tag on the pale yellow version of the 1987 Dolly bear features this design in red, blue, yellow, green, and violet. But the in the company catalog for this series, shown here, only the bright yellow, green, and purple versions are featured. So were red and blue examples ultimately made as part of this 32 cm series? Steiffgal thinks not. But here are three loose speculations why these bears were pictured on the tag.

First, it is entirely possible that Steiff had the intention to produce the replica Dolly bears in five hues as part of this late 1980s series. The company's photo of these five bears on the tag suggest that all five colors were produced, at least in prototype form. However, in terms of commercial production, perhaps reality got in the way after this marketing photo was taken. Maybe the blue and the red mohair were not available or too expensive or somehow diluted the line a bit. Archival paperwork from Reeve's International, Steiff's distributor partner here in the USA at the time, note only the yellow, green, and violet versions were actually ordered for the North American market in 1988. 

Second, it is also possible that the tag is trying to show the original 1913 range of production, when these colors were (mostly) in the line. So the tag was intended to be a reflection of historical, not current, production. 

And third, the pale yellow version in itself was a mistake. It appears there were several issues and problems over time with this product introduction and marketing, including its IDs and collateral, and this inconsistent tag was just part of that mix. 

Steiffgal hopes this round-about sleuthing has added a bright spot to your day.

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

Sunday, July 5, 2020

This Steiff Senior Citizen Really Knows How To Move And Groove!

Certain things just seem to get better with time. And vintage Steiff toys often fit that bill to a T! An item does not need to be in perfect shape to have enormous interest, charm, and appeal. Steiffgal is certain you will agree - especially when it comes to this very well loved polar pal! 

Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of handling this very vintage polar bear. He measures about 12 cm tall standing and about 23 cm long, nose to fanny. He is standing, six ways jointed (more on that soon!), and made from white mohair. His fabric has mellowed to a vanilla color, as well as thinned significantly over time. He used to have felt paw pads, but they have been replaced over time with linen "bandages." His detailing includes tiny pert ears, black claws, a simple hand embroidered black nose and mouth, and little black shoe button eyes. He also has a non-working side squeaker in his belly. Polar bear was produced in 14, 17, 22, 28, 35, and 80 cm from 1908 through 1928. Unfortunately, his IDs have been lost to time. It is Steiffgal's best guess that this guy was produced at the early end of his production run, and would have had a tiny long trailing "f" button as part of his Steiff ID ensemble. 

Steiff often described their pre-war production of dolls and animals as "practically indestructible." And such is the case here, especially when it comes to this bear's amazing and unusual "ball jointed" neck. This early prewar feature enabled the head and neck to be twisted and rotated into different lifelike positions. When Steiffgal GENTLY held this senior citizen in her hands for the first time, she suspected that his neck may be ball jointed, based on his form. But given his condition, she feared that it may have locked or disintegrated over time. May wonders never cease! His neck moved and grooved like a young person enthusiastically dancing to their favorite song... without a drop of age or "arthritis." So again, Steiff DELIVERED on its marketing promise, more than a century later!

Steiff launched a line of ball jointed items around 1908 as it was building its reputation as a leading regional and global toy production company. The proprietary head movement behind these early playthings was invented by Franz Steiff and registered on May 24, 1908 in the German patent office. The paperwork described this unique and novel technology as a "toy animal with movable head." According to company records, this was accomplished by... "attaching a swivel jointed mechanism to the head which was then secured to the body by means of a tube running from the neck to the torso." In addition to polar bears, Steiff also used this feature on begging poodles, pigs, cats, and opossums. These models were a good fit for this technology as they had, or could be produced with, slightly longer and more robust necks to accommodate the internal fittings as well as greater wear associated with this innovative (at the time) feature. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this polar bear with a ball jointed neck has been a headliner for you.

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