Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Tisket, A Tasket, Here's Steiff's Kitties In A Basket!

Well, if this fantastic Steiff rarity isn't the cat's meow, Steiffgal is not sure what would be! Here we have an all but purr-fect basket of Steiff Susi cats all snuggled up together in their special bed.  Let's take a closer look at these pretty kitties and see what makes this grouping so interesting from the collector's perspective.  

A tisket - a tasket - here we have sweet kitties in a basket!  This marvelous set consists of three total baby 10 cm Susi cats, and one Mama 17 cm Susi cat.  The cats are head jointed and made from white mohair that has been carefully hand-airbrushed with black stripes. Their tails wrap around their rears.  Each has green and black slit pupil eyes, a pink embroidered nose, and clear monofilament whiskers.  All the Susi cats have been gussied up with a spray of faux silk flowers which are worn like a corsage on their ribbon, or as a pretty crown-wreath on their head.  (You can see one of the kittens with her floral flourish here on the left.) Post war, this Susi cat pattern was produced from 1948 through 1978 in 10, 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm and remains a classic favorite, even today.  

It is interesting to note that "Susi" was named after a member of the Steiff family.  

Let's weave the conversation now to the family's great wicker basket. It measures about 36 cm long by 25 cm wide by 11 cm high and is oval in shape. It is made from nicely woven brown wicker and is stamped "West Germany" on the base. The cushion is made from red and white gingham check cotton material, is quite soft and fluffy, and is removable from the basket.  The cats are all tied down to the cushion by white thread, which you can see on the underside of the cushion; this is illustrated here on the left.

This charming design was an "exclusive" item produced for the upscale toy retailer FAO Schwarz.  Steiff and FAO actually collaborated on a number of different "families in a basket" offerings, including groupings of large and small Dally Dalmatians, Molly Puppies, Snobby Poodles,  and other popular pet patterns.  In addition to Susi cats, Steiff's Kitty and Tabby cats were also used for this item.  You can see the Molly version of this product here on the left; the photo is from the book "A Century of Steiff & FAO Schwarz." Pet families in wicker baskets appeared in FAO Schwarz stores overall from 1961 through 1972; three or four total animals appeared in the baskets depending on the model used and year of production.  Steiff made the mohair animals and FAO Schwarz then decorated and attached them to their cushions in house once they arrived here in the United States. According to the FAO Schwarz catalog, 

"Next best thing to a real life family of pets (which can have its trying moments) is one of these happy groups of Steiff pets arranged on a pillow in a sturdy 14-inch beribboned wicker basket."

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff and FAO Schwarz's Susi cat family in a basket has been an exclusive experience for you.

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

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rocking And Rolling With More Highlights From The Upcoming James D. Julia Steiff Auction!

"Baby let me be,
Your lovin' teddy bear
Put a chain around my neck,
And lead me anywhere
Oh let me be
Your teddy bear..."

Perhaps you recognize those opening lyrics to "Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear" by The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. And for many Steiff enthusiasts, Teddy bears understandably are the Kings (and Queens) of their hugs - and hearts. Steiff Teddy bears are taking the center stage, and spotlight, this summer at a number of events, including the sale of the Chuck and late Cathy Steffes collection at James D. Julia on June 13, 2014. Steiffgal's got a "backstage" pass to meet a few of the rockstar bears featured in this amazing auction - so come along and let's shake paws with a few of these celebrity cubs!

Our first superstar Ted, like rocker Rod Stewart, goes back a long, long way.  Here we have an original Steiff rod bear.  This is where it all began - well -  almost! This remarkable bear is an example of the oldest Steiff teddy bear design as we know it in existence today. He is 38 cm and rod jointed, the second type of jointing Steiff experimented with at the very early turn of the last century. This particular rod bear is made from blond mohair and has felt paw pads.  Teddy's body is very solidly stuffed. His early and lovely face is detailed with black shoebutton eyes, a shaved muzzle, a black hand-formed gutta percha nose, and a light brown mouth. And his pièce de résistance... Teddy has his original elephant button in his ear, perhaps the most desirable Steiff ID in the world!  

There are so many things that could put this rod bear in any hall of fame.  But one thing you may not know about his design is the back story to his nose.  Steiffgal has recently learned that original gutta percha noses were hand formed by very slowly dripping the black, rubbery material drop by drop onto the tip of a bear's snout.  The artist would slowly sculpt and form the nose as a critical mass of material formed. So, these original and early noses were not sewn or glued on at all!  Apparently the amount of time this took, and the inconsistent results, were the reasons why Richard Steiff turned to hand embroidered facial features in his designs moving forward.  (And like a true groupie, Steiffgal couldn't help but take a selfie when she met up with her ultimate rockstar hero!)

Singer Jackson Browne has at least two things in common with these next two Steiff rockstars.  Here we have a pair of brown artificial silk plush Teddy bears that were created at a time period when the company was literally "running on empty" - the late 1940's.  These Teds are 23 and 28 cm tall, five ways jointed, and have distinctive tan linen paw pads. Both bears have classic proportions to traditional pre-war designs. Their faces are detailed with black hand embroidered noses and mouths, as well as brown and black glass pupil eyes.  The combination of silk plush material and linen paw pads is unique and dates the cub's production to right after the factory reopened for business post WWII.  And why were these unusual materials used then?  During that time, traditional teddy bear making materials were in short supply or nonexistent because of rationing and restrictions. 

For collectors, these guys are a "one hit wonder," but in the best way possible.  Both Teds are worthy of a Grammy Award in collectibility, given that there is no reference in the standard Steiff Sortiment reference books to their delightful chocolate-y hue!

And finally, like rocker David Lee Roth, here we have a little guy who loves to clown around in a big way.   Please give a standing ovation to this fabulous circa 1912 Steiff rattle bear dressed in tiny clown accessories.  Teddy stands about 12 cm tall, is five ways jointed, and made from blond mohair.  Because of his petite proportions, he does not have any paw pads or claw stitching. He does have a working rattle, which was made by inserting a tube filled with beads into his belly. Bear's face is detailed with black button eyes and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. He has a particularly charming expression! Teddy wears a pointed tan felt hat with a reddish colored pom-pom, a matching tan felt ruff which has pinked edges, and a reddish bow and bell.  This item does not appear in the standard Steiff reference books and is only the second one of its type that Steiffgal has come across - the other being a photograph of an item in the collection of the Dollhouse Museum in Basel, Switzerland. 

Like many performers, this tiny Ted is dressed to thrill!  But do his accessories look familiar to you in any way?  His hat and ruff are quite similar to those seen on Steiff's felt monkeys of the period. Steiff had featured a felt monkey in its line from as early as 1894, but in 1912 the pattern was updated as a "modernized model with clown's hat and neck ruff." This felt clown monkey appeared on an elastic cord, on a skittle, and as a tumbler.  A photo of the tumbler is shown here on the left so you can see his felt accessories and compare them to the rattle clown bear; this photo is from Pfeiffer's Steiff Sortiment 1892-1943.

Steiffgal hopes this overview of some of the rockstar Teddy bears that will be sold at James D. Julia's June 2014 auction has made you want to break out in song.  The full catalog should be online at in mid-April.  

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Care To Make A Playdate With This Precious Steiff Pachyderm?

Hey, let's play!  What Steiff enthusiast can resist that offer?  Of course, most of Steiff's delightful vintage items were designed for fun and play, but here's one who's design and naming origins insist that this is truly the case!  Take a look at this dear transitional period Steiff elephant and see what makes her so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

Care to make a playdate with this precious Pachyderm?  Here we have a sweet and distinctively cheerful jungle gem named Young Elephant.  She is 22 cm, standing, unjointed, and made from short grey mohair.  Her tail is tipped with a tuft of longer grey mohair.  She has soft ears placed low on her head, and a simple long trunk which is lined in wire and poseable.  Her smiling, open mouth is lined in peach colored felt, and her smallish, black button eyes are backed by pink felt, and have a tiny touch of pink airbrushed highlighting.  Young Elephant wears a red felt saddle that is trimmed in yellow and is decorated with a green felt crescent and a yellow felt oval on both sides.  This blanket did have a small bell on the ends of either side when she left the factory in Giengen many years ago.  Unfortunately, these have been lost to time but the stitches that held the bells in place are still evident on the underside of her blanket.   In terms of ID, this piece retains her raised script button and linen US Zone tag in the seam of her right front leg. Young Elephant was made in this size only from 1950 though 1951.

What's old is new when it comes to this great Steiff pattern. Young Elephant is actually based on a relatively vintage design that was introduced in the 1930's called "Play Elephant."  This pattern is distinctively childlike and endearing - made so by its simple design, chubby proportions, happy and tusk-less facial expression, and eye treatment.  The first Play Elephant debuted in 1935 and was constructed from an interesting material called curled wool plush.  This fabric sort of has the look and feel of very bumpy Persian lamb.  Play Elephant was made with a colorful striped blanket in 14 and 17 cm; the 17 cm version was also produced as a pull toy on eccentric green wooden wheels.  Curled wool plush Play Elephants appeared overall in the line through 1941. You can see an example of the curled wool plush Play Elephant here on the left, this photo is from Christie's.

In 1938, probably as a result of wartime shortages and rationing, Play Elephant was made in grey artificial silk plush in 17, 22, and 28 cm.  This version had a red felt blanket which was trimmed in yellow with a yellow and green felt flower and a bell on each side as decorations.  Pre-war silk plush Play Elephants appeared in the line through 1943, about the time most Steiff toy manufacturing ceased.  You can see an example of a silk plush Play Elephant here on the left, this photo is from eBay.  Both the Steiff pre-war curled wool plush and artificial silk plush Play Elephants are very seldom seen on the secondary markets and today are considered quite collectible by Steiff enthusiasts around the world.   

Anxious to regain its position as a leading toy manufacturer after the conclusion of WWII, Steiff immediately began producing some of its most beloved and best selling pre-war items as soon as the company reopened for business in the late 1940's.  These designs included Molly the puppy, Fluffy the cat, Jocko the chimp, a deer, and the Play Elephant design, among others.  Like the pre-war version, the earliest post war version of Play Elephant was also made in silk plush - but in only 22 cm from 1948 through 1949.  In 1950, Play Elephant was renamed Young Elephant and produced for the first time in standard grey mohair, also in 22 cm - but just through 1951. 

To insure that their gentle giants were indeed kings of the jungle moving forward, Steiff decided to  re-engineer their elephant pattern in 1950 to make it more lifelike, easier to manufacture, and scalable in size. Known simply as Elephant, these sweet beasts were standing, unjointed, and made from lovely grey mohair. Depending on their sizes, they had felt or mohair ears, white tusks, black and white google eyes, and a red felt blanket. This classic style of Steiff elephant was manufactured in 7, 10, 17, 22, and 35 cm from cm from 1950 through 1978. The 17 cm version of Elephant is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Young Elephant has been a playful intermission for you!

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

Saturday, March 22, 2014

These Unusual Steiff Pandys Are Really Quite Dandy!

Ok, Steiffgal confesses - she is indeed pandering to her reader's love of exotic Steiff collectibles in this week's blog post. Here we have two wonderful critters that sort of look like a mashup between a raccoon, fox, and panda bear! And maybe a little cat in the mix, too...?  But indeed, they do represent a real species - and they were in the Steiff line for a real-ly short time! Can you guess the identity behind these beautiful beasts?  

These standing sweeties are none other than Steiff's Pandy Indischer Pandas or Pandy Indian Pandas. Both are standing on all fours, head jointed, and made from mohair. Their limbs, backs of their ears, and their undercarriages are black. Their backs, faces, and tails are coppery mohair. And their muzzles, inside ears, and "sideburn" areas are tan mohair. Their tails are airbrushed with brown stripes, sort of like a raccoon. Pandy's face is brought to life with brown and black pupil eyes; a black hand embroidered nose and mouth; clear monofilament whiskers; and gentle brown airbrushing for definition. Pandy was produced overall in 10, 17, and 25 cm from 1963 through 1964.  

Pandy was also produced in a 50 cm riding version on wheels in 1963 only. This model is extremely rare; Steiffgal has never seen this "Pandy on the go" in real life.

As a footnote, it interesting to note that the 14 and 25 cm Pandys had small felt claws on each of their four limbs. This is a relatively unusual design treatment for Steiff bears. Steiffgal can only think of two other vintage Steiff bear designs with this similar detail, and both are from the same general time frame as Pandy. They include Zooby, the Zoo Bear, who appeared in 28 cm from 1964 through 1966, and a white dralon bear named Cosy Teddy who appeared in 28 cm in 1964 only.  Of course, felt claws can be seen on Steiff's beloved turtles and crocodiles from the late 1950's through 1970's time frame.

So, is an Indian Panda truly a rare bear?  Well, maybe.  This species - which average the size of a large house cat - is extremely hard to classify, and has been thought to be a relative of giant pandas, as well as raccoons.  Today, they are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae.  They are generally nocturnal, spend much of their time in trees, and live in the mountains of Nepal and northern Myanmar (Burma), as well as in central China.  Unfortunately, today Indian pandas are endangered, mostly because of deforestation, as logging and agriculture take over their natural habitat.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's unusual and rare Indian Pandas has been an exotic treat for you.

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