Saturday, January 23, 2021

Tuning Into This Rare And Unusual Musical Steiff Santa Claus Doll

Does this great Steiff Santa doll strike a chord with you? Check out this unusual holiday hero with a very special feature - he's musical! Have you ever seen another one like it? A friend from Pennsylvania shares... 

We bought this 15" Steiff with a music box key wind in the sack. The music box is in the sack attached to his back with a large key protruding from it. I would love to know anything you can tell me about it. Thank you!

Well, let's warm things up with what we know about this friend from the North Pole. The doll itself is based on the company's legacy midcentury Santa doll pattern introduced in 1953. This earliest Santa doll was 31 cm and five-ways jointed. He had a rubber head, felt body, bright red felt suit and cap trimmed in white mohair, 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 Santa under discussion today measures 15" tall, or 38 cm, so he was probably not part of Steiff's standard line Santa production. His larger size suggests he was a special order, perhaps intended as a seasonal window or mantel display. 

Now let's tune into his musical feature. With full disclosure that Steiffgal has not handled this item in person and inspected for originality, she can suggest two possible origins for his music box.  

First: Given that the music box is located in his sack, and not in his torso, it is possible that it is not Steiff original to him and was placed there by a previous owner.
 The music box is described as having "a large key." Every wind up music box Steiffgal has handled has a very small, simple turning knob. It's size hints that the music box may not be Steiff original to him. Just about every musical Steiff item Steiffgal can think of from any era has its musical feature embedded in its body - probably to secure it in place, as well as to protect it against bangs and bumps. For example, the musical Basi pictured to the left has her music feature in her bottle shaped body; it is activated by pressing her up and down. As Steiff's midcentury Santa dolls were not distributed with a Santa sack, it wouldn't be that challenging to make one, put a wind up music box in it, and sew it to the doll's body. That would be MUCH easier than opening up the doll, removing stuffing, inserting a music box, and sewing everything up seamlessly. 

Second: It is also possible that the musical feature is all original to the doll.
Most Steiff collectors are familiar with the company's standard line musical Cockie Cocker Spaniel, Teddy Bear, and cat patterns. These were all produced in the mid to late 1950s. However, Steiff also produced a number of other uncatalogued musical rarities based on beloved 1950s era designs, including their Lulac rabbit and lying tiger. "Music Tiger" is pictured here on the left. Given the timeline and popularity of the 38 cm doll design under discussion here, it is not out of the question that the company tried to make a musical Santa Claus doll, too; maybe even in a distinctly larger size. Perhaps the musical machinery was too large or strangely shaped to bury it in the doll's torso so the designers made a sack for him, and hid the music box within it. If the Santa sack is elegantly constructed from period fabric, matches the look and feel of the doll, and has aged in tandem with the rest of the overall doll and clothing, this would suggest that is factory original to the doll. But, in the end, only Santa knows for sure... and he's keeping tight lipped over this!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of this musical Santa Claus has wound up your interest in this unusual doll. 

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

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Taking A Stand On Restoring This Century-Old Steiff Heirloom

It's a family affair when it comes to the cub under discussion here today. Steiff's wonderful dolls, Teds, and animals are truly friends for life, but sometimes need a little help to preserve them for future generations to come. Check out this note from David who asks about a beloved button-in-ear bear that's been part of his family history for at least a century. He writes:

"I have read your discussion of "To Restore Or Not To Restore" and I have a Steiff Bear with similar wear issues. Photos are attached. It has several bald spots, wear on the paws and one ear is held on with a pin. I believe that it either belonged to my grandmother who was born in 1900 or to my father who was born in 1923. I would like to have it restored but don't know where to look for a professional restorer. Any recommendations or advice that you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Thank you, David."

Can you bear it? What a charming heirloom - and how nice that it is still beloved in the same family over all these years. This cub on all fours is a popular and prolific pattern that was a mainstay in Steiff's prewar catalog. Given his presentation, larger long trailing "f" button, and glass pupil eyes, it is Steiffgal's best guess that he was made broadly in the c. 1915-1935 time frame. This time frame aligns both with David's grandmother and father's birthday so it is not really possible with only this one datapoint to determine his original owner. His grandmother could have gotten it as a young woman, or his father could have gotten it as a baby. Either way, the bear is a fabulous, intergenerational treasure.

Everyone has a different take on restoration, and it is a really personal choice. Steiffgal believes in doing no harm, being authentic and transparent about "fixes," and using repair work to stabilize issues and insure the longevity of an item. And what can be restored - or not - is very dependent on the condition of the item. For example, is usually extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fix issues with dry mohair, as material in this state tends to simply crumble if it is handled or gets wet.

That being said (with the full disclosure that Steiffgal has not seen this bear firsthand to evaluate his condition and is NOT a professional restoration expert) there are several POSSIBLE restorative ideas that David may consider in regards to his heirloom.

1. Cleaning. After nearly a century, this bear could certainly benefit from a light and careful professional cleaning. With cleaning, it is really important to be extremely careful around bare, balding, or delicate areas of the mohair. Depending on the state of his mohair, which does need evaluation, this could be done in a number of ways. Among others, these may include using moisture based solution, or a gentle brushing with a soft bristled brush - much like a shaving brush - to lift and remove dirt and dust from him. The cleaning will fluff him up a bit as well.

2. Ears. It is great that the family retained his original ear with the bear via a safety pin. You can see that "home repair" pictured here on the left. As such, it is probably very possible that this could be restitched to his head with stitches and spacing mirroring the one still in place.

3. Pads. Depending on the condition of his felt pads, the damage on them could either be "plugged" with felting, or recovered with felt of a matching color. Color matching tends to be challenging, but professional restorers have a number of techniques to make this possible. 

4. Stitching. Depending on the condition of the mohair on his face, it is possible that his nose could be restitched to its original design. And although it is hard to tell from the photos, perhaps a few of his original black stitched claws need to be replaced as well.

5. Stuffing. Because this design is somewhat "stocky" and does not have any significant "slender" areas (like long, thin limbs or a tail) it is less likely that his stuffing has broken down or shifted significantly to cause stress on his mohair. However, this is still possible and not captured in pictures. A professional restorer would assess the need for this in person. 

There are several options for finding a good restorer. There is a group on Facebook called Teddy Bear Restoration Group which represents lay and professional restoration folks from all over the world. Joining this group, posting photos of your item, and asking for help or recommendations is a good place to start. This would also be a good way to find a somewhat "local" professional, if that is a priority. A quick google search for "Teddy bear restorers" resulted in a number of options. If you go this route, be sure to check out "before" and "after" photos of their work, ask about similar projects, and request references if you want. Steiffgal has personally worked with Martha Anderson here in the USA and Dot Bird in the UK; both have long histories as wonderful "Teddy Magicians." 

Steiffgal hopes you found this discussion on restoration sew far, sew good.

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

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Kicking Of 2021 With A Huge Steiff Smile!

It's the best of all worlds when it comes to Steiff's prewar animal dolls! And their appeal seems to transcend borders and continents. Check out this note from a friend in the UK who asks about Steiffgal's beloved "Bub" animal doll. It should be no surprise for you to learn that Bub has a passport of his own, given he is Steiffgal's favorite travel buddy! Marcus shares:

"I keep watching your videos and love your travel companion Bub.
Especially his background, why he is constructed the way he is and the scarcity of material at the time. I was trying to find a bear like him and it was harder than I thought. I found one finally on eBay. Do you think his Lederhosen and green linen shirt are original? They seem to be as they fit beautifully. Also the linen shirt appears to be the same type of weave as his body. It is also hard to find literature. Do you know of any literature which deals with this particular design of the head jointed animal dolls in substitute material? Thank you in advance for any help or insight you can provide.
Cheers, Marcus"

It's a clothes call when it comes to this great bear.
Yes, indeed this is one of Steiff's irresistible prewar animal dolls. Not a lot is published about them and most information needs to be distilled from catalog listings and through historical context and interpretation. This cute cub has the head of the beloved Steiff Teddy Baby design and the body of a simple doll. He is head jointed, has dangling arms, and a solidly stuffed torso and legs. His head, hands, and the tops of his flat feet are made from what looks 
like light blonde woolen or mohair plush; it is hard to exactly tell from the photos. His body and limbs are made from a flesh colored fabric. His face is detailed with brown and black glass pupil eyes, a brown hand embroidered nose, and a smiling, tan felt lined mouth. You can see his long trailing "f" Steiff button in ear and traces of his red ear tag in the photo here on the left. He wears a green linen shirt and brown felt shorts. These articles are well fitting and appropriate for him but were "mommy made" and not manufactured by Steiff. You can tell because: 1. the shirt color is far too vibrant and without wear and should have faded in proportion to the aging on the bear, and 2. the shorts - they are cute - but not of Steiff clothing quality.

This Teddy Baby doll was one of several different animal dolls produced in the 1930s and 1940s.
Other popular models included a number of rabbits, a cat, a pug (picture here on the left, photo from Steiffgal's collection), an elephant, a Scotty, and a German Shepherd. Regardless of size or date of manufacture, each of these pre-war treasures produced from 1931 onward was branded as Steiff with an ear button and ear tag. However, unlike most other Steiff products of the 1930’s and 1940’s, these dolls did not leave the factory in Germany with chest tags. The IDs on Marcus' bear suggest that he was made in the early to mid-1930s at the latest.

These sweet animal dolls were all dressed for success. Their clothes were removable, charming, lovingly stitched, and produced from the finest cottons, calicos, felt, and other materials. They were dressed as boys or girls, or in in occupationally or nationally inspired clothing. Numerous outfit variations were available for some of the more popular models. For example, Steiff’s Puppkatz or cat doll, which was introduced in 1931, was available in up to 11 different outfits over time. These included pajamas, dresses, swimsuits, playsuits, and traditional German attire including dirndls and trousers. Here on the left, you can see a c. 1938 catalog page showing Marcus' Teddy Baby bear featured at the top of the image; his nine original outfits at the time are noted next to his image. You can click on the image to make it larger. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's delightful Teddy Baby doll bears has been a two for one experience for you. 

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