Thursday, July 23, 2015

This Fully Jointed Steiff Rabbit Is One Cheerful Earful!


"Will you be my honey bunny?" Well, when it comes to Steiff's rabbits, it's hard to decline that request! Check out this delightful and very vintage Steiff bunny that just recently hopped into Steiffgal's hug this summer. It's all but certain you won't be able to resist this cheerful-earful either!

This beautiful bunny is Steiff's early Hollaenderhase or Dutch Rabbit. She is 26 cm, begging and made of white mohair (that has mellowed to a nice vanilla color over time.) Her face is detailed with striking pink and red glass pupil eyes and a simple tan hand embroidered nose and mouth. She has early and "chunky" proportions, including very large thighs and long and narrow padless feet. The remarkable, yet really subtle thing about this rabbit is that she is seven, yes seven, ways jointed! In addition to her head and limb jointing, each of her ears is uniquely jointed and can be moved around in a full circle! This fantastic and really novel pattern was produced in white, white and brown, and white and black in 22, 28, and 35 cm from 1907 through 1916.  Here she is modeling for you on the left; she wears a denim dress that is not original to her but made by Steiff, and a 1920's-era English children's handkerchief bandanna that is not original to her.  
  
Steiffgal "adopted" this happy hopper on a trip to the UK from a new friend who runs a great vintage doll and bear stall in a well known London antique mall. It truly was love at first sight, and the rabbit - since named Sarah - accompanied Steiffgal on her trans-London adventures. Sarah loved the ice cream and soda fountain parlor at Fortnum and Mason, and like her friend mini-Molly, even enjoyed a "Strawberries and cream" iced tea drink at the Mad Hatter's Tea at the Sanderson Hotel!  But, UNLIKE the other White Rabbit usually associated with Alice in Wonderland, Sarah was exactly on time for this fun gathering of friends.
 

This rabbit appeared in Steiffgal's life at a most coincidental and auspicious time. Steiffgal has been working on an interesting project to tell the story of FAO Schwarz and the family's role in bringing Christmas and play to America at the turn of last century. Part of this research involves reviewing old family photos and documents. Once photo, from about 1914, shows two of the Schwarz children at home, playing with some toys including a doll, squirrel, and a pair of rabbits. Upon closer review of the photo, it appears that the rabbits are indeed two of Steiff's fully jointed Dutch rabbits - one being all white (like Sarah) and the other perhaps brown and white. You can see this remarkable photo here on the left. Steiffgal and a friend recently presented some of their findings about FAO Schwarz at the 2015 United Federation of Doll Clubs annual event in Kansas City.  And guess who made a guest appearance at this seminar?  Sarah the bunny of course!  She stole the show as a "real life" example of a vintage Steiff treasure with historical ties to this remarkable family.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Sarah, the fully jointed Holland rabbit, has been a double-dutch treat for you.  

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Less Is More When It Comes To Steiff's Teeny Tiny Pre-War Mohair Dogs

Steiffgal’s a little short on time this week for blogging. So this is a perfect moment to introduce you to one of the most petite treats in her collection – a tiny and very early Steiff Molly Dog. Take a big look at this particularly small pup and see what makes her so interesting – and irresistible!

This happy handful is the smallest version of Steiff’s Molly the Puppy dog. She is sitting, unjointed, and just a hair over 6 cm tall from head to toe measured vertically. She is made from white and brown tipped mohair. Her wee face comes to life with brown and black glass pupil eyes, a simple black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and the pattern’s typical “folded over” style ears. And she even retains her long trailing “f” style button after all of these years. This little girl indeed is the smallest version of Molly produced (formally documented as 7 cm), and appeared in the line from 1927 through 1943. Pre-war, this sitting brown and white Molly pattern was produced overall from 1925 through 1943 in 12 sizes ranging from 7 through 80 centimeters. She was one of the very first models reintroduced post war, reappearing again in 1949 in five sizes ranging from 10 to 25 cm through 1969.

Molly the Puppy is arguably that most important dog pattern ever produced by Steiff. The 1925 introduction of Molly proved so popular that she is credited for opening the floodgates to a huge influx of Steiff dog designs. Between 1925 and 1938, close to 40 new canine species were noted in the Steiff catalogs after her debut, many reflecting her wide eyed expression, childlike proportions, and happy disposition. These included the now classic Bully the Bulldog, Charly the King Charles Spaniel, and Treff the Bloodhound, as well as some lesser-known designs including Cheerio, the laughing dog, and Putzi, a caricatured standing dog.  And despite her advanced age and location on the family tree, this Molly still enjoys a good time; she is pictured here on the left enjoying a "Strawberries and cream" iced tea drink at the Mad Hatter's Tea at the Sanderson Hotel in London. 

And what about her size – or lack of it, in this case? She is indeed tiny, so much so that Steiffgal didn’t even notice her the first time she was checking out a remarkable window display of vintage dolls and toys in the shop of a new friend. But upon a second review, there she was, and now Steiffgal can’t take her eyes off of her! (And, according to the picture to the left, Molly can't take her hungry eyes off a tiny quiche from the same Mad Hatter's Tea!) 

Ironically, really small Steiff mohair animals can be harder and more complicated to make than their larger siblings. This is because their scale requires especially careful material cutting, intricate stitching, labor intensive turning, and especially precise stuffing and finishing. There just isn’t a lot of “wiggle room” for mistakes or manufacturing variation with these tiny mohair treasures; and because they are not economically efficient to produce, their small stature usually is accompanied by a larger than expected retail price tag. As a result, Steiff created relatively few 7 cm sized pre-war era canine companions; these included Bully the Bulldog, Charly the King Spaniel (pictured here on the left with her fellow 7 cm Molly companion), a few Fox terriers including Spotty, Treff the Bloodhound, and Fellow the black and white puppy. Post war, as far as Steiffgal can tell, the only 7 cm mohair dog Steiff made was Fox the Fox terrier, who only appeared in the line in this smallest size in 1949.

Steiffgal hopes this little post on this tiny Steiff Molly adds a big smile to your day.

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

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Live From The 2015 Steiff Sommer Festival - A Firsthand Report!

You know how travel and airplane magazines feature articles on "the perfect day in..." or "how to spend a few hours at..."?  And it always seems that the recommended plans and itineraries sound too good to be true!  Well, in this case, Steiffgal did indeed spend an "ideal" day at the Steiff Sommer Festival in Giengen, Germany - the birthplace of Steiff and the Teddy bear - on July 4th, 2015.  Check out this travel diary entry and hopefully it might tempt you too to join in the fun next year!

A cosy, clean, and convenient place to stay in Giengen is the Lobinger Hotel in Giengen, which is just about a 20 minute walk or a 3 minute car ride from the Steiff campus.  Here is the "first thing in the morning view" from the fourth floor, where Steiffgal's room was located.  This was taken out of an interesting skylight style window with a mechanical shade.  Steiffgal found both a little confusing to open and close, but got the hang of it after a few minutes of trial and error.

Of course, the perfect day must start with a perfect meal, and the Lobinger's expansive breakfast buffet offered something for everyone.  There were many universal selections, like eggs, toast, juice, and fruit, but also some more distinctly European ones too, like savory cheeses, vegetable salads, and sausages.  Steiffgal particularly got a kick out of the yogurt selections, including some multi-flavored ones that were spotted like cows - these are pictured here on the left.

After breakfast, Steiffgal and pals headed "down the hill" to Steiff to start enjoying all that the festival had to offer.  The entire town seemed to welcomed visitors with "teddy hugs!" There was no charge to enter or enjoy the festival, and it was clear that despite the temperatures (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit!) that collectors and enthusiasts from around the world took advantage of this once a year opportunity to gather and "Live the Steiff Life" in Giengen.  There were many interesting event related attractions set up on the outer skirts of the campus.  Among others, these included: 

1.  Vendor pavilions which were made from white tents.  These sold all sorts of locally produced foods (like honey and jams) and decorative items (like clothing, carved wood accessories, marvelously designed felt items, and jewelry.)  These really added to the authenticity of the event, giving it a delightful community feeling. 

2.  An animal petting zoo, which featured families of rabbits, guinea pigs, and a variety of different birds - including this extremely precious family of little yellow ducks! These sweet friends were well cared for, and well watered, but seemed to feel the heat like everyone that day.  This area, which is set up each year at festival, is always one of Steiffgal's favorite destinations. 

3.  A BMW/Steiff racing team area.  Steiff sponsors several exciting things in Japan, one of them being the BMW racing team.  As such, the Steiff logo is prominently displayed on the driver's uniforms and cars.  This year, Steiff and BMW brought a real racing car to Giengen, and set up a driving simulator that all the attendees could try.  Several members of the Japanese driving team and their supporters made appearances and gave presentations throughout the day.  As part of this delightful "cultural exchange," there was a special tent set up with rare Steiff Japanese exclusives available for purchase.  Steiffgal loved finally seeing the long awaited Godzilla limited edition in person!

Of course, its critical to keep your energy levels high at a special event such as this one.  As such, there were lots of ways to keep your belly full and happy!  This year's festival featured:  

1.  Food, glorious food!  From dawn till dusk, several tents worth of local caterers prepared local delicacies for festival attendees.  Selections included a variety of sausages; salads, flat white pizzas; and of course, several varieties of French fries.  One stand made a very interesting pasta dish... hot buttered noodles that were finished by stirring them around in a bowled out area of a large wheel of Gruyere cheese.  This all but guaranteed that every strand was covered in pure deliciousness. 

2.  Beverages of all sorts.  It is essential to keep hydrated at such a celebration, and beer is the best way to do so by far.  To keep up with demand, this festival featured several outdoor beer vendors and a central "biergarten" area.  When you purchased a beer, you were given a little paper receipt for the glass.  Once you finished the drink, you would drop off the glass at a return center, hand the attendant the paper, and then get your beverage glass deposit back.  Here on the left you can see a photo of Steiffgal's Steiffpal and long time traveling companion Carolyn enjoying a cold one in the best way possible in the Steiff Sommer biergarten.

If you were in search of the perfect souvenir, there were basically three options for both new and vintage enthusiasts.   

1.  For the collectors of all things new, Steiff's festival tent was a great place to be.  Here visitors were treated to countless new Steiff goodies, many at extremely good prices.  Some were seconds, others samples, and others overproduced items.  But all featured their buttons, and of course, Steiff's legendary quality.  The tent itself was huge, fully covered, and featured rolling carts and stations loaded with merchandise.  These areas were replenished throughout the day, so many people literally "camped out" in the tent waiting for the newest items to be presented.  You can see one of these sale carts here on the left. The sales tent also had areas featuring studio animals for sale, as well as very sweet baby items.   Steiffgal purchased several things in the tent, including a few alpaca cats, some key rings, a mohair rabbit, and a mohair ox. 

2.  Adjacent to the sales tent was another smaller tent that sold accessories, clothing, collars, and other materials that could be used for Teddy bear and animal manufacturing and decoration.  These items were for the most part overstocks or excess inventory, and were relatively inexpensive.  There were always alot of people in line to shop here.  These tended to be folks who made their own bears who purchased supplies like embroidery floss, or those who liked to dress their Steiff items who tended buy things like tiny sweaters, boots, or neckerchiefs.  Steiffgal got a number of tiny denim dresses and brown studded leather collars which were made for past Steiff editions at this booth. Here on the left you can see a photo of Steiffgal's fully jointed Dutch Rabbit named Sarah who is wearing one of these Steiff "overstock" frocks.

3.  This festival usually attracts some of the world's finest vintage dealers, and this year was no different.  Dealers were set up in a large dedicated sales tent.  This was a first, as dealers traditionally have been located in areas within Steiff's buildings for past events.  This particular sales tent seemed to be the location where many happy Steiff reunions happened, as old friends - and new - bumped into each other in their quest to find their perfect vintage treasures. 

There were so many breathtaking rarities to see in the 2015 vintage sales area.  A large cinnamon colored Steiff Treff bloodhound, a dressed rabbit doll, and several early Teddy baby bears really caught Steiffgal's eye - but were all far beyond her budget.  Steiffgal purchased several "wish list" items in the vintage area for friends and family, as well as a 1930's era Sealyham on wheels and a 1920's era "swing duck" rattle toy for her own collection.  Above on the left is a photo of Steiffgal in the vintage sales tent holding an absolutely remarkable and extremely unusual Steiff ram in pristine condition that now belongs to a dear colleague of hers. 

A trip through the Steiff Museum is cornerstone to any visit to Giengen - festival related or not.  This wonderful destination was recently remodeled and updated.  There are things for families as well as serious collectors to enjoy.  There is also an enormous snake shaped mohair slide that goes from one floor to another featured in the center of the complex.  Despite her claustrophobia, Steiffgal could not pass up the chance to give the slide a try.  Happily, she survived the 10 second ride!  One highlight of the museum is an enormous glassed in wall display that shows representative products and designs per decade, starting in the late 1800's through today.  It is awe inspiring to see treasures such as the first Steiff doll, a Dolly bear, felt pincushions, and one of a kind samples from the turn of last century. Pictured above on the left is a wonderful presentation of many of our favorite vintage friends from this museum display, including Molliette, Molly, Bully, and Fluffiette.

The "crown jewel" of Steiff's annual Sommer Festival just might be the annual auction, hosted each year with great skill by our friends at the Teddy Dorado auction house.  This auction is traditionally held the Saturday evening of the festival.  This year, bidders could review all the lots on offer and place pre-bids in a special room right next door to the Steiff museum; this preview is pictured here on the left. This room also housed a remarkable Steiff moving display.  It was great fun to see these spectacular auction lot treasures in person.  Did you know that only about 1% of all items presented to Teddy Dorado actually made it into this auction?  And, based on the quality and rarity of the items, it is clear why!

The Teddy Dorado auction started at 6pm at a local community center in Giengen.  The room quickly filled up with bidders from all over the world - and three television cameras to film the event end to end.  Steiffgal was responsible for reading the lot descriptions to the audience in English - a responsibility she takes quite seriously!  Before coming to Germany, she wrote and prepared a script for these announcements, a task that took over 5 hours to do!  But it was time very well spent, as the bidding for many items, including an early and original Mickey Mouse, a pair of felt egg cosies, an uncatalogued baby penguin, and a silk plush Teddy Baby was fierce and competitive!  About three hours later the auction finally came to a close - with only one lot passing!  This is an amazing accomplishment, given that industry auction pass rate close to 20%, at least in America. Steiffgal bid on two lots, losing one by 50 euros and one by 300 euros.  Oh well... the experience was priceless!

Right after the auction, Steiffgal met up with her friends at a local Greek restaurant in Giengen and enjoyed a post event feast of lamb chops, salad, and vegetables. And of course, a cold beer! Mercifully, the temperature had dropped to a "more moderate" 85 degrees by almost sundown.  Here she is pictured to the left with her dear friend Jena Pang, who came to Giengen from London to view the auction and catch up with Teddy friends!  

After refueling, Steiffgal and three other collectors decided to walk back to the Lobinger Hotel to stretch their legs and burn a few calories.  The journey was about 20 minutes, all uphill, and quite refreshing.  Steiff celebrates its annual Sommer event each year by presenting a grand display of fireworks.  It seems the entire town - Steiff lovers and others - gather in the town square to view this marvelous late evening spectacle.  Steiffgal and her exercise companions had the once in a lifetime experience of seeing this show from their walking venue.  This sight and sound extravaganza was one that Steiffgal will never forget.

Steiffgal hopes this little travel diary has convinced you that Steiff's annual Sommer Festival is truly the best day of the year for collectors and enthusiasts for all things "button-in-ear."

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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

It's Steiff Christmas In July - Well, Almost!

It's Christmas in July! Well, almost! The magic of Steiff certainly lasts all year, with unexpected "gifts" like this sometimes showing up in the most delightful ways. Check out this note from a new friend who writes about a very special heirloom that has been in her family for over six decades. Through a series of correspondences, she shares....
 

"For 60+ years, this Santa miraculously appeared in the center of the dining room table during every Christmas Eve. Although, as a little girl, I paid particular attention to the goings on, Santa always arrived unannounced as if by magic. By Christmas morning he would be gone, leaving a child’s presents behind. It was the same for my children, and hopefully it will be for theirs. 

I have tried to find out more about my Christmas friends, but cannot seem to find a reference other than the Steiff’s Santa himself. There are smaller sleighs, but clearly, this one, with is bridles and sleigh attachments was something quite unusual. The small presents are all wrapped and appear “attached” to the display.
I believe my parents purchased this centerpiece in Germany in the 1950's. We lived in several cities in Germany when I was growing up. I think my mother once suggested that it was in the Steiff shop window as a display piece for Christmas. I think she had to wait until after Christmas to purchase it and then waited the full year to place it in our world.

Might you know more? I would appreciate all that you can tell me about these 60 year old friends. Thank you so very much.

What a wonderful item, with such great family history.  Let's first take a look at the two core Steiff items in the piece - the Santa doll and his reindeer.  

Santa clearly rules the reins here!  This sweet doll is clearly Steiff's earliest post WWII Santa doll. An example is shown here on the left. He is s 31 cm and five ways jointed. Santa has a rubber head; felt body; bright red felt suit, boots, and cap trimmed in white wool plush; and a white fluffy mohair beard.   He is self standing and has an amazing resemblance to the jolly man from the north pole!  From the collector's perspective, it is interesting to note that Santa's head was created from the same molds and patterns used for Steiff's three lucky dwarfs, Gucki, Lucki, and Pucki.  Santa was produced in 13, 18, and 31 cm from 1953 through 1963. 

It's time to buck the trend and check out Santa's dear deer.  The display features three Steiff's Rehbock or Roebuck. An example of this pattern is shown here on the left. They are each an impressive 35 cm tall, unjointed, and made from tan mohair. They are beautifully airbrushed with golden brown highlights, making them truly handsome beasts. Each also has highlight detailing on his legs, body, and face. All have ears are lined in mohair, white mohair tails, and fabulous felt antlers.  Their faces all come to life with black button eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and a red accent on their snouts.  This pattern was made from 1954 through 1974 in this size only. 

So what does this all mean in terms of dating the display?  It is Steiffgal's best educated guess, given the configuration of the items pictured and the timeline suggested by the owner, that this was put together around 1954.  This the earliest date that both the rubber faced Santa and the large mohair roebucks both appeared in the line.  It goes without saying that this is a very attractive showpiece - that is made from relatively standard line toys from the early to mid-1950's.

The sled, decorated and branded harnesses, fittings, and wrapped gifts do look to be Steiff quality and were not produced on a commercial scale.  You can see a close up of some of these accessories here on the left.  Again, it is Steiffgal's feeling that this display was originally designed by Steiff in Giengen as a special request window display or focal point for a toy, department, or other high end store in Germany.  And, given its period of production, as well as craftsmanship, is possible that it was part of a larger animated window display as well.  
 
A few things in the display were not made by Steiff, including some clip-on koala bears, but they were most added on in a loving fashion over the years to enhance the presentation (most likely from a youngster's point of view.)  It is not clear if some other Steiff items in or on the sled, including a small velvet giraffe, mohair pony, and a small gnome or two, are original to the display or like the clip on koalas, were added in at some point. 

It is Steiffgal's understanding that it was not out of the question for stores to sell these elaborate holiday display items post season to special customers.  These were not in general available to the public.  Or, perhaps it is possible that the current owner had family or a family friend with connections to a store or even a Steiff executive who was able to procure this for her family.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this wonderful Christmas family heirloom has put you in a most festive state of mind.
 
Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more. 
The teddy bear search engine