Sunday, March 24, 2024

Would You Take A Tumble For This Early And Fantastic Feline Steiff Novelty?

This next Steiff inquiry comes in on little cat's feet. A new friend has reached out about a special family heirloom with provenance. Just what is this very early turn of last century treasure? And what makes it so fantastic from the collector's perspectives? Tom shares in part,

"I've attached photos of my Rolly Polly cat. I've had this since I was a child (50+ years ago)... It originally came from a relative who inherited it from their partner who came from a wealthy family from New England."

This guy is simply the cat's meow. But, given his form, he is "technically" a tumbler and not a roly-poly. Steiff's early 20th century roly-polys are all fabric and shaped sort of like an inverted balloon. Most are head and arm jointed, without legs. Examples include mohair cats (made in 16 and 23 cm from 1909 through 1919 overall); mohair Teddy bears (made in 16, 19, 23, and 29 cm from 1909 through 1916 overall)mohair rabbits (made in 23 cm from 1909 through 1918); and a series of mohair and felt dolls from the same basic time frame.

On the other hand, tumblers are full bodied and mounted to a very heavy, weighted wooden half circle base. As such, they wobble about like a weeble but always return to an upright position. Their bases are simply stained and are a natural wood color. Most tumblers measure 12 to 17 cm tall and are standing, sitting, or begging. Steiff did make a few oversized circus bear style tumblers in 35 and 43 cm through 1918 overall.

Tumblers debuted as early as 1894 and appeared in the general line with frequency through the late 19-teens. In the late 1930s, Steiff produced a series of three begging style tumblers on green or red painted wooden bases from 1936 through 1943 overall. Models included a velvet and mohair squirrel, a mohair Waldi Dachshund, and a mohair kitten holding a pom pom ball.

So back to Tom's cat.
 The photos suggest that he is made entirely from felt. Steiffgal suspects he is the company's Tumbling Cat, which appeared in the line in 17 cm (not including his base) from 1894 through 1919. The cat is solidly stuffed with excelsior and features black shoe button eyes and simple facial embroidery. It is hard to tell if he ever had a button, based on the photo of his face. It is entirely possible that he was manufactured pre-1904. Other early Steiff cat tumblers include a spotted velvet version made in 12 cm from 1904 through 1917 and a velvet striped version made in 17 cm from 1901 through 1919.

What makes this tumbler even more remarkable is its condition. He is made from felt, which tends to get grubby over time and attract insects. He was also designed as a toy, but it is clear he received little hands on play. Also of note is his tail. These are actually super thin, not terribly sturdy, and are attached to the animal's rear with just a few stitches. Often, these go missing or break off given their construction and natural aging. However, in this case, Tom's tumbler appears clean and damage free against all odds! Super score all around!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's early tumblers has got you rocking and rolling!

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