Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Steiff Style!

It's the most wonderful time of the year... and Steiffgal is hoping you are celebrating with beloved family and friends, tasty treats, and treasured memories in the making.
For many folks, the dark days associated with the end of the calendar year are practically synonymous with brightly lit Christmas trees. And believe it or not, Steiff has made their own button-in-ear version of this legacy Christmas symbol. Take a look at this most unusual Steiff novelty, one of Steiffgal's most favorite modern editions of all time... so much so, that she leaves it on full display all year long!

This fabulous Steiff collectible gets the green light for its rarity, beauty, and clever design.
Here we have Steiff's Weihnachtsbaumor Christmas tree. It is 25 cm tall and made from soft green velour like material. The branches and limbs are all dimensional but not stuffed. This greenery is arranged around a wooden dowel mounted on a circular wooden stand. The tree is decorated with flat yellow felt stars, round red fabric balls, and a garland of tiny, opal-esque stars. It is topped with a larger yellow felt star. Of course a tree does not have ears, so its "button-in-ear" branding of a tag and button are located on one of its lower green fabric limbs.

This holiday themed rarity was made in 2004.
It was not a limited edition, but manufactured in very small quantities. Steiffgal suspects that it was somewhat challenging to produce on a commercial scale, given its construction and form, as well as the number of seams it requires. As a result, they appear few and far between on the secondary market.

It is pretty unusual for Steiff to create items that are not primarily based on living human or animal forms. The company has made other novelties, like rattles, pram toys, and music boxes resembling flowers (and even fruit!) in the distant past. More recently, the Christmas line has featured Teds in felt Christmas tree suits, and holding trees. But as far as Steiffgal can tell, this is Steiff's only free standing Christmas tree design produced on a somewhat commercial scale to date. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's soft plush Christmas tree has added a holly-jolly touch to your day!

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

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Flying High With This Amazing Steiff Marketing Postcard From 1928

Can you hold history in your hand? This blog has recently discussed a number of examples of antique Steiff ephemera, including photos and calling cards. Now let's take a look at an extraordinary postcard that sold recently on eBay. Its image, subject matter, transport logistics, destination, and detailing were simply off the chart interesting. Check out this tiny time capsule from 1928 and see what makes it so fascinating from the design and historical perspectives.


The front of this standard size postcard should be captioned "The Best of 1928!"
Pictured is a charming vignette of Steiff toys enjoying a fun outing together. Steiff has a rich history of creating marketing materials that bring their items to life through clever placement, body positions, and facial expressions. This is a perfect example of that. As for the featured items, the wooden cart and pony on wheels is the company's "Sandkar" or horse drawn wagon which was produced in four sizes from 1921-1936. The puppy is Steiff's sitting Molly, who was produced in 12 sizes ranging from 7 to 80 cm from 1925-1943 overall. The blonde Ted was made in 14 sizes ranging from 10 to 115 cm from 1905-1933 overall. And the bird is Steiff's duck; he was produced in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1925-1932. One of each, please! You can see the front of the card pictured above, the image is from eBay. You can click on it to make it bigger. 

The back of the card is an astonishing collection of historical facts, highlights, and period information
. Many of the card's details have to do with the card's delivery source, the Graf Zeppelin. This airship, the pride and joy of the German aviation community, debuted in 1928 - the year of this postcard! The Graf Zeppelin, also known as LZ 127, was in service for nine years. During that period, it made 590 flights, including 144 ocean crossings. You can see the Graf Zeppelin here on the left, the image is from

Here are a few highlight and hidden "gems" tucked within the back copy of this card. The back is pictured below, the image is from eBay. You can click on it to make it bigger. 

First, starting on the upper left corner, you can see two dates in pencil.
They correspond to the date that the card was mailed in Germany and the date that it arrived in the USA. It left Germany on October 10th, 1928 and arrived in the USA on October 16th, 1928 - for a travel time of 6 days. Pretty amazing - even for today, given today international mail often takes weeks to go "across the pond." 

Next, check out the copy on the left hand side of the card. "Place your orders with Fred Wander early to insure Zeppelin deliveries next years. Many novelties will be on display at our old stand. Margarete Steiff & Co. Inc. Borgfeldt Building, 115-119 East 16th Street, New York." Among other things, this tells us the name of Steiff's rep in the USA through the Borgfeldt company nearly a century ago, and the address of that distributor. Even more interesting here is that the card hints that all Steiff deliveries to the USA will be shipped via Zeppelin aircraft!

Now move to the middle of the card. The information that appears there tells us a lot about how the card was transported, and the obvious and international pride the German postal service and aviation authorities had in their Zeppelin program. The orange stamp in the middle of the card translates to: Mit Luftpost (airmail in German) and Par Avion (by plane in French). Right under that, there is a block of copy which translates roughly to: "To the post office in Friedrichshafen (a German town) to be sent via the airship Graf Zeppelin LZ 127 from Friendrichshafen (where there was an airport to handle Zeppelin aircraft.)" And right under that is a blue oval stamp with the translated words "Transported with airship LZ 127". So we can be 99.99% certain that this exact card traveled on the world famous LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin.

The blue and white postage stamp on the upper right hand corner of the card is also revealing. This idealized image pictures the Zeppelin gliding effortlessly and peacefully over the Earth - high enough to see the curve of the planet. The words on the stamp read "America, German Airmail, Europe, and 2 Reichmark". According the Historical Dollar-to-Marks Currency Conversion Page, in 1928, 1 RM was equal to about $4.19, so this stamp cost about $8.38 at the time. This little stamp gives off big vibes that this early airmail program was big, bold, ambitious... and expensive!


And lastly, the recipients! This card was sent to the toy buyers at Gimbel Brother department store in Milwaukee, WI. This legacy store brand and chain would go on to become one of largest and most beloved retailers in the United States, eventually operating over 50 storefronts. Gimbel's started the original Thanksgiving Day parade tradition in 1920. Its chief rival was Macy's - who would debut their version of a turkey day celebration parade in 1924. It is no surprise that Steiff would be doing business with Gimbels (or trying to!). This city block long institution with a river front facade certainly had a toy department and attracted high end customers that would be interested in the Steiff brand. You can see Gimbel's in Milwaukee here on the left in the late 1920's. The photo is from 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this fascinating Steiff postcard has been the trip of a lifetime!

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

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Playing Doggy Detective Over This Unusual Steiff Wartime Era Canine

Paws and take a look at this interesting dog made during a really challenging time in world history. He has a familiar ring to him, don't you think... but his fabric is quite different than his standard line relatives. Just who is he, and when was his birthday - in dog years or otherwise? 

His lucky owner - Patricia from Europe - shares:

"I would be very grateful for your expertise concerning this Spitz dog. He is not catalogued in any of the Steiff Sortiment books. 

I have absolutely no idea if he is prewar? 

My concerns are his alternative coat. This is definitely not mohair plush. This is very lightly woven and the pile is flat, not fluffy.The airbrushing is bright and vibrant and his coat has full coverage. 

He is completely perfect with no damages at all. Unfortunately, he doesn't have his Steiff ID. He has beautiful glass eyes and is quite lovely. He is 22 x 22 cm in size. Any information on this little treasure will be greatly appreciated."

What an interesting find!
Some of Steiff's items made just before, and just after, WWII are not captured in the Sortiment books. This could be because very few were actually made and sold, they are extremely rare today, they might have been produced only as samples or test items, or they simply fell through the documentation cracks during a complicated geopolitical period and its aftermath. The Sortiment books are great references, but they are not a complete and comprehensive accounting of Steiff's production. And, they were not validated or published by Steiff - but by a third party. 

That being said, it is Steiffgal's best guess that this dog is a version of the company's standard line Wolfspitz dog series that was officially in production from 1934-1943 overall.
These canines were made standing on all fours in 22 and 35 cm; on eccentric wheels in 22 cm; and sitting in 17, 21, 22, and 25 cm. They were all unjointed and stuffed with excelsior. Their face, ears, and legs were made from shorter mohair while their backs, tails, and torsos were made from very long matching mohair. Each was detailed with lifelike brown and black shading on their backs and tails and had three embroidered black claws on each paw. Their faces came to life with felt lined ears, brown and black glass pupil eyes, a black embroidered nose and mouth, and brown airbrushed highlights on their foreheads. For reference, you can see the 22 cm mohair sitting Wolfspitz here on the left; the photo is from Steiffgal's collection. 

Patricia's dog appears to check many of the boxes to the company's basic prewar Wolfspitz pattern.
These details include things like the use of long and short materials to replicate the dog's coat; three painted folds on the dog's forehead; airbrushed shading on his back and tail; and a very similar facial expression and rendering, among others.

From c. 1934 - the early 1940s, and then again from c. 1946 - 1949, things were really tough from the materials, supply chain, and operations perspectives at Steiff. Premier, traditional toy making materials including mohair and felt were in short supply and were often allocated to military purposes. As such, Steiff did everything it could to keep its toy making production lines supplied and active during these times. One way to do this was to use fabrics and materials that were available in the place of felt and mohair. These often were in the forms of artificial silk plush, wool plush, cotton plush, and other hybrid fabrics that blended wool, mohair, and other fibers. 

Given its presentation, materials, size, and detailing, it is Steiffgal's best thinking that this Spitz dog dates from the late prewar period and is made in part from some type of substitute plush that has wool as an element of its weave.
 He might have been a sample or prototype to test how his design would turn out in the plush available at the time. There is no indication (as far as Steiffgal knows of) that this pattern was produced in any form in the early postwar era.  The fabric on Patricia's pooch appears somewhat similar in texture and density to the unusual "lumpy-bumpy" plush on an otherwise standard line standing play duck from Steiffgal's collection. This fine feathered friend - like the Wolfspitz - was in the line from the early 1930s through the early 1940s. You can see this duck here on image on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this interesting Spitz dog has you barking up the right tree!

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