Sunday, February 19, 2017

This Unusual Steiff Rabbit Is a 14 Carrot Find!

It's always fun to come across a Steiff time capsule - a button-in-ear treasure that was made decades ago but looks as though it was born yesterday!  Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of homing a charming rabbit that meets that criteria exactly.  And despite his relatively simple presentation, he's got some some not so obvious detailing that makes him quite interesting from the product development perspectives. Check out this honey-bunny and see what makes him a 14 carrot find!

This black and white beauty is named Snuffy. He is 18 cm, sitting and not jointed. Snuffy is constructed from a variety of materials. His head and body are made from black imitation fur that has a distinctive sparkle to it. His chest and underside are made from soft white imitation fur. His ears are lined in white dralon. And the back of his ears, top of his tail, and his two front legs are made from black mohair. His face comes to life with oversized blue and black pupil eyes, a simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth, and lots of clear monofilament whiskers. He retains his original red ribbon, as well as his lentil style button, crisp and fully legible yellow ear tag, named "split style" chest tag, and red wooden F.A.O. Schwarz tag. This model was produced overall in 12 and 18 cm from 1974 through 1982 in beige and white, gray and white, and black and white.  

Given his manufacturing timeline and ID configuration, it is safe to deduce that Snuffy was "born" in the 1974 though 1977 timeframe and purchased at the high end toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz somewhere in the United States. Snuffy also came with his red, yellow, and orange Steiff box which retained its original F.A.O. Schwarz price tag. His price at the time was $8.95.  $8.95 in 1974 dollars is the equivalent of about $44.09 today.  

Now let's see if we can stitch together a reason for his unusual and diverse material selection. Given his small size and intended use as toy, it is interesting that so many fabrics were used in his construction. He is made from mohair, dralon, and imitation fur. These three selections reflect distinctive eras in Steiff's manufacturing timeline - but Snuffy's birth years overlap all three.  

Here's how his pattern emerges. Mohair is Snuffy's most expensive and exclusive fabric; this legacy material was used extensively through the 1970's and gave the company's items a traditional, high quality look and feel. Steiff featured dralon fabrics in their plaything lines in the c. 1965-1975 period when the company was focused on producing washable and durable toys for children. And, imitation fur made a brief appearance in the line in the mid to late 1970's before being mostly replaced by woven fur in the early 1980's. Imitation fur's modern appearance, soft touch, and relatively low cost made it an appealing fabric choice at the time as the company faced sharp competition for market share and new manufacturing challenges.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's interesting Snuffy rabbit has made a material improvement in your day!

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

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Game On With This Unusual And Uncatalogued Steiff Mosaic Ball

With the Superbowl just hours away, many people (at least in the United States) are getting ready to watch one the largest sporting events in the world on TV.  In keeping with the theme of "fun and games," Steiffgal thought it would be the perfect time to take a closer look at an unusual and vintage piece of Steiff "sporting equipment" - a soft ball designed for children's play.  

Let's toss up some basic facts about this Steiff rarity.  Steiffgal purchased this brown beauty at a recent Teddy Dorado auction. The ball itself is 15 cm in diameter and is made from a total of 12, five sided pentagons which are sewn together to make the rounded shape; Steiff calls this their "Mosaic Ball" design. It was described in the catalog as follows: 

"Room & gym ball from the 5 square mosaic fields; four fields are made of dark brown mohair; two fields are made of blond wool mohair; two fields are made of raw white & yellow silk plush; two fields are each different brownish patterned wool mohair; plump & stuffed with wood wool; without Steiff character from Manufactory; with a few bald areas; clean, non-fading & odor-free; overall very well received; Communication without proof of catalog... made without bell or rattle... probably made during or shortly after the Second World War from existing fabric remnants and not intended originally for sale... consignment from  Giengen/Brenz, Germany."

The fabric selections on this particular example, including mohair, artificial silk plush, and wool plush, perfectly align with its estimated date of production.  It is possible that this example was designed as a prototype for an item that never went into full scale production.  But it is more probable, given its origins from a consignor in Giengen, that it was created by an industrious Steiff seamstress on one of her breaks or even at home; these sorts of "one off" pieces are often referred to as "whimsies" or "end of day" items in the antique industry.  The most interesting fabric on this ball is a tan wool plush decorated with what appears to be hand-airbrushed black, brown, and orange spots.  Steiffgal does not recognize this fabric from any other Steiff item.  Have you seen it before?  

In a round-about way, balls designed for play have been part of the Steiff program since the late 19th century. Perhaps their earliest cataloged appearance was in 1892, when felt covered wooden balls were included with the company's standard skittle sets.  Steiff also made soft play balls for children in felt and mohair through the early 19-teens.  All of these earliest balls were designed in two or three colors and were constructed in wedges, like today's beach balls.  You can see two of these early felt skittle set balls here on the right; the photo is from Morphy Auctions.

Let's piece together what happened next. In around 1912, Steiff debuted its "Mosaic Ball" pattern. This ingenious design turned out to be the perfect blend of geometry, visual interest, and material efficiency.  The shape naturally takes form from the way the pentagons are stitched together. Its presentation can include up to twelve different colors, although Steiff traditionally used two pentagons each of white, red, black, blue, yellow, and green mohair.  And in terms of production efficiency, this pattern is ideal, and can incorporate the "left over" and scrap fabric from other items being produced.  From their introduction onward, Steiff frequently featured its Mosaic Balls in its advertising. This is understandable, given their festive and attractive appearance as well as popularity.  You can see a Steiff advertisement from 1912 featuring its Mosaic Balls here on the left, the photo is from Ayers and Harrison's Advertising Art of Steiff Teddy Bears and Playthings. 

Steiff's Mosaic Balls had a practically seamless, almost seventy year long appearance in the line. Pre-war, the company's standard line Mosaic Ball was produced in 13 sizes ranging from 6 to 35 cm from 1912 through 1943 overall.  This pattern was also incorporated into a hanging toy for a baby's crib from 1913 through 1917, and as a "catch toy" on an elastic string from 1914 through 1918.  Just after World War I, when mohair was scarce, Steiff produced its Mosaic Ball design in felt as well as substitute plush; in the early 1930's the ball was produced in lighter pastel colors as well. Once the factory reopened for toy making business in the late 1940's, this beloved pattern again appeared in the catalog in five sizes ranging from 15 to 25 cm from 1950 through 1982.

Steiffgal hopes you've enjoyed kicking around the history of Steiff's delightful play balls.

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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Cataloging The Finest Steiff Treasures From 1932!

Anyone care to go on a little time travel adventure? Steiffgal just purchased a wonderful Christmas catalog from F.A.O. Schwarz from 1932. Flipping through it is better than a front row seat in a program about the history of this great toy store! One of the things that is so interesting about this catalog is how many Steiff items are featured within its pages - and on its cover! Let's have a look inside and see how people in the United States were celebrating with Steiff 85 years ago.

Steiff starts out in the pole position in this great catalog, being featured exclusively on the back cover! Pictured friends include Steiff's kangaroo, Mickey Mouse, white Jocko monkey, Teddy Baby bear, and Fluffy Cat, all playing around a giant red mohair play ball. It is interesting to note, as far as Steiffgal can tell, that the kangaroo and Mickey are the only items that are specifically listed for sale; there is no mention of the white Jocko, Teddy baby, Fluffy cat, and ball within this catalog's pages. This is somewhat unusual given their prime positioning on this key sales document, and all four unmentioned items were clearly in production at the time of the publication. Nonetheless, as the photo's banner proclaims, Steiff proves that "It's fun to shop at SCHWARZ."

So, first things first. Steiff indeed is noted on the front inside cover (which is not numbered) of this catalog. In the upper left hand corner of the page is Steiff's "Wooly Lamb." It is described as, "Everywhere the children go this lamb is sure to go along. It's adorably appealing with its woolly white coat, closely resembles lambs wool, realistically touched here and there with natural tints. Flexible ears and a squeaky voice. Bell on neck ribbon.  Measures 8" high. $2.00." $2 in 1932 had the same buying power as $33.07 in 2017. This item appears to be Steiff's standing, unjointed Lamm or Lamb, which was produced in 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm from 1928-1936 overall.  

Page 1 features two and maybe even three Steiff goodies. The first two are Steiff hand puppets - one labeled "Hand Monkey" and the other "Hand Mickey." Hand Monkey is clearly a Jocko puppet, and is described as, "An amusing toy, realistically animated by the movement of the fingers. Superior make, fine brown plush. 9-1/2",   $1.00." Hand Jocko appeared in the line from 1911-1943 overall. Hand Mickey is a Steiff Mickey Mouse puppet, and is described as, "Just slip Mickey over your hand and he will perform for you as you wish. Black and white plush, $1.00." Hand Mickey appeared in the line from 1931-1933. In both cases$1 in 1932 had the same buying power as $16.54 in 2017.  

The third item is probably partially Steiff, and most likely put together in house at F.A.O. Schwarz. It is a "Monkey With Organ," and it is described as, "An appealing little fellow, sitting on a wooden organ box. Organ plays two different tunes when you turn the crank. Strap to hang around neck. Very appropriate to these times. $6.00." This looks to be a standard line 22 or 25 cm brown Steiff Jocko on a lovely, high quality European music box. F.A.O. Schwarz was well known for creating these sorts of special editions by combining a few top tier items into one really special, usually very expensive one. And this fits the bill here: $6 in 1932 had the same buying power as $99.22 in 2017. Steiff's standard line, fully jointed brown mohair Jocko monkey appeared in the line from 1909-1943 overall.

Things are on a (Steiff) roll on page 2 of this catalog, with a pair of Steiff record style pull toys. The first is "Mickey on Coaster." It is described as, "A beloved friend in a different role. Mickey, all velvet covered, rides merrily on his own coaster when pulled about by the cord. 8-1/2"." This is clearly Steiff's Record Mickey, who appeared in the line from 1931-1933. The second is "Monkey Peter." It is described as, "Peter, made of gay red felt, sits expectantly upon a coaster. When you draw it by the cord, he makes a comical movement and sound with his voice. Height 9-1/2." This selection is a red felt version of Steiff's Record Peter, which appeared in the line in 20 and 25 cm from 1913-1938. Both were priced at $2.50; $2.50 in 1932 had the same buying power as $41.34 in 2017.

Page 6 of this catalog really goes to the dogs, with many popular breeds listed. These include Sealyhams, Pekingese, Fox Terriers, and Scotch Terriers. It is impossible to tell with 110% certainty if these models were indeed made by Steiff, as the black and white photos are small and don't reveal many details, and the descriptions are somewhat generic. However, all of these dog breeds were in the Steiff line at the time, so it is probable that at least a few of these were indeed whelped in Giengen.

Page 7 offers up several familiar and beloved Steiff friends, with Teddy bears playing a prominent roll. These cubs are described as, "A faithful friend and just as loveable as ever. Jolly jointed Teddy Bear of fine plush in cinnamon or white." They were advertised in seven sizes ranging from 10" to 20", and were priced from $1.50 to $7.50; this equals $24.80 to $124.02 in 2017 dollars.   

A "Kangaroo With Its Youngster" makes a bouncing appearance here. She is described as, "This gentle mother Kangaroo of silky plush has a voice and moves her head. The little one can be used as a separate toy." The pair were offered in 14" for $4.75 or 19" for $7.50; this equals $78.55 and $124.02 in 2017 dollars. This head jointed model was Steiff's Kangaroo, which was produced in 10, 35, 43, and 50 cm from 1929-1939 overall.  

"Mickey and Minnie Mouse" again rule the house. These charming dolls are described as, "Here is the gay and loveable Mickey and Minnie (new), in various sizes, all soft stuffed and covered with high quality velour." Five sizes of each, ranging from 7 to 19 inches, were noted, with prices spanning $1.00 to $5.00. This translates into $16.54 to $82.68 in 2017 dollars. These of course are the Steiff models, produced from 1931 to 1936 overall. 

And tucked into the bottom right hand page is a dear "Pony." This handsome horse is described as, "A soft stuffed animal for small boys. In brown and white plush, with flowing mane and tail." It was available in 8" for $3.50 and 10-1/2" for $4.75. This translates into $57.88 and $78.55 in 2017 dollars. Given its appearance and size, it is Steiffgal's best guess that this pony is Steiff's standing, unjointed white and brown Pony, produced from 1931-1939 overall in 17, 22, and 28 cm.

Finally, this catalog proves that good things come to those who wait - and sometimes in small packages, too. Under the category of "Unusual Stocking Toys," at the end of the document, the following is listed:  "Pair of Wooly Birds." They are simply described as, "on 4-1/2" voice bellow platform. $0.75." This pair is most certainly Steiff's rare and unusual "Chirp Couple," consisting of two metal legged woolen miniature birds on a see-sawing whistle platform. This piece was in the line from 1932-1943 and is very, very rare today, given the ephemeral nature of its construction. Its price, which translates to $12.40 today, seems unbelievable, given that the Auctioneer Teddy Dorado sold one for 1,600 euro in 2014!

Steiffgal hopes that you have enjoyed this historical - and virtual - Steiff shopping spree!

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Care To Play Carpool Karaoke With This Mysterious Monkey Passenger?

This delightful inquiry puts Steiffgal right into 5th gear! Put the pedal to metal and check out this note from a new friend from the UK. Peter writes...

"I am hoping you can identify the toy primate in the back of this miniature car, please?  The photo was taken in December of 1912, in London.  For reference in size, the girl, in the driver's seat, is 4 years old, while her brother, the passenger, is 2 and seems the same size as the primate.  
I'd appreciate your thoughts. Thank you."

Let's go into overdrive and check out this back seat driver. Based on the quality of the photo, it is impossible to tell with certainty about the details or the manufacturer of this marvelous monkey.  But the photo does hold a handful of  clues that could link the passenger to Steiff. 

Here's a road map to start this investigation. From what Steiffgal can tell, there are two circumstantial details of the photo and one known fact of the period that support the Steiff monkey hypothesis.  First, the image was taken in England in 1912, and we know that Steiff was actively supplying the British market with its high end toys at that time.  Second, Steiff did produce very large, dark brown monkeys during the first quarter of the 20th century.  And, thirdly, the Steiff nephews were very interested in automobiles (and all things mechanical.) The Steiff family was the first in their small town to own an automobile, purchasing it around 1912. Shortly after, the company started to produce all sorts of car related novelties, including radiator caps, headlight covers, and travel mascots. These things were advertised internationally, so the world beyond Giengen was probably starting to associate Steiff items with cars.  A picture of Steiff's monkey radiator cap from 1912/13 is pictured here on the left; the photo is from the Cieslik's Button in Ear, the History of the Teddy Bear and His Friends. 

So what's on this monkey's driver's license? Now, if, and that's a BIG IF, the monkey was made by Steiff, which model could he be? According to Peter, the little boy sitting in the car, who is about the same size as the monkey, is 2 years old. The average height of a 2 year old boy is about 36 inches, or about 90 cm. The monkey is most likely fully jointed (as it is sitting), has a prominent flat facial mask, and long bent arms. Given all that, it is Steiffgal's best detective work that the monkey may be Steiff's early, but not earliest, Affe, or Monkey. This five ways jointed model was produced in brown mohair from 1904 through 1928, in sizes including 28, 35, 43, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 120 cm. His ears, face, and hands were made from felt. His simple but charming face was detailed with black shoebutton eyes and a stitched nose and mouth. He also had a tail. When he left the factory, he would have had a small Steiff trailing "f" button and a white paper ear tag with the numbers "5390" on it as his identification. This translates to 5=jointed, 3=mohair, and 90=90 cm. A photo of a cousin of Affe 5390 is pictured here on the left; the photo is from Christie's. 

Steiffgal hopes you enjoyed this turn of last century joyride!

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