Sunday, January 28, 2024

Developing A Plush Crush On This Early Steiff Rod Bear

Steiffgal's just a little out of joint when it comes to today's special guest. And you probably will be too! This turn of last century cub is off the charts rare, totally adorable, and has great provenance. Check out "Plush," an all original Steiff rod jointed bear, and see what makes him so amazing from the historical and product development perspectives. 

This grand old man is Steiff's 28PB. This somewhat technical name refers to 28=measures 28 cm sitting down, P=plush material, and B=jointed. Plush was "born" around 1904, is fully jointed, and is very solidly stuffed with excelsior. His early and signature features include black wooden shoe button eyes, a prominent back hump, an "American" football shaped torso, very curved wrists, felt pads, a simple tan embroidered mouth, a trimmed muzzle, and five black hand embroidered claws on each of his paws. He has very long arms, as he was originally designed to be posed standing on all fours. He also has his original black gutta percha nose. This is pretty special, and also unusual, as this hard rubber facial feature often is lost to time. He would have sported the company's earliest elephant style button when he left the factory c. 120 years ago - but that ID has been lost to time. Without a doubt, Plush is a great example of Steiff's early turn of last century commercial production.  

Steiff's rod bears are typically firm to hard in their texture... not usually "cuddly" as we think of Teddy bears today. They need to be "sturdy," in part, because of their jointing. Their metal rod jointing is heavy and clunky, and would shift around in the bear if it were not tightly packed into his body. The reason rod bears typically have a football shaped torso and slightly unnatural proportions is because these shapes can hold the rods and hardware securely in place when augmented with wood wool stuffing. 

The nose also knows when it comes to rod bears. Each rod bear's nose was applied by hand - with an artisan dropping bits of melted gutta percha directly on the bear's muzzle area until there was enough there to configure this important facial feature. The warm gutta percha was sculpted by hand, so each nose was a little different, and often included the fingerprints of the person making the nose. Legacy has it that Richard Steiff saw this production step and felt it took far too long, and was not consistent enough. So, when he designed the next version of his fully jointed bear - a cardboard disk version that was introduced around 1905/06 - this cub pattern had an embroidered nose (and mouth) to simplify and add efficiencies to the manufacturing process. 

Now let's talk a little bit about Plush's history and background. This bear originally belonged to Katharine Wilson Walker (2/14/1899 - 2/28/1985). Kathe (as she was called) named the bear "Plush" when she was a young child. Kathe passed the bear to her great niece, Barbara Walker Burrows, in the early 1980s. Until most recently, Barbara proudly displayed Plush in her china cabinet, along with other family treasures and period antiques.You can see Plush right at home amongst some lovely blue and white plates in the photo here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's early rod style bears has given you a "Plush Crush" on this remarkable Walker family treasure!

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

Monday, January 22, 2024

Jumping For Joy Over This Funky 1980s Era Steiff Toy Rabbit

You may be really surprised at Steiffgal's latest addition to her hug. This softie recently arrived as part of a large auction lot purchase from overseas. Although he doesn't exactly fit in with the age, materials, and era of most of her vintage to antique button-in-ear collection, there's just something really sweet and appealing about him. As such, he's earned a place on Team Steiffgal, and in her heart as well. Come learn more about this happy hopper produced at a key time in Steiff's business history. 


Baby Rabbit is standing, unjointed, and measures 28 cm tall, including his ears. He is made primarily from a vibrant baby blue colored soft plush. His paw pads, chest, muzzle, and the lining of his ears are made from soft white plush. His face comes to life with black button eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, and a spot of pink to highlight his mouth. His squeaker works loud and clear. He left the factory wearing a pink neck bow. Baby Rabbit was made in this size in this color combination, as well as a pink and white version, from 1983 through 1986. The pink version is pictured below on left; the image is from Pfeiffer's Steiff Sortiment 1947-2003. 


This super sweet bunny was clearly produced as a toy for children. In terms of "kidproofing," his practically embedded black plastic eyes, lack of a chest tag and button branding (his tag is stitched into the seam of his ear), and washable, synthetic materials set him up for years of cuddles, play, and roughhousing. And his name, and youthful color, (and that of his twin pink sister,) also hint that this pattern may have been intended as a nice baby or baby shower gift.

What's most interesting about Baby Rabbit is the timing and era in which he was produced. The 1980s through the early 1990s were a period of great transition at Steiff. The company was at an important juncture in terms of business, pricing, and design priorities, and the toy industry as a whole was moving quickly in new directions. 


Two key market realities of this era were the continued influx of inexpensive toy imports from Asia and the emerging interest (and rise in value) of vintage to antique Steiff bears, animals, and dolls. As a result of all of this, Steiff started, and/or tested, several new initiatives to adapt to these changes. These included offering replicas and special limited editions; creating an ongoing line of Christmas items and ornaments; increasing partnerships with key organizations (like Disney and F.A.O. Schwarz) and other toymakers (like Suzanne Gibson); and launching the Steiff Club in 1992. These strategies were rolled out in part to capture the higher end market and gain new collectors. Here on the left you can see Steiff's very first replica, "Papa" bear, from 1980. He was made in a worldwide edition size of 11,000 and was designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Steiff Company.

Steiffgal thinks that Baby Rabbit, and other simple, lower end soft plush items of his era, were probably designed, produced, and distributed to compete with the Asian exports part of the business equation. 


Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's 1980s production has you feeling nostalgic, in the best possible way. 


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

Monday, January 8, 2024

How Do You Make Vintage Steiff Buying Decisions?

Steiffgal had an interesting thought question posed to her the other day by one of her Steiff collecting-colleagues.
This person had been collecting for many years, and had accumulated a significant collection of favorites and rarities. Sensing that they were at a new point in their collecting path, they simply asked, "How do I know when I should buy something for my collection, and when I should pass on an opportunity?" 


Of course, there is no one right (or wrong) answer to this inquiry, and it totally varies from person to person.
Clearly, one's budget, buying patterns, available space, collection management strategies, preferences, and other factors play a huge role in "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" Steiff buying investments. However, after noodling the question for a while, Steiffgal came up with five general guideline recommendations for her colleague. She thought they might be helpful to some SteiffLife blog readers who may also be wondering about these sorts of things as well. 


1. If you have a mature collection, and/or have pivoted your interests to more expensive and rarer items, it is probably time to buy more with your head than with your heart. When many of us started collecting, we bought tons of Steiff items willy-nilly because they were available and we fell in love with them, or with the idea of growing our collection through them. That is buying with your heart. By buying with your head, Steiffgal means that collectors might want to think about each purchase a little more strategically, taking into full consideration the price of the item, the condition of the item, and how it fits into their collection. 


2. If you have been building your hug for a while, aim to have each new addition ELEVATE - not just expand - your collection. Consider purchasing non-redundant pieces that complement your existing inventory or take it in a new and exciting direction. For example, Steiffgal recently started collecting antique Steiff ephemera (catalogs, postcards, advertising materials, etc.) to display with her prewar items. This has opened many new doors as well as research opportunities. 


3. As your collection evolves over time, seriously consider only buying an item if you don't already have an example in your collection, or if it significantly upgrades one you already own. 

4. Following up on recommendation #3... if you are upgrading or replacing an item, rehome the replaced item ASAP. Don't hang onto it. This is one simple way to keep the potential for "collection clutter" in control, as well as paying (perhaps in part) for the replacement. "The more the merrier" doesn't hold true for most well curated collections. Depending on what you are selling, options for moving items along include eBay, Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, doll club sales and events, auctions, and other online channels. 

5. And, if you are still not sure if you should buy something after much consideration, ask yourself "What are the chances I will find another one in the foreseeable future?" All things being equal, if the answer is "slim to none," buy the item. If it is "likely to definitely” don’t buy the item. If it is somewhere in the middle, circle back to recommendations #1-4.


Steiffgal hopes this Steiff food for thought has added a little spice to your collecting outlook. 


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

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Farming For Answers About This Unusual Midcentury Steiff Donkey

Let's enter the fray - oops, I mean the bray - of 2024 with a peek at a super sweet and super rare Steiff novelty.
This darling and unusual velvet baby is a recent addition to Steiffgal's collection. He's based on a beloved Steiff pattern, but is accessorized in a most eye-catching way. Take a look at this old-new friend and see what makes him so noteworthy from the design and product development perspectives. 

This barnyard buddy would love to be your beast of burden.
This is a well attired version of Steiff's legacy Esel or Donkey. He is 12 cm, standing, unjointed, and made from velvet that has darkened overall and evenly over time. He has a short black mohair mane. His tail is made from cord. He has black airbrush highlights down his back, on the tips of his ears, and marking his hooves. Esel's face is youthful and endearing; it is detailed with shiny black button eyes and delicate airbrushing to define his nose and mouth area. Esel retains his original accessories, including a red floss and plastic brindle with tiny green felt dots and a red and white checkered sack with a green tie. The bag is stuffed and dimensional, and stitched onto his back. His IDs include a raised script button, very early postwar ear tag, and a chest tag. He does not have a US Zone tag, and there is no evidence that he ever did. 

Steiff's regular line, postwar Donkey appeared in the line in 12, 14, 22, and 28 cm.
The smallest size was made in velvet from 1950 through 1969 while the larger sizes were made in mohair from 1950 though 1961. This particular example under discussion here today does not appear in the standard Steiff Sortiment reference books, as far as Steiffgal can tell. However, he does appear on page 246 of the Cieslik's Button in Ear The History of The Teddy Bear and His Friends. In this image - pictured here on the left - he is simply noted as "Donkey, 5 inches, 1951."

The immediate post war era brought much change and opportunity to Steiff as well as other important European toy manufacturers.
Button-in-ear products designed and manufactured during the c. 1948-1955 time frame bridged the company's prewar quality and appeal, while at the same time introduced new design elements with playful, midcentury vibes. It was also a time of trying new things and experimentation. This Donkey design is a great example of this. 

It is safe to say that most collectors are familiar with the standard line, 12 cm version of this Donkey pattern.
He was made with a cord tail and wore a red leather brindle. However, Steiffgal has handled other 12 cm examples with dimensional, excelsior stuffed felt tails with black mohair tips. And she even has one in her collection donned in his factory original red leather brindle with tiny green tassels and a red and black checkered felt blanket secured to him by a ribbon. You can see this other variation pictured here on the left.

Excelsior stuffed tails and extra accessories require more time and labor.
As a result, Steiffgal suspects that the company's standard line, post 1951 velvet 12 cm Donkey design is a simplified version of the original concept behind this pattern. He may have started out on the drawing board with a fancier tail, detailed brindle, and blankets or sacks, and the earliest examples of may include them. But these "nonessential" elements were quickly jettisoned, with no huge impact on the pattern's integrity or appeal. It is interesting to note that many of the smallest, early postwar animal editions, including the company's zebras and camels, were made from velvet and had cord tails, so this direction is somewhat consistent with trends of the era.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this well dressed Donkey has been a clothes call for you.

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