Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Playing The Dating Game With Steiff's Precious Pre- And Post War Chimp Puppets

How do you tell how old a vintage Steiff collectible is, if it doesn't have tell-tale IDs? For Steiff items produced over a very limited time, this is easy, and can be solved through reference book or online research. However, for some legacy items that appeared in the line for decades, this can be tricky. Dating is an art, and not a science, especially when it comes to timeless items like the company's Jocko chimpanzee puppets. 

Steiff's chimp puppets have been produced almost continuously in mohair from 1911 through 1978 (with a pause in the 1940s for World War II) and are beloved universally.
Steiff's monkey puppet design was produced prewar from 1911-1943. He was called Punch Chimpanzee through 1928 and Jocko from 1929 onward. Greater variants of this puppet were produced prewar than postwar. Prewar, they were made in 17 cm in brown, blonde, and white mohair. Brown was the most popular and prolific color and appeared from 1911-1943. A larger, 28 cm brown mohair version was produced from 1912-1916. The blonde version is super rare and was produced only from 1913-1916. And the white version appeared in the line from 1925-1928 - probably coinciding with the popularity of John Galsworthy’s 1925 best-selling book, “The White Monkey." A sweet 17 cm prewar brown mohair chimp puppet is pictured here on the left. 
Steiffgal has also seen prewar Jocko puppets with the traditional mohair head and felt hands, but with a red felt or purple felt body. These were probably made to match the "colorful" aesthetic of their production time - 1921 through 1942. These are relatively rare and seldom seen on the secondary market. You check out these fun novelties here on the left, the photo is LiveAuctioneers. Steiffgal also knows of a few other examples of these felt and mohair puppets, including one that has a blue felt body.

The Jocko puppet was also a mainstay in the postwar Steiff product line through 1978.
He was produced in brown artificial silk plush in early 1949, and then again in brown mohair starting later in 1949 onward. Like the popular, standard line prewar version, he measured 17 cm and basically shared the same general detailing as his earlier ancestors. A sweet 17 cm postwar brown mohair chimp puppet is pictured here on the left. 

So how do you date a Steiff chimp puppet sans IDs? There is no one simple answer here, and every expert probably has their own set of criteria and ways of thinking about this. Steiffgal personally can think of four subtle differences that are distinctive between older versions and more recent ones. They are:

1. Finger tube. As far as Steiffgal can tell, prewar chimp puppets have a cardboard finger tube, while postwar ones have a plastic one.

2. Eyes. For the most part, Steiff used glass pupil eyes on these puppets through the early 1960s; by the end of the 1960s these were almost entirely replaced by plastic ones for health and safety reasons.

3. Fabrics. Steiff produced these monkey puppets in a number of mohair and felt colors prewar, but only in brown postwar. Steiffgal has noticed that occasionally the brown mohair on the prewar versions feels or looks a little different than "traditional" mohair. By that she means it is a bit lighter or darker in color, or has a slightly different touch or feel to it. This may be because of wartime-related production limitations or supply chain issues.

4. Appearance.
Steiffgal has noticed that the prewar versions in her collection have a more "delicate" presence to them than do the post war versions. The prewar ones tend to have longer, leaner heads with more angular felt masks; the postwar ones are a bit more rounded and childlike, with curvy felt masks. The prewar ones have gentle, nuanced painting and shading on the face and ears, while the postwar ones have darker, more prominent shading. The prewar ones have larger, almond shaped eye pockets while the postwar ones have smaller, more circular ones. And for the most part, the prewar versions have their button on the outside of their ears, and the postwar ones have their button on the inside of their ears. Here on the left you can see a closeup on the faces of a prewar Jocko puppet (on the left) and a postwar Jocko puppet (on the right) for comparison. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on pre- vs. postwar Jocko hand puppets has been more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. 

Many thanks to Marcus Sampaio of Once Upon A Puppet for his contributions to this article!

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

Sunday, May 16, 2021

This Charming Steiff Panda Bear Is Simply Mid-Century Marvelous!

It was pure panda-monium this week at Steiffgal's home when this latest addition joined her hug! Pandas top many Steiff collector's "love lists" and this sweet girl deserves a crown and throne for many reasons. Check out this black and white beauty and see why she really is mid-century marvelous!

This smiling sweetheart - newly named Princess - is 28 cm, five ways jointed, and made from black and white mohair. Her face is detailed with brown and black pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, and an open, triangular shaped peach felt lined open mouth. The black circles around her eyes are created by hand airbrushing; she also has black airbrushing on her back. Princess' pads are made from grey felt. She proudly dons her original pink silken ribbon. Princess retains her yellow eartag, US Zone tag, and raised script button as her Steiff IDs. 

Now let's take a closer look at Princess' place in the product development timeline.
According to the Sortiment, this pattern was produced in 15, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm from 1951-1961. Her eartag reads 5328,2. This translates to... 5 = jointed, 3 = mohair, 28 = 28 cm tall, and ,2 = with a voice. This pattern, introduced in 1951, was a modification of Steiff's first panda design which debuted in 1938. Steiff's prewar pandas were produced commercially in 15 and 30 cm, and would go on to appear postwar from 1949-1950 in 30 cm only. Given how Princess has elements of both the debut and updated panda patterns in her presentation, as well as her US Zone tag, it is clear that she was produced as the company was transitioning from one pattern to the other - probably in 1951. 

Despite her 1950s birthdate, Princess has many elements of Steiff's earliest panda cubs - especially from the midsection up.
Princess has a broad and triangular mouth; the updated mid-century version has a much smaller, half-oval shaped mouth. Princess has a very round face and muzzle; the updated mid-century one has a more finely contoured head and muzzle. And Princess has her black midsection almost to her mid-torso; the updated mid-century version generally has a much shorter black midsection. Also intriguing is the fact that Princess is technically cataloged at 28 cm, but actually measures 30 cm. And her pre- and very early postwar cousins - who are technically cataloged at 30 cm, actually measure about 26 cm. You can see Princess and her 22 cm updated 1951 postwar panda cousin pictured here on the left for comparison.

Steiff introduced pandas to the world just as they started appearing at zoos across the world in the late 1930s.
These jolly bears immediately rocketed to superstar status. Piggybacking on the success of their real-life cousins, pandas made their debut in the Steiff line in 1938. Because of wartime material shortages, some pandas were produced with linen or other alternative fabrics in the place of felt on their hand and foot paw pads. The success of its first early panda inspired Steiff to produce more pandas in the line as soon as the factory reopened for business in the late 1940s. These early postwar production pandas often had inferior quality felt on their pads as high quality felt materials were still only available in very limited quantities at that time. 

To bring history to life here, check out the two Steiff wartime era pictures above on the left. The one on the left has linen pads and the one on the right has with lesser quality greyish-black felt pads. The one with linen pads has a short trailing "f" button as her ID; the one with greyish-black pads has a raised script button and traces of her US Zone tag as her IDs. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Princess panda has added a touch of royalty to your day.

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

Sunday, May 9, 2021

A Penny For Your Thoughts About This Antique Steiff And Kufeke Promotional Postcard

It's always fun to spot vintage Steiff featured in antique advertising, photographs, or other ephemera. While recently browsing eBay listings, Steiffgal found a most adorable prewar mailer featuring one of our all-time favorite Steiff prewar superstars - Bully the Bulldog! Take a look at this period piece - does it motivate you to buy the product on offer?

There's no need to mail it in when it comes to this precious postcard. What we have here is a direct mailer piece for Kufeke, a German company that produced special dietary drinks and supplements for babies and adults with delicate digestive issues. Steiffgal suspects it is from the late 1920s or early 1930s, given the image, its subject matter, and the history of the Kufeke company. There is no date or postage cancellation anywhere on the piece that Steiffgal can positively identify. 

The front of the card features a black and white image of a sitting, glowing, chubby toddler and a Steiff Bully dog. The way the child is leaning towards the dog, along with his body language, makes you feel that he is actually chatting with Bully. The pup is sitting, head tilted, and listening intently. You can make out his dark horsehair collar and bell detailing. The Bully pictured is probably the black and white version, and most likely measures 35 or 43 cm, given the scale of everything in the photo. The postcard's caption translates to, "Do you drink Kufeke, too?"... suggesting that this baby beverage gives both the Bully and the Baby their robust and healthy appearances and charming good looks! Other prewar advertising pieces from Kufeke also feature beaming, healthy children but this is the only one that Steiffgal was able to find that also included a button-in-ear friend. 

Bully the Bulldog is a legacy design for Steiff.
He was introduced in 1927 and was an instant sensation with both children (as a plaything) and adults (as a collectible and an accessory). He was modeled on the French Bulldog—the “it” companion of those in the know all across Europe at the time. Bullies were head jointed, had large brown and black glass pupil eyes, a hand-embroidered black nose, and a simple snout and jaw constructed to give him his requisite jowls. Most were black and white or orange and white, but a rare blue-and-white version was also produced. Bully was made in velvet and mohair, as well as sitting and standing, in sizes ranging from 10 to 50 cm. Most Bullies came detailed with a horsehair ruff or leather collar. The original Bully appeared in the Steiff catalog through 1939; today, this precious pooch is one of the most universally desirable and sought-after pre-war Steiff designs among collectors. The picture on the left is a Bully from Steiffgal's personal collection. 

On the flip side, the back of this postcard mailer also is interesting for what it highlights.
Boldly noted on the reverse are the words, "das Beste fur ihr kind." This translates to “the best for your child,” meaning that the Kufeke company believed that its product was the premier dietary supplement for children. This, of course, is remarkably similar to the Steiff tagline of “only the best for children.” Steiffgal wonders if Kufeke was trying to piggyback on Steiff's outstanding, world class reputation in words (with this marketing claim) and in images (by featuring Bully in this photo) in this business development effort. It would be interesting to know if folks at Steiff were aware of this postcard and promotional outreach at the time, and if the company received any compensation for this "association." If we could only turn back time to answer such questions!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff prewar product placement has been picture perfect for you.

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

Monday, May 3, 2021

Pipe Up If You Know The Maker Of This Turn Of Last Century Cloth Doll!

Close, but no cigar. Or pipe in this case! Is this distinguished gentleman doll made by Steiff? Apparently someone thought so, a very long time ago. Come take a look at this handsome, turn of last century cloth doll and see what makes him so interesting - and cryptic - from the design and historical perspectives.

Well hello, handsome! This doll stands about 37 cm tall, is excelsior stuffed, and is fully jointed. His head is disk jointed with cardboard and metal joints, his arms are loosely rod jointed, and his legs are string jointed. His head, hands, and feet/shoes are made from felt. His torso and limbs are made from linen. He is dressed to the nines in a felt buttoned jacket; a brown, tan, and purple fabric vest with purple gemstone buttons; tan, brown, and grey calico pants; a brown silk bowtie; and black felt shoes. His face comes to life with a prominent horizontal facial seam; a fringe of brown hair and facial hair; dimensional black button eyes underlaid with felt circles; a simple seamed mouth; pink highlighting; and of course, his great wood and composition pipe.

Upon closer look, it turns out this fine fellow comes with a little information written upon one of his legs.
It reads, "Der Dutchman by Margaret Steiff #630 circa 1900." Although this doll is clearly misidentified as Steiff, it is understandable that someone may have assumed he was, given his prominent facial seam, general appearance, and turn of last century origins. He also has some Steiff "Karikaturpuppen" (i.e., early, cartoon-like) elements to him, including an oversized head with exaggerated features and simple hands and feet. However, Steiff's earliest dolls debuted in 1903, were string jointed, were made of felt and/or velvet, and had clothing integral to their bodies. Steiff usually used linen or other less expensive fabric like muslin on their dolls during times of economic and supply chain hardships, like just before, during, and after World War I. And their Dutch dolls almost always wore removable clogs rendered from felt or wood. 

Now let's light a fire under one of this doll's most intriguing features - his pipe.
It is removable and fits perfectly into a little hole in his face. This construction is also not typical to Steiff. And Steiffgal suspects that if Steiff made a doll pipe, it would have been hand carved entirely from wood. The only "smoking" doll Steiffgal can think of is the company's incredibly rare "Adamson" Swedish cartoon character doll produced between 1925 and 1929. In this case, the doll's felt cigar was sewn directly onto his face. You can see Adamson here on the left, the photo is from Liveauctioneers.com.

So just who is this silly smoker?
Steiffgal has combed the literature and cannot identify him. She's also asked others who are equally stumped. So his origins remain a mystery for now. What Steiffgal does know about him is that he previously belonged to her dear friend who recently gained her wings. This doll now sits on Steiffgal's desk, right near her computer, and "supervises" her daily... or in this case, reminds her of a beloved soul who passed way too soon, and unexpectedly.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this early cloth doll has suited you well. 

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