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!

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