Saturday, March 26, 2022

Making A Material Difference At Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion's April 2nd, 2022 Auction

It's nothing short of a bear affair at Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH's upcoming Special Steiff Auction event on April 2nd, 2022. With over 260 century spanning button-in-ear treasures, there's certainly something on offer for every collector and budget! Of particular interest among all the lots are a group of 20th century bears made from a variety of unconventional or substitute materials. Steiff's Teds are usually rendered in fine mohair fabrics, but there are exceptions - especially around exceptional time periods. Here are three lots that really caught Steiffgal's eye - and why.

The first is lot #5028, a paper plush Teddy bear most likely made just after the conclusion of World War I.
It is cataloged as, "teddy, pre-war era, paper, mohair-plush-substitute, cellulose-plush, brown jointed, shoe button-eyes, strongly used condition, partially fill loss at the disc joints, with button, block letters, long stretched F, 28 cm, in need of restoration, collection Koskinen." This very rare bear has an opening bid of 280 euro.

So just what makes this paper bear worth his weight in gold - despite his apparent condition issues? In order to continue soft toy production in the c. 1918-1920 timeframe, Steiff was forced to come up with some alternative products, as well as materials given the shortage of traditional felt and mohair. Given the abundance of wood in the area, the company started producing things like building sets and furniture for children. Steiff also found a way to produce a tweed-like material from local natural products. This "paper plush" was made from nettles and called "Brennessel." Paper plush items appeared in the line from 1919 through 1921, and included popular models of the company's standard line bears, dogs, cats, and rabbits. 

Size defies with this second sensational Steiff. He is lot #5140, a very big boy made from a seldom seen material. He is cataloged as, "Steiff 1930s-era Teddy bear. Five ways jointed, 100 cm tall, and made from substitute blonde plush fabric. With slightly trimmed muzzle, four claws, glass pupil eyes, and a giant back hump. With long trailing f button and traces of the yellow ear tag as IDs. Extremely impressive and unusual presentation. In excellent condition; with minor playwear and pads with light loss and dust." He has an opening bid of 3,300 euro.

There's so many interesting angles to this rare bear. First, of course, is his size. It is possible that he was intended originally as a display item, or store window display, given his prehistoric proportions. It is somewhat unlikely he was made as a toy, as in some cases he would be larger, and heavier than a child! He was clearly not used as a toy, given his current condition and lack of playwear. Then of course is his materials. As previously noted, Steiff's bears traditionally are made from mohair which gives them a cuddly look and durability to last generations. But this example is made from wartime era substitute blonde plush fabric - and a lot of it. Starting in the early 1930s, items made from wool plush, woolen mohair, silk plush, and other substitute fabrics began appearing in the line. This is the largest - by far - of any item made from alternative fabrics that Steiffgal has ever seen!

And good things come in threes with this third shout out.
Here we have lot #5151, a larger wool plush bear from the 1930s. He is cataloged as, "A most interesting and unusual 60 cm Steiff blonde wool plush bear from the 1930s. Made from war-era materials and featuring long and narrow proportions. With brown and black pupil eyes and black embroidered details. With long trailing F button as ID. In good to very good condition with moderate playwear and generalized thinning." He has an opening bid of 850 euro.

This bear has two key areas of interest - form and fabric. 

First, let’s talk about his presentation. Steiff's bear proportions tend to reflect the period in which they were made. For example, items made in the 1920s were often fluffy, colorful, and upbeat - much like the "roaring twenties" aesthetic, while items introduced in the 1950s tended to reflect the wholesome optimism of the early postwar period. Such is the case for items from the 1930s and 1940s. Steiffgal has noticed that these often have a long, lean, and pensive look to them... reflecting the uncertainty of the time frame in which they were produced. You really can see those distinct elements in this bear.

Now let's focus on his fabric. Wool plush is a distinctive material which holds a key place in the company's product development timeline history, and helps to date this bear pretty accurately. You generally see wool plush items made in the c. 1930 through mid 1950 time frame, but a few models - like the company's Wotan ram - incorporated it through the 1970s. Wool plush is pretty hearty and ages well. Its structure and texture make it less likely to fade, thin, or bald like mohair fabrics. Unlike artificial silk plush, wool plush can also can be cleaned gently like other fine woolen fabrics.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on rarer fabrics used in Steiff toymaking has made a material difference in your love of the brand!

For more information about Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH's upcoming Special Steiff Auction event on April 2nd, 2022 please click here!

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

Sunday, March 20, 2022

This Delightful 1920s Mohair Bird Gets Top Bill-ing!

This week's special blog guest should have you tickled pink. A new friend writes about a pastel pet her Mother received nearly a century ago. Was this dear heirloom made by Steiff? Let's take a deep duck dive and try and solve the mystery for her. Trish shares,

"I have my Mom's duck that was given to her on shipboard during her family's immigration from Germany in 1929. It no longer has IDs. But the story is documented and she was always adamant that it was made by Steiff. For my own curiosity, I tried to find a reference to Steiff ducks from that era, but have had no luck. It lacks any obvious marks where a tag might have been attached. It measures about 9" long from the tip of its beak to its tail. I appreciate your time!"

Bird's the word with this delightful duck for sure.
However, it is Steiffgal's best thinking that it was not made by Steiff. However, its coloration and presentation are very reflective of the mid to late 1920s, which was when Trish says her Mother was gifted the duck. Starting around 1924 or 1925, Steiff's product line began more accurately reflecting the aesthetic of the "roaring '20s," with items having more of a fun, fluffy, and feminine appearance. Other toy manufacturers quickly followed suit. A big marker of this change across the industry was the widescale production of soft toys in happy pastel colors, including examples in pink, purple, and blue mohair or velvet, as well as vibrantly tipped mohair. Clearly, these colors for the most part did not reflect the animal's hues in nature, but they proved to be "best sellers" with customers because of their novelty and appeal. Trish's pink duck is a perfect example of this.

Not to duck the question, but what about this toy is not Steiff-like?
Here are a few areas of note. First, it lacks the "roundness" of Steiff's swimming style play ducks of the era. It also does not have distinctive wings on the sides of its body. It is missing orange felt legs and feet, and there is no evidence that this toy every had them. Steiff's ducks from this era tended to have black button eyes backed in felt, not oversized glass pupil ones. And finally, as far as Steiffgal can tell, many of Steiff's ducks of the era had open beaks made from double thick felt and not felt that was seen together with seams. So these small details point to another manufacturer for Trish's duck. You can see the Steiff's analogous pastel duck pattern here on the left. These beautiful birds were made in pink, purple, and blue mohair in 11, 13, and 15 cm from 1926-1929 overall. The photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this novelty duck has made your day pretty in pink.

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

Friday, March 11, 2022

No Need To Spin Your Wheels Over This Remarkable Prewar Steiff Doll On The Go!

It's time to hit the road - literally - with this week's special blog guest.
A new friend from the state of Wisconsin in the United States asks about a special family heirloom that holds a very important place in her heart. This racy red rider has escaped identification, until now. So the question is... is he the wheel deal? 

Diane shares,
"I have never been able to locate a Steiff like my Grandmothers. It is a postman on an Irish Mail or pull cart. He is 8 inches tall when he is in the forward position. The button is in the ear. It is difficult to see the button in the photo. He was purchased in the 1930s. I have seen a few animals on pull carts but never a doll. Thank you in advance for any information you could provide."

What we have here is Steiff's super cute, and super rare, Radler doll on wooden wheels.
The doll itself is 20 cm tall, fully jointed, and made entirely from felt. He wears a red felt suit that is integral to his body. His jacket is detailed with cuffs and a collar, as well as buttons. His shoes are black, and his matching red felt hat fits nicely on his head. His boyish face comes to life with a prominent center seam, glass eyes, a dimensional mouth and nose highlighted with hand painting, rosy cheeks, and pert ears. His hair is painted. He sits upon a metal carriage which glides along on four naturally colored wooden wheels. When the cart is pulled along, it appears as if the doll is shuffling back and forth in tandem with the movement of his vehicle. This particular doll design is named "Radler" and he was produced in this size only from 1916-1929.

It's interesting to note that "Radler" is the German word for cyclist. The word is also a name for a distinctly German adult beverage. A "radler" is a mixture of beer and citrus flavored soda. It is fitting to see how a radler might enjoy a cold, frosty radler after a long bicycle ride! For a detailed history of radler the beverage, please click here!

Radler (the doll!) is part of Steiff's beloved and traditional "record" production.
"Record" refers to a jointed item riding a four wheeled cart with a handle. The first record item was "Record Peter" - a chimp on wheels - who came on the scene in 1912. He was an immediate best seller then, and remains a collector's favorite today. A Record Teddy debuted in 1913 and a Record Rabbit appeared in the catalog starting in 1926. In terms of dolls, in 1916 a series of record dolls topped Steiff's novelty production. These included a Record Puck gnome, Shockheaded Peter, Max, Moritz, a Record August (a boy in a purple felt suit) and this Radler. Over time, popular characters like Mickey Mouse, Petsy the baby bear, and Felix the Cat were also produced as record-style novelties. Postwar, record style rabbits and chimps appeared in the line through 1964 and 1970, respectively. You can see a photo of Radler as he would have appeared leaving the factory brand new a century ago - this image is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Diane's radler has been a refreshing pause in your day. 

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Hands In The Air Over This Marvelous Midcentury Puppet!

The theme of this week's Steiff blog has a lot to do with hands! In this case, we're taking about a really unusual very early postwar hand puppet. But the context for all of this is that Steiffgal broke her hand in several places in February, which explains why this blog was a bit on hold for awhile. But things are coming together, and blogging is possible again - finally! So hands in the air about that... and this adorable midcentury marvel!

Here we have one of Steiff's one-derful items... a special toy that only appeared in the catalog for one year. This brown beauty is 17 cm tall and made from long, brown artificial silk plush fabric. His muzzle is made from short tan artificial silk plush. Ted's smiling, open mouth is lined in peach colored felt; it is the same felt as seen on his hand pads. He has brown and black glass pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, and tan embroidered claws. His head and the tips of his paws are stuffed with excelsior. His head is lined in a cardboard finger tube. He most likely was wearing a red ribbon when he left the factory over seventy years ago. This puppet was made in this size only in 1949. His IDs have been lost to time, but MAY have included a short trailing "f" button, a red imprinted chest tag, and a yellow or white linen ear tag. 

This hand puppet sits at a key point in the Steiff product development tree for this puppet design. The full bodied Teddy baby bear debuted in 1929 in a variety of sizes, colors, and materials. He was an immediate sales success, given his appeal, form, and irresistible personality. Like many "home run" products, the company quickly started producing Teddy baby as a series of novelties to further leverage the design's popularity. Of course, puppets were an obvious direction for this patter.  A Teddy baby puppet was produced in maize as a closed mouth version in 17 cm in 1930 only. This puppet was also made in 17 cm in brown mohair in the more familiar open mouth design from 1929-1943. Other prewar Teddy baby novelties included pajama bags, pull toys on wooden wheels, dressed dolls, and roly-polys. 

Given the design's popularity, it is no surprise that a Teddy baby hand puppet would appear in the line in the late 1940s when the factory reopened for toy making business. As mohair was still in short supply, and expensive, Steiff produced this beloved and legacy pattern in brown artificial silk plush in 1949. The puppet under discussion here today is one of these rare models. Then, once mohair became available on a commercial scale, he was made in this traditional fabric again through 1978. A very early postwar brown mohair Teddy baby puppet is pictured here on the left. Its red imprinted chest tag and article number "317" dates it from c. 1949-1952.

This Teddy baby hand puppet design is pretty remarkable as nothing fundamentally changed in its pattern or construction in half a century. This, in some ways, makes brown mohair Teddy baby puppets without IDs somewhat hard to date. Steiffgal can only think of three very minor things that changed on this design in 50 years. First, of course, is their IDs, which would be updated to match their period of production. Second would be the shift from glass eyes to plastic eyes in the 1960s. And third would be the shift from a cardboard finger tube to a plastic finger tube, probably in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's unusual early postwar Teddy baby puppet has been one happy handful for you.

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

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