Sunday, November 19, 2017

Is This Cheerful-Earful Rabbit Made By Steiff?

Be a honey-bunny check out this vintage mohair rabbit mystery! Steiffgal recently heard from a new friend over email about a few vintage toys she had just added to her hug. One of them, a striking dark brown/black and white mohair bunny, really caught Steiffgal's eye given its impressive presentation.  But was this great example - clearly without a hare out of place -  made by Steiff?  Let's burrow into the research right now!

The rabbit's owner shares... "The Bunny has the style of a begging rabbit, entirely made of two colored mohair, pink stitched nose, swivel head, has a squeaker in the stomach, the whiskers are made of natural fiber similar to horse hair but thinner, probably pigs hair which is finer. The total high of the Bunny when sitting to the top of the ears is 36 cm or 14 inches.  

The Bunny does not have a button, but it does have a dirty hole in one ear which could have been caused by the button's discoloration due to rust.  This item came from an estate, and has been in the same family for generations.  Some of the toys from this estate had Steiff buttons, and some don't have any indications at all.

Thank you for any help or identification you can provide."

At first glance, this happy hopper has much in common with one of Steiff's most beloved and popular rabbit patterns which launched in 1927. This bunny was in the begging position and head jointed.  Her large, triangular ears were lined in wires and were posable. Her face came to life with oversized glass pupil eyes, clear monofilament whiskers, a hand embroidered simple mouth, and a distinctively shaped, triangular shaped nose. She was manufactured in light brown, white, gold, purple, pink, and light blue mohair. According to Steiff records, she was made through 1941 in 11, 15, 18, 23, 29, 36, 44, 50, and 70 cm overall. Steiff also made this same popular pattern in velvet from 1927 through 1932 in 11, 15, and 18 cm in white, purple, orange, light brown, light blue, pink, and yellow. All models left the factory with a pastel colored silk ribbon and a bell. 

Here on the left you can see the 1929 catalog listing for the begging rabbit; the illustration is from Carsten Esser's Steiff Kataloge 1920-1920. Please click on the image to enlarge it. The page includes both the velvet and mohair version of the item, as well as a 20 cm version on wooden eccentric wheels.  Also check out the well dressed "Jack Rabbit" featured at the bottom of the catalog page.  This great rarity, based on a popular children's book character of the time, is one of the rarest and most sought-after Steiff rabbit of all times! 

Upon close review, there are several subtle differences which suggest the handsome hare under discussion today was not made by Steiff.  

Limbs:  Steiff's larger mohair begging rabbits in this pattern have one color feet with the color ending in a seam right at the rabbits ankles, and one color arms, which are shapely and distinctively downturned. The one under review today has two color feet, and straight, chunky, two color arms. 

Face:  Steiff's begging rabbits in this pattern have very large, childlike brown and black glass pupil eyes; the albino ones have red and pink glass pupil eyes.  All have triangular shaped noses, often outlined in red or black. They also all have triangular-shaped, wire lined ears. The one under review today has relatively proportional eyes, a simple round shaped nose, and long and lean ears.   

Color: Steiff's begging rabbits in this pattern were made in brightly hued, feminine "jellybean" colors, to match the cultural norms and preferences of the "roaring 1920's."  Although a brown version was also produced, it was actually made from brown-tipped mohair, similar to the fabrics used on the popular Teddy Clown and Petsy bears of the time.  There is no indication that Steiff would have made their begging rabbit in a dark color like deep brown or black, as that would not have aligned with the popular trends of the time. 

So for these reasons and just gut, having handled many of the Steiff versions - including this off the chart marvelous light purple example pictured here on the left - Steiffgal thinks that the rabbit under review today is from the late 1920's or early 1930's. And, it was most likely manufactured by another European high-end toy company either to look like a Steiff item, or just because it is a delightful and happy pattern.  

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion on Steiff's late 1920's begging rabbits has been a hare-binger of good things to come. 

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Age Is Just A Number When It Comes To Steiff's Delightful Prewar Teddy Bears

You've certainly heard the expression, "What a difference a day makes." Well, with Steiff, design changes over time took a little longer than that for the most part. But pre-war, these changes did happen, but in a very slow and subtle way. So how can you tell when an early Steiff bear was "born?" Let's take a look at two petite treats to get some general guidelines.

First, please say hello to lovely Lilly. She's about 25 cm tall standing, and 18 cm tall sitting. She is made from white mohair and is fully jointed. She has four hand embroidered brown claws on each of her paws; her pads are made from light peach colored felt. Her pensive face is detailed with a somewhat pointed and shaved muzzle, black shoebutton eyes, and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. Lilly retains her blank Steiff button and white ear tag as her Steiff IDs. On her ear tag, you can see the numbers "53" but the last two digits are under the button; given her height these are most likely "17." The 17 refers to her size sitting, which is how Steiff measured their bears through through 1933. (To calculate a bear's approximate standing height given this number, multiply its sitting height by 1.46.) Also printed on Lilly's tag is the word "geschutzt" which means "patented" in German. Given all of this data, it is most likely that Lilly was manufactured around 1906.

Second, but only in chronological order, is sweet Sigi. Like Lilly, she is also about 25 cm tall standing, and 18 cm tall sitting. She is made from white mohair and is fully jointed. She has four hand embroidered brown claws on each of her paws; her pads are made from light peach colored felt. Her sweet and more "toddler-esque" face comes to life with a full and rounded muzzle, brown and black glass pupil eyes, and a brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. Sigi retains her long trailing "F" button and traces of her red ear tag as her Steiff IDs. Her presentation and ID configuration all seem to suggest that Sigi was most likely made in the late 1920's to early 1930's timeframe.

So, about a quarter century of time separates the birthyear of these two cute cubs, with only a few obvious design details differentiating them. This is sort of interesting to think about in terms of product development of other items and technologies over time - imagine fashion styles, car designs, or even smart phones NOT being updated on a yearly, if not monthly, basis? 

Heads up! It's clear that the most striking physical differences between Lilly and Sigi appear in their faces. Steiff's turn of last century bears, like Lilly, (on the left) are beloved for their shoebutton eyes, pointy and shaved muzzles, and distinctly "old fashioned" look, for lack of a better term. Fast forward a few years, Steiff's bears began to take on a more youthful appearance, like Sigi (on the right). By the early 19-teens, most had glass pupil eyes, and by the 1920's they had fuller and rounder faces, usually with unshaven muzzles. 

Another set of metrics to evaluate between these two cute cubs are their body proportions. Of course, Steiff bears are all made by hand, so there will be differences between bears and over years, just by the nature of their production. However, Steiff's earliest bears are well known for their long, slender limbs (as they were originally designed to stand on all fours) and long narrow feet. Due to cultural preferences and company directives, Steiff bears became rounder and more playfully proportioned over time, while keeping the same overall heights in the line for consistency. You can see this trend in Lilly and Sigi's measurements here.  

Lilly's measurements:
  • Legs, top of leg to heel: 11 cm 
  • Arms, top of arm to paw tip: 14 cm
  • Foot size, heel to toe: 5 cm 
  • Head height: 7 cm 
Sigi's measurements:
  • Legs, top of leg to heel 10.5 cm
  • Arms, top of arm to paw tip: 13 cm
  • Foot size, heel to toe: 4.75 cm
  • Head height: 8 cm
Because these bears are relatively small, the differences are somewhat subtle; however, they are much more pronounced on larger examples, especially from about 35 cm onward. 

Steiffgal hopes you've enjoyed this Steiff special edition of "The Dating Game!"

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Feeling Bullish Over This Fantastic and Early Steiff Comic Strip Dog

It's no laughing matter when it comes to Steiff's early cartoon-based creations!  And this one is a canine comic legend.  After many years of searching, Steiffgal finally welcomed this blue-ribbon buddy into her collection.  And besides a few really senior Teddy bears, he is now amongst the oldest Steiff items in her hug. Please say hello to Tige the Bull Terrier!
Things couldn't be merrier when it comes to this Terrier. Tige measures 17 cm tall standing and 25 cm long from head to fanny, not including his long, skinny tail. He is five ways jointed and made from brown short pile plush. This material feels like an itchy old coat or blanket, with its fibers smooth to the surface instead of vertical to it, like mohair. His broad chest and front two paws are made from traditional white mohair. He has three black hand embroidered claws on each of his paws and floppy, brown felt lined ears. Tige's face comes to life with black shoe button eyes, a prominent black hand embroidered nose and mouth, dimensional jowls, and a white stitch to indicate a tooth at the intersection of his mouth lines. He also has black painted lines all over his face most likely to suggests folds and coloration, as well as a few spots and lines on his body and limbs. This Tige was produced in 17, 22, 28, 35, and 43 cm from 1906 through 1917 overall. Tige retains his long trailing "F" button and traces of his white ear tag as his IDs. He left the factory with a collar and leash which unfortunately in this case has been lost to time. He was also available with a muzzle in the place of the collar for a few years.

Steiff went a little bull-istic on this wonderful Bull Terrier design.  In addition to the short pile plush version, he was also produced in the same pattern in brown mohair with a white mohair chest and white front feet.  Like his short pile plush cousin, the mohair Tige was made in 17, 22, 28, 35, and 43 cm but appeared in the line from 1907 through 1918.  Both the short pile plush and the mohair versions were also available with tri-colored (white, brown, and black), round, movable glass "eccentric eyes." These eccentric eyes were available only for a handful of years and are rarer than the shoe button eyes, especially on the short pile plush versions.  

Tige of course is modeled on the forever friend of the comic hero Buster Brown.  This American comic strip debuted in 1902 and was penned by Richard F. Outcault.  It starred the earnest prankster Buster Brown, his gal pal Mary Jane, and a host of well meaning society adults. The cartoon proved so popular and was such a commercial success that the characters were soon used to sell shoes, as well as clothing, books, baked goods, and a huge range of other novelties for children. Did you know that girl's "Mary Jane" style shoes with straps are named after the female lead from this beloved comic strip?

For a wonderful overview of early and original Buster Brown comic strips, please click here to view a great document provided by The Smithsonian Libraries. It takes awhile to load, and the cartoons start around page 7, but all of this is totally worth it!

Seeing how popular Bull Terriers were in America - perhaps because of the "Buster Brown effect" - Steiff began producing their own version of this dog breed for national and international distribution.  However, the company did not secure a licence to produce a Buster Brown or Mary Jane felt doll.  Over time, Steiff produced a few special order dolls in the likeness of Buster Brown for customers in London and New York.  It wasn't until 1913 that the company added their versions of Buster Brown and Mary Jane to their standard catalog offering.  Named Willy and Lilly, both were 43 cm and fully 
jointed. They were designed as elegant playthings and as such, each was detailed with elegantly tailored velvet clothing and long, hand-rooted hair. Lilly is pictured here on the left, the photo is from Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH. However, according to company records, in 1913 Steiff only sold 27 Willy dolls and 26 Lilly dolls, so their time in the line was extremely short.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's early Tige Bull Terriers has left you feeling bullish.

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

This Bitty Steiff Adventure Promises To Be A Boatload of Fun!

Anchors aweigh! It's time for a little road trip with one of the biggest troublemakers of all - Bitty Bub! This weekend, Cambridge, Massachusetts hosted the 53rd annual Head of the Charles Regatta. This fantastic race, the world’s largest two-day rowing event, draws more than 11,000 competitors from all around the globe every year. These top notch athletes compete in 55 different race events over the course of the weekend.  And its no fish tale to report that it takes 1,700 loyal volunteers to help make make this water race possible every year.  Bitty Bub lives just a stone's throw from the Charles River and the main venues of this race.  Come take a look at this event through his mischievous eyes - and be sure to click on any photo to make it larger!

It's hip to be square, especially when it comes to this classic annual fall event. All venues related to the event are situated right outside of Harvard Square, which itself is a huge year-round tourist destination known for the Harvard University campus, a number of world-class museums, fun shopping, and great restaurants. Bitty Bub is pleased as punch to be an ambassador for his beloved home town. 

The Charles River weaves along the edge of Cambridge and is an important part of the city's identity, character, and history.  For a map of the Charles River, and the race course, please click here. During this race, the banks of the Charles overflow with visitors cheering on their favorite teams and rowers. Dogs, strollers, skateboards, and picnics are all key elements of this city-wide celebration.  Here you can see Bitty Bub viewing the races from his luxury box seating. 

Care to see a what a snippet of the race looks like - and sounds like?  Then check out this video for a first hand account (at least from this cub's perspective.) Or, click here!

There are race observers, photographers, and referees along the entire stretch of the river where the rowing occurs. According to the race officials, the course is three miles long and stretches from the start at Boston University's DeWolfe Boathouse near the Charles River Basin to the finish just after the Eliot Bridge and before Northeastern University's Henderson Boathouse. For some reason, Bitty Bub was particularly drawn to this official area. Could it be the red warning cones and "caution tape" calling to his natural inclination towards mischief?

Of course, it would not be a party without some fine refreshment options.  Food trucks, booths, and "pop up" restaurants plant themselves on both sides of the river during race weekend. Around these parts, "chowda" is sort of slang for "chowder," a creamy fish or clam based soup. It is very popular in New England, especially with visitors. Bitty Bub particularly liked this stretch of offerings, and even volunteered to be the official taste tester for the event. And with a mouth like his, who could resist that offer!

It's a bit late for Oktoberfest, but it's always a good time for a cold brew outdoors. Several organizations and breweries set up outside biergartens along the event venue.  Bitty Bub forgot his ID, and could not flirt his way past security.  Given his irresistible good looks, he is usually successful in such attempts. In this case, unfortunately, he could only observe these drinking areas from afar. 

Vendors selling all sorts of services, home goods, clothing, souvenirs, nutritional supplements, and insurance, among other things, set up tents alongside the food and drink areas.  Bitty Bub could not help but make friends with the giant blow up gecko lizard from the Geico Insurance company.  Here they are; within a few moments the lizard had Bitty Bub in the palm of his hand.  When asked what he thought of all of this afterward, Bitty Bub replied, "He looks smaller on TV."

Bitty Bub thought it also would be a boatload of fun to hang out at the US Coast Guard's display on water safety.  Can you spot him amongst the floatation devices, oars, and other aquatic articles?

Prime places to watch the boats go by include the several bridges that span the river. People line up two or three deep to cheer on the boats that zip by every 15 seconds or so.  Here you can see Bitty Bub taking it all in from the Western Avenue Bridge, looking towards Harvard Square and the University. 

It truly was a beautiful and memorable day, and Bitty Bub managed to stay out of the river - as well as out of major mischief, at least for the most part.  He trusts that you enjoyed your virtual visit, and encourages you to come and see this fall New England splendor in person some day!

Steiffgal hopes that today's adventure to the 2017 Head of the Charles Regatta has been a watershed moment for you.

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