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!

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