Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Century of Steiff's Santa Claus Production

The big man in red is in the house - just about! In honor of Santa's imminent arrival, Steiffgal wanted to share this article on Steiff's vintage Santa dolls with you. She prepared it originally for Auction Daily and also appears on their website. 

Margarete Steiff GmbH, the legendary toy company from Germany, has created a number of irresistible Santa dolls over the years. For many families, especially of German descent, Steiff dolls are just as much of a holiday tradition as trees and stockings. That’s easy to understand, given their appeal! Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of Steiff’s Santa Claus dolls.

The earliest references to Christmas in Steiff’s collateral appeared in the early 1910s, when the company produced holiday advertising featuring standard line items under trees and used as ornaments.
However, none of the items featured were specifically made for Christmas. The first Santa Claus appeared in the general line in the early 1920s, but it was not a doll in the traditional sense. It was a 20 cm wooden Santa Claus toy on a rocking base. Rocking Santa was featured in the catalog from 1923 through 1927. According to the 1924 catalog, this “wobbly figure“ cost 2.5 marks and was “made of the best wood, finely crafted, and colorfully painted with luminous colors.“ You can see this early Santa pictured here on the far left. 

Christmas became a higher priority for Steiff in the early 1950s, when the company was re-establishing its presence as a leading international toymaker post World War II.
Like Santa at the helm of his sled, racing across a dark wintery sky, the arrival of a Steiff Santa doll in 1953 was a very welcome sight indeed. Steiff’s earliest Santa doll was 31 cm and five-ways jointed. He had a rubber head, felt body, bright red felt suit and cap, and a white, fluffy mohair beard. By 1955, this design was also produced in 13 and 18 cm. These Santa dolls appeared in the line through 1963 and were, and remain, year-round favorites with collectors worldwide. The 13 and 31 cm versions are pictured here on the left. 

Due to his popularity, Steiff’s Santa Claus doll pattern was also made as a 21 cm hand puppet from 1954 through 1961.
This puppet had a molded head identical in design to the full-bodied doll. He was detailed with a white full mohair beard and hair, felt hands with stitched digits, and a felt body. He was a little larger in scale than other hand puppets of the time, which generally measured 17 cm. He was dressed in a handsome red felt jacket and hat. His outfit, like the doll from which he was based, was detailed with real white mohair trim down the front of his coat, around his hat, and around his cuffs. His hat was topped off with a white wooly pom-pom. You can see this happy handful, pictured here on the left. 

One of the most astonishing of Steiff’s Santa Claus dolls is the company’s display or practically life-sized version.
This big daddy- 150 cm, or nearly 5 feet tall -was manufactured in the 1960s. These supersized Steiff Santa dolls were dressed to the nines in fine felt tailored suits trimmed in mohair, just like their rock star namesake! Today, these are extremely rare, as, for the most part, time has not been kind to them. Because their faces were made from rubber, they tend to dry out, sink, and crack as the years go by. Few were made, and not too many are still around, making existing examples as rare as hen’s teeth. Here on the left you can see this display doll; he is pulling a wagon-full of some of the company's most popular mid- 1960s era animal designs. 

In the 1970s, due to pressure from other toy manufacturers, Steiff began economizing on their design and production to control costs and stay competitive.
They produced a series of unjointed, inexpensive, and cone-shaped plush dolls and animals in the “Buzzel” style. One noteworthy example of Steiff’s 1970-era Buzzel production is the company’s 20 cm standing Buzzel Santa Claus doll. He is made from red and white dralon material and felt, with a long, white dralon beard. His face is precious and simple; he has small blue felt eyes, a round peach colored felt nose, and a tiny red circle for his lips. Santa is wearing his traditional Santa suit which is integral to his body. He carries a brown Santa sack, which has a little bell in it. This particular doll was produced in this size only from 1972 to 1974. These dolls were designed for fun, play, and love so, it is really rare to find one in collectible condition nearly half a century after manufacturing. A nice example of Steiff's Buzzel Santa is pictured here on the left. 

From the 1980s onward, Steiff’s line regularly featured Santa Claus-themed items and novelties. Although a few humanized Santa dolls were issued, most of these editions were in the form of Teddy bears dressed as the merry man in red. These have included holiday ornaments, soft baby toys, musical items, and even nutcrackers, smokers, and festive candelabras. Given his legacy status, the company’s 1950s-era Santa doll was reissued in 19 and 28 cm as a US exclusive from 1984 through 1988. This happy fellow is pictured here on the left. However, many enthusiasts who came of age with Steiff consider the company’s 1970 and early-era Santa Claus items to be the most authentic representation of the Steiff holiday spirit.

Steiffgal ho-ho-ho hopes this discussion on Steiff's vintage Santa dolls has put you in the Christmas spirit!

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

Saturday, December 19, 2020

A Hint of August In December!

Baby, it's cold outside! But this wonderful mystery from Chile - of all places - will warm your heart for sure. Check out this note from a new friend who asks about a very vintage find on wheels. He shares over time:

"Hello, my name is Adrián and I am from Chile. 

I am writing to inquire about an antique object that appears to be made by Steiff. It is a doll stuffed with straw, covered with cloth on a quadricycle, apparently it had a mechanism that when walking made the doll move. His eyes are made of glass, his body is complete but unfortunately the moths have damaged the coating.... Under the jacket it presents a purple felt. It has wooden wheels and the caddy is made of metal wire. It measures 9 inches tall. In advance I appreciate your help!"

This purple-clad Steiff doll reigns supreme!
This guy is Steiff's "Record August." The doll is made from felt and jointed. When he left the factory in Giengen more than a century ago, we was wearing a purple shirt, a matching purple brimmed cap, white trousers, a black belt, black socks, and brown shoes. You can see elements of this outfit on him today. These details were key in helping to identify him. August has traces of Steiff's first quarter of the 20th century doll facial construction, including a center seam, brown and black glass pupil eyes, a dimensional nose, and facial painting. His ride is Steiff's traditional "record" style vehicle. With this design, a jointed rider is sitting on the seat of a simple cart made from a metal chassis and four wooden wheels. The cart has a handlebar, and the rider appears to pump it back and forth as he is pulled along. Record August was produced in 20 cm from 1916-1929. A picture of him "as new" is here on the left; it is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.

So what is the story behind this wonderful find? According to Adrián:

"The truth is that my late boss was dedicated to antiques, his name was Heriberto Gudenschwager Klaassen. I continued working in his store after he passed away. I found some boxes in the shop, they were stored away for many years, and they contained several old toys on wheels - including the little boy on his quadricycle. A prewar mohair Steiff duck on wheels was also part of this collection. These toys were found in a box in the attic of an old house. My boss bought them from a grandson of the original owner. It was only this year that they were rediscovered in the shop."

In a roundabout way, Record August is part of Steiff's legacy "record" production.
The first record item was "Record Peter" - a chimp on wheels - who came on the scene in 1912 and was an immediate success. The 1912 catalog described him as: “Record Peter, in silky brown mohair plush, seated on a self-drive chassis with sturdy wooden wheels and automatic sound box. Virtually unbreakable mechanism. Simply has to be pulled along by attached cord.” A Record Teddy debuted in 1913, and by 1916, a series of record dolls topped Steiff's novelty production. These included a Record Puck gnome, Shockheaded Peter, Max, Moritz, Radler (a boy in a red felt suit) and this Record August. Over time, popular characters like Mickey Mouse, Petsy the baby bear, and Felix the Cat were also produced as record-style novelties. The record rabbit, pictured here on the left, was featured in Steiff's catalog from 1926 through 1943. Postwar, record style rabbits and chimps appeared in the line through 1964 and 1970, respectively.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Record August has been a joy ride for you!

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

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Putting On A Show Of Support For Steiff's Fantastic And Early Handpuppets!

Hands in the air if you love Steiff puppets!
These great novelties are universally treasured by Steiff, toy, and puppet collectors, and are a great cross-collectible. Although the first Steiff catalog was produced in 1892, hand puppets did not appear in these publications until 1911. However, the designs for a puppet bear, cat, and dog had all been registered in a German patent office since 1909. Through pure serendipity - in the best possible way- Steiffgal recently met an amazing collector with a passion for Steiff's puppets, especially the company's pre-war rarities. Come learn more about puppets and what makes Steiff's puppets so spectacular from the perspective of a lifelong puppet enthusiast.

Steiffgal: Please tell us your name, where you live, and what you collect.

Marcus Sampaio: My name is Marcus Sampaio. I was born in Salvador, the birth city of Brazil. In 2009 I immigrated to Canada and since then I’ve been living in Toronto, an amazing multicultural city. I’m a passionate collector of all sorts of puppets from different parts of the world.

Steiffgal: How did you get interested in puppets? Please describe your puppet collection, and how you store or display it.

Marcus: Puppets have always fascinated me since I was a little kid. All the great memories of attending marionette shows and playing with hand puppets — fostered by my parents during my childhood — led me to a side career as a puppet performer and theatre producer of A RODA puppet Company

My collection is very broad. I have Shadow Puppets made of animal hide, Wooden Marionettes (also called string puppets), Rod Puppets and, of course, the beloved and most known Hand Puppets! Some were once used professionally but many are well loved old toys.

Steiff stole my heart at the very first moment I saw a Jocko puppet. Today I have quite a large collection of these adorable Steiff critters and a soft spot for monkeys. Within the plush world, I also have puppets by interesting manufacturers like Schuco, Kersa, Eduard Cramer, Hermann Teddy, Grisly, Clemens, Anker, Invicta, SAF, Alpha Farnell, Hamiro and the list goes on…

I live in a condo and I don’t have much display space available. So most of my puppets are stored away, sadly! I use a barrister bookcase to display my favourite plush puppets. Some other special ones keep popping out of the trunks and hanging around the house.

Steiffgal: Do you actually use the puppets as puppets in performances? Or are they more like fine collectibles that are appreciated for their beauty, aesthetics, and rarity?

Marcus: I used to perform with the wooden puppets created by my artistic partner Olga Gomez, within the context of our puppet company A RODA in Brazil. The wooden puppet on the left is from A RODA's show "Love and Madness." Currently I collect puppets for their beauty, craftsmanship and also to preserve such an important part of the culture they come from. People would be amazed to know that pretty much every corner of the world has a form of puppetry.

Steiffgal: What about Steiff brand puppets particularly catches your eye?

Marcus: Steiff is truly an amazing brand! The attention to detail, craftsmanship and understanding of how toys are used, impress me. They are not only incredibly beautiful but they also function very well technically, as puppets. Their designs are so well thought out. Just as an example, if you take a close look at the back of a mid-century Steiff hand puppet, you will notice that it is slightly wider than its front. This pattern fits the puppeteer’s hand very nicely and even gives the puppet a nicer shape. 

Steiff is also very consistent in their production. Once I had 2 Dally Dalmatian hand puppets and decided to compare their black dots. I was amazed to see that they were identical but at the same time, their expressions were slightly different, as if they had different souls. I don’t see this design consistency and attention to detail very often when it comes to toy puppets.

Steiffgal: What are the top three favorite puppets in your collection, and why?

Marcus: Wow, that’s a tough one! My collection is so wide and the puppets that I have are so different in styles, origin and materials that it is hard to compare and pick one. But I can say that some pre-war Steiff Jockos are among my favourite plush puppets, probably due to my early memories of a play with a monkey puppet climbing a coconut tree. One named Blondie is pictured here on the left. My other two favourites are a late 19th Century Czech marionette of a noble man with a moustache and a full body Japanese Bunraku puppet.

Steiffgal: And finally, what is the holy grail you would like to find to add to your puppet collection? 

Marcus: Just in the beginning of 2020, I had the amazing opportunity to purchase a full body Japanese Bunraku puppet. I never thought I would be able to have such a treasure in my hands one day, but it happened! He is pictured here on the left. Most puppeteers cherish this highly respected form of puppetry that dates as far back as the 16th century in Japan. And when it comes to Steiff, I would love to add some of the rare and beautiful pre-war puppets that I’m still missing. An old Steiff Teddy Bear Puppet would be a dream come true!

Steiffgal: Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insights with the Steiff collecting community today! 

For more information on Marcus and his puppet passion, check out his website at

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