Sunday, September 26, 2021

Connecting Then And Now With This Adorable Steiff Play Doll

What's old is new again, especially when it comes to this relatively modern Steiff doll under discussion here. Our friends in Giengen started producing fine cloth dolls on a commercial scale at the beginning of the 20th century. These gorgeously rendered playthings appeared through the early 1950s. After that, dolls with rubber faces (and sometimes rubber bodies) represented a significant portion of the Steiff doll line through the 1970s. Moving forward, the company's doll offerings included mostly well-dressed children and characters in synthetic materials as well as artist collaborations.

This Andrea doll is a sweet nod - with a modern twist - to Steiff's legacy doll production. She is 32 cm tall, unjointed, and made from soft woven fur. She is stuffed with a mix of polyfill as well as weighted beans. She comes to life with a shock of longer brown hair decorated with red ribbons, oversized brown and black pupil eyes, a button nose, a pink painted mouth, and airbrushed facial highlights. She wears a white cotton "onesie" that is both underwear and a white t-shirt, a red calico dress decorated with yellow ladybugs, and red shoes which are integral to her body. This sassy lassie appeared in this size only in 1999. At the same time, Steiff produced two other similarly constructed dolls; a girl dressed in blue named Babinchen and a red-headed boy in overalls named Andreas. Both were also 32 cm.

Andrea has three features that connect her with the past.

The first is that she is clearly designed as an appealing child. Starting around 1908, Steiff began producing their most adorable and humanly proportioned child dolls. Before then, Steiff's dolls were more caricatured (for example, had exaggeratedly long legs, arms, or torsos) and often represented adults or professions. Steiff's kids were usually dressed as students or in traditional outfits, and sometimes even in regional attire. They were playful, distinctly youthful, and looked precious in school room vignettes and in the company's print and postcard advertising. Today, these child-inspired antique felt dolls are coveted by Steiff and doll collectors worldwide.

The second is that she is (relatively) finely attired. Steiff has always paid special attention to their doll's clothing and their detailing. For example, Steiff's early 20th century dolls were "dolled" up head to toe, with well-made and finely accessorized outfits. Most girls had shoes and hats, while adults could have layers and layers of clothing to match their real life counterparts and inspirations. Police, soldiers, and firemen had perfectly to scale boots, tools, and helmets. Of course, Andrea - as a play doll - is not on that level. But she does have shoes, underwear, hair accessories, and a dress that is perfectly appropriate to her. Her outfit is well planned and coordinated for what she is. It is also sweet (and probably not a coincidence) that her dress perfectly aligns color-wise with her prominent chest tag. 

And last but not least, she features Steiff's signature center seam facial construction. This is hard to miss if you don't look closely. This means she has a vertical seam going right down the middle of her face. This helps to add to her symmetry, as well as youthful appearance. Steiff introduced this legacy design feature with their debut doll line in 1903. By the late 1930s, this construction was replaced with a seamless, pressed felt faced design. Given today's manufacturing options, Andrea could have been designed and produced without this seam. But in Steiffgal's heart of hearts, she believes she was made with it to remind collectors of her turn of last century relatives - and the beauty and joy they generated... both then and now. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this modern play doll has added a touch of childhood wonder to your day.

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Good Things Come In Threes With This Precious Prewar Steiff Pup!

They say good things come in threes, and that perfectly describes this week's blog treasure. Check out this amazing, and amazingly interesting, "pup from Pittsburgh." The more you learn about him, the more intriguing he becomes!

This heavenly creature is Steiff's early Saint Bernard dog. He is standing, unjointed, stuffed with excelsior, and made from tan and cinnamon colored mohair. He measures 15 cm tall and 20 cm wide. His proportional tail is positioned downward. He has three brown claws on each of his paws. He comes to life with floppy mohair ears which are tacked to his head, felt backed brown and black glass pupil eyes, a lightly shaved muzzle, and a  brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. He was produced in 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1914-1927. He is described in Pfeiffer's Sortiment as, "mohair plush, white, brown spotted, standing, young, soft stuffed."

So just what makes this guy such a top dog? First, let's start with the obvious. Steiff's prewar pups are always in demand, and those designed and produced in the 'teens and before are highly desirable. That is because they have - for the most part - a distinctively earnest, "literal", and basic look to them. They are also so well constructed and seldom come up for sale on the secondary market. Starting in the mid-1920s, Steiff's canine designs changed significantly and became more "childlike" - often with oversized features and detailing, imaginative coloration, and truly playful personalities. So not only is this example from a key time frame in Steiff's production history, it is also small scaled - another super interesting factor that always calls to collectors.

Now let's move to his second outstanding detail. It is impossible to tell at first glance, but this petite treat also has an amazing secret. He has TWO small silver long trailing "f" buttons in his ear! You can see this illustrated here on the left, One of the buttons has traces of a white paper tag, but the other does not. So why is this? Although the double buttoning in his ear could be an accident, his ear is so small, and the button is so well placed, that the second button truly looks intentional. In the past, Steiff used multiple buttons to keep track of which items were samples, prototypes, and versions of items under development. In the 1920's, this usually took the form of a regular button in one ear, and a "muster button" in the other. It is entirely possible that this dog's multiple button system is an early form of this tracking system - given he was introduced in the 19-teens. Unfortunately, only he knows for sure!

And if you think things couldn't get better than that - guess again! The third amazing thing about this fine example is that it comes with full provenance - that is, documentation regarding his life story. In this case, his provenance includes a letter and several photos - one which is shown below. According to the letter, in part:

"I wanted to share a little bit of history about this Steiff St. Bernard toy dog. It belonged to my father, Robert, who was born in Pittsburgh, PA in June, 1924. My grandmother was sentimental and a "saver," so many things from my father's childhood through his Army service in WWII were passed down and cherished, including his stuffed dog named "Sheppy."

My father always enjoyed reminiscing about his childhood, and he thought his dog was a gift received either for Christmas in 1925 or his second birthday in 1926. Looking at many photos, there was certainly a time period that my father went nowhere without his beloved "Sheppy" in hand."

You can enlarge the provenance letter as well as the photograph here on the left by clicking on them.  

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion on this fantastic Steiff Sheppy has left you quite Peppy!

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

This 1960s-Era Steiff Polar Bear Is Footloose And Fancy Free!

Is it possible to be naughty and nice at the same time? And no... this isn't a trick question or have anything to do with Santa Claus! It is in reference to a little known, but very interesting, 1960s era Steiff polar bear. Take a look at this cold weather cutie and see what makes him so cool from the design perspective.

This polar pal's name is Cosy Nauty.
He is standing, unjointed, and measures about 15 cm tall and 27 cm wide. He is made from longer white dralon plush, while his inset muzzle is made from shorter white dralon. His paw pads are made from peach colored felt. His face comes to life with black button eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and a touch of airbrushed highlights. His feet are detailed with tiny white felt claws in the shapes of triangles. Nifty Nauty appeared in the line in this size only from 1963-1966.

This polar bear pattern has two really interesting details associated with it.
The first is its unusual claw detailing. Steiff most often indicates claws by stitching or paint. In this case, Nauty's claws are three dimensional and made from white felt. You can see a close up of that detailing here on the left. Steiff may have been experimenting with this treatment in the mid-1960s. It is curious that their beloved Zooby Circus bear - produced in 1964 and 1966 - also had white felt triangular claws, while its 28 cm white Cosy Bear from 1964 only featured brown felt triangular claws. These three bears with this similar design element were all the line for only a handful of years. This suggests that this feature was not terribly attractive to buyers, and/or was too costly from the manufacturing perspective.

The second noteworthy thing about Nauty is that he was also produced as an even lesser known novelty item.
In 1964, Steiff produced a series of smaller scaled pajama bags. These included a Zipper Cockie (a cocker spaniel) Zipper Zotty (a Zotty bear) and Zipper Nauty (a polar bear). All were 30 cm. Cockie and Zotty were made from mohair while Nauty was produced in white dralon - similar to the full bodied version. And like his namesake, this polar bear PJ bag also featured felt claws. You can see Zipper Nauty and Zipper Zotty pictured here on the left. These Zipper animals appeared in the line through 1966 overall.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's little known Nauty polar bear has helped you to chill out just a bit today!

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Good Looks Run In The Family With Steiff's Prewar King Charles Spaniel Puppets!

Dog-gonnit, where did the summer go? And just like that, it's September, and all things turn to pumpkin spice. Steiffgal's final summer find turned out to be one happy handful indeed. Check out this charming prewar puppet and see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives. 

This delightful Steiff puppet is certainly of royal status! Here we have Steiff's Punch Charles, or earliest King Charles Spaniel puppet. He is 17 cm tall and made from black and tan mohair. He has a hollow puppet body and arms. His head is solidly stuffed with excelsior and has a cardboard finger tube in it. The tips of his paws have a little excelsior in them to give them form and dimension. Typical to the dog breed, he has adorable, long, and floppy mohair ears. His face comes to life with proportional brown and black glass eyes, a prominent forehead and muzzle, and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. His IDs, which were a long trailing "f" button and either a white or red ear tag, have been lost to time.  This cheerful Charles appeared in the line from 1911-1929 overall. 

Like many prewar puppets, Punch Charles is based on a popular, full bodied animal design. He is a novelty item inspired by Steiff's precious King Charles Dog. This canine model was fully jointed and also made from black and tan mohair fabrics. He appeared in the line in 17, 22, 28, and 35 cm from 1908 through 1927. Although these were in production for a relatively long time, Steiffgal has only handled one example in decades. She suspects that is the case as they were so adorable, and lifelike, that kids simply loved them to death! You can see the full bodied King Charles Dogs here on the left, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.

Steiff's black and white, fully jointed King Charles Dog pattern was truly a legacy design for the company, appearing consistently in the line for nearly 20 years.
 In 1924, Steiff introduced a very similar looking brown and white mohair standing King Charles Spaniel in 17, 22, and 25 cm. This head jointed pattern was only produced through 1927. 

In 1928, Steiff debuted its named, and totally fantastic, Charly the King Charles Spaniel pattern. The 1924-1927 model seemed to be a transitional design between the earliest black and white King Charles Dog pattern and Charly. Charly was very typical to late 1920s introductions, and featured fluffy mohair, oversized eyes, puppy like proportions, and a distinctly childlike personality. Charly would go on to be made as a puppet in 17 cm from 1928-1939, overlapping Punch Charles production by two years... 1928 and 1929. These two cousins are pictured here. Punch Charles is on the  left, and Charly is on the right. Good looks certainly run in the family!

Steiffgal hopes you are all hands in the air over Steiff's prewar King Charles Spaniel puppet production!

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

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