Sunday, July 30, 2023

Less Is More When It Comes To Steiff's Early Felt Doll Production

Size defies with today's blog special guest.
Steiffgal tries to adopt at least one special Steiff bear, doll, or animal tied to major Steiff events, auctions, and happenings she attends. Here is the little button-in-ear buddy that made his way home to the United States with her via the recent Steiff Special Auction held in Giengen, Germany on July 1st, 2023. Read on to hear his story and to see what makes him so precious from many perspectives.

Like many Steiff collectors, Steiffgal poured over the Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH Special Steiff Auction catalog from their July 1, 2023 sale.
A million things caught her eye online and on the printed catalog pages... but not this tiny treasure for some reason. However, that all changed when she attended the live auction preview, held in the gallery adjacent to Steiff's museum and gift store, right on the company's campus. Here on the left you can see a photo of Steiffgal attending this auction preview the day before the big sale.  

It was an amazing experience touring this preview room filled with world class treasures - in a world class space! All the auction items were stored in rectangular, glass and wooden cases. You could walk all the way around them and see every angle of the treasures on display. Of course, all eyes were on the 1912 black mohair Titanic Mourning Bear and the google eyed Petsy bear - the stars of the show who were displayed right at the entrance to the room.  

Steiffgal saw this little guy sitting on a shelf and she could not look away.
Yes, he was in the catalog, but he presented so differently in real life than in his pictures. This happens a lot, and a good reason to attend live previews! He was TINY! And his size was further in the spotlight as he was posed with medium and larger Steiff felt dolls. His scale and presentation were so adorable, and so unusual, that Steiffgal immediately decided he was the one! Here on the left you can see this little guy as he was displayed for the auction preview event. 

So this little doll, who has since been named Little Eddy, stands a mere 22 cm.
He is made from felt, fully jointed, and comes to life with a blonde inset wig, blue and black glass pupil eyes, painted eyebrows, prominent dimensional ears, and distinctive horizontal (near his eyes, to give him a youthful, rounded look) and vertical (right down the middle of his face) stitching. His hands are simple and fist style. He wears a red and white sweater and shorts set, with white socks and black felt shoes. This outfit is period appropriate but not original to him. Steiff's 22 cm dolls are few and far between, and this is the first one Steiffgal has ever seen - and now owns! They were produced from 1917-1919 in several boy and girl models over that time frame. You can see Little Eddy standing next to his 28 cm big brother and big sister here on the left - that's the best way to highlight his scale and proportions. 

Little Eddy is also very interesting from the design perspective for two quirky reasons. First, he has typical early Steiff style fist hands with stitched digits. Steiff's dolls from his late 19-teens era production usually have fingered hands or at least hands with prominent fingers. Perhaps his scale made it difficult to give him more detailed hands. And, second, his amazingly tiny silver button - which looks original to him based on its placement and condition - also appears to be more of a short trailing "f" button than a long trailing "f" button. The long trailing "f" button appeared the line through the mid-1930s, and the short trailing "f" button appeared in the line from the mid-1930s through the early 1950s. So his ID is bit of a mystery there as well.

This petite prince is the perfect size to be a special traveling companion.
And, he jumped at the opportunity as soon as his adoption was finalized! He fits snugly in a purse or backpack and makes friends wherever he goes. His big first adventure was an eight hour train ride from Heidelberg, Germany to Prague in the Czech Republic. Here you can see him in his "first class" train seat enjoying the scenery as it whizzed by. He looks forward to many more sightseeing trips in the future. 

Steiffgal hopes this story about Little Eddy has brought you big joy!

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Watching Steiff Record Making History In Person!

Stop the presses!
Steiff history has been made again! Check out this article that Steiffgal prepared for the online news source Auction Daily detailing the sale of Mrs. Wiley's all but perfect 1912 black mohair Steiff Titanic Bear! He is pictured here on the left, and the photo is from 
Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH. Here is the story in its entirety - it was originally published on July 23, 2023. Thank you to Auction Daily for allowing Steiffgal to share this fantastic news!

On July 1st, 2023, the auction house Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH of Ladenburg, Germany presented their Special Steiff Auction in Giengen, Germany - the home of the Margarete Steiff GmbH factory. The Steiff Company is best known for designing and producing the fully jointed Teddy bear as we know him today starting in 1902. This signature, annual sale is traditionally held during the Steiff Company's "Steiff Sommer" event, a three day long family-centric fair that includes carnival rides, a petting zoo, food and souvenir vendors, and button-in-ear activities. This year, the auction included the second half of the Susan Kilgore Wiley collection, an outstanding collection of Steiff prewar bears, animals, novelties, and absolute rarities. The first half of this collection was sold in January, 2023 and realized over $475,000.

The highlight of this midsummer sale was lot #82, an extraordinarily rare, fully jointed 50 cm black mohair Steiff Titanic Mourning Bear.
This bear was the pride and joy of Mrs. Wiley's collection and was accompanied by photos and ephemera related to it. (As a matter of fact, she named her car's license plate after him as well... as you can see on the photo on the left!) She bought the bear at Sotheby’s in London in 1990 for over $40,000; that purchase made international collecting headlines at the time. Since 2000, original antique Steiff Titanic Mourning Bears have rarely come up for auction. When they do, they usually trade hands in about the $20,000-40,000 range. Mrs. Wiley's Titanic Mourning Bear had a starting bid of 4,500 euro, but there was talk the Steiff collecting community that the bear could easily realize six figure, it was so outstanding. They were right - sort of. 

There was great anticipation in the gallery as lot #82 came up for sale. The auction house noted that this bear had five international bidders competing for the bear on telephone lines. However, the winning bidder was live in the audience! This is somewhat unusual in the auction world with sales of this magnitude. Auctioneer Pia Fast Seidel was at the podium and skillfully managed the blizzard of bids and interest in this once-in-a-lifetime lot. Mrs. Wiley's Titanic Mourning Bear would go on to hammer at 180,000 euro or $202,020, and realize $250,505. 

So how does this rank in terms of record sale prices for antique Teddy bears? The most expensive Teddy bear of antique origins to date was a Steiff bear owned by Colonel Bob Henderson named Teddy Girl. She was sold by Christie's in London for £110,000 ($171,600) on December 5th, 1994. However, Mrs. Wiley's Teddy bear traded hands at over a quarter million dollars - breaking this previous high mark by over $78,000! 

There are many factors that made this 1912 Steiff Titanic Mourning Bear so incredibly special. These included a perfect storm of history, rarity, condition, and being at the right place at the right time. It is also possible that the recent spike in interest in all things Titanic, because of the headline making submarine disaster, also further cast the spotlight on Mrs. Wiley's extraordinary bear on offer. (Here on the left you can see Steiffgal in the Steiff museum gallery with Mrs. Wiley's Titanic bear, along with her google-eyed Petsy. These two cubs were the stars of the show for sure!)

There are many factors that made this 1912 Steiff Titanic Mourning Bear so incredibly special. These included a perfect storm of history, rarity, condition, and being at the right place at the right time. It is also possible that the recent spike in interest in all things Titanic, because of the headline making submarine disaster, also further cast the spotlight on Mrs. Wiley's extraordinary bear on offer.

In terms of the bear's place in history, Steiff's Titanic Mourning Bears are tied to one of the most significant worldwide events of the 20th century.
In the early 1900s, Steiff produced a number of all black mohair bears for the general marketplace. However, these did not sell very well and the thought at the time was that they were scary for children. So the company stopped making them. Then, in 1912, the Titanic disaster struck. At that time, nearly everyone in England was personally touched by this event, or had a friend or relative who was. The entire country was in shock and mourning. In response, Steiff produced a handful of all black mohair bears with red felt behind their eyes - to indicate sadness and crying - for the English market. (Here on this picture on the left you can see members of Mrs. Wiley's family and Steiffgal talking to a photographer sent from the Washington Post to cover this sale. As you can see, this very special bear caught the eye of collectors on nearly every continent!)

This black bear also was in breathtaking shape with a very special feature.
It retained its Steiff button and featured the company's most desirable "center seam" face construction. In the early 1900's, every seventh bear that Steiff made had a seam down the center of its face to make the most efficient use of the mohair fabric used to create them. The dimensions of the fabric supplied at the time were such that the Steiff could manufacture six full heads from it, but there was some remaining material from this cutting process. As such, Steiff found a way to "patch" these remainders into another head and as such not waste any fabric. This was the first center seamed black mohair Titanic Mourning Bear to come to public auction, as far as this author could unearth. (Here on this picture on the left you can see Mrs. Wiley's bear enjoying some time in her garden. The sunlight on his face makes his center seam especially prominent!)

Steiffgal hopes you've enjoyed witnessing a breathtaking and probably once in a lifetime bit of Steiff history!

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

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Rounding Out A Ball Animal Collection With This Unusual Steiff Rabbit

Things are really "hoppening" around here with the addition of this delightful rabbit novelty to Steiffgal's collection. Although not terribly vintage, this was the very first of his type Steiffgal had ever seen in person. She saw him in a booth at the 2023 Steiff Sommer Festival, and knew right away he would be one of her souvenirs from a delightful trip. Take a look at this funny bunny and see if he calls to you as well, even if in just a round-about sort of way.

This cheerful-earful is Steiff's Ball Rabbit.
He is 16 cm tall (not including his ears), sitting, and head jointed. His ears add another 7 cm to his height. He is softly stuffed with foam. Rabbit is made from longer tan dralon. His ears, muzzle, and foot pads are made from shorter dralon, and his fuzzy chest is made from longer mohair. His face is detailed with round black and white plastic cartoon style eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, monofilament whiskers, and a funny little dimensional mouth made from fabric. He has stenciled footprints on his foot pads and light airbrush highlighting here and there to give him a little more dimension. He retains his original blue silken ribbon. He has a non-working squeaker in his belly. This guy appeared in the line from 1960-1961 in this size only.

Steiff made three ball style animals in the 1960-1961 time frame, and this rabbit is one of them.
All were 16 cm, made from dralon, stuffed with foam, and featured a fuzzy mohair chest. The others were Ball Mopsy, a pug, and Ball Sulla, a cat. Overall, these ball animals are really hard to find, especially in good condition — because they were designed to be used as playthings and stuffed with foam, which deteriorates over time, and were made for only a handful of years. Steiffgal is happy to finally have all three versions in her collection. 

Finally, let's take a look at Rabbit's chest tag.
It looks original to the item, with wear and loss commensurate to the toy, and the thread appears consistent to Steiff. It notes that his name is Hoppy, which would make sense given he is a rabbit. However, there is no indication in any reference materials that this model was given a name beyond simply "Ball Rabbit." However, the pug and the cat of the same design and era were given playful names, so it is possible that he was named Hoppy for consistency, but this never made it into the records. This sometimes happens when something appears in the line for a very short time. Hoppy was also the name of a running style mohair Steiff rabbit made in 8, 14 and 17 cm from 1950 through 1976. So there is a little overlap there with the name as well. But only Ball Rabbit knows for sure....

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this unusual rounded Steiff rabbit has been a ball for you!

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