Saturday, April 19, 2014

Strike Up The Band With These Great Steiff Dolls Up For Auction at Bonham's

It's music to Steiffgal's ears when she hears about wonderful vintage Steiff treasures!  And this set of five antique Steiff dolls is certainly worthy of a Grammy award - really!  Take a look at this note from a new friend in the United Kingdom who writes about a collection of marvelous musicians she recently sent to Bonham's for sale.   Helene shares...

"My dad bought the whole stock of a haberdashery shop back in 1970 from a woman, she was 80 years old at the time and she didn't want to get retired, anyway the Steiff dolls were in the shop and she used to sell those brand new, she had the shop for about 60 years...  her shop was in a little village near the border between France and Germany, my parents always knew the dolls where valuable, they both passed away now and when we cleared the house we found those dolls."

How about a special fanfare for this breathtaking quintet?  Here we have what is known as Steiff's "village band" or Dorf Musikkapelle. According to the Steiff Sortiment 1892-1942, this item was in the line from 1911 through 1913 and is simply documented as "village band, 5 dolls with instruments, item [number] states size in cm."  The Sortiment also details that the players include a 35 cm bass fiddler, a 35 cm clarinet player, a 50 cm piston wind player, a 35 cm trombone player, and a 50 cm violin player.  The photo that accompanies this description from the Sortiment is pictured here on the left.

A rare set of five felt Steiff Musicians, 1912-1915
"All having black boot button eyes, printed features and jointed at shoulders and hips each standing on a circular wooden base, the rotund trombone player with a pronounced nose and smiling mouth, black and grey cotton thread hair, black rimmed hat, and with a Steiff button to each ear, wearing a felt red shirt with a further sixteen Steiff buttons in two rows to front, blue jacket, black trousers and leather boots, holding a painted gold trombone, 33cm (13in) tall, the similar contra-bass player having a Steiff button to each ear, round hat with tassel and wearing a cream shirt with black boot buttons in a row to centre, a brown jacket, black trousers and black leather boots, holding a painted wooden stringed bass with bow, 33cm (13in) tall, the slimmer clarinet player with up-turned nose, painted ginger hair and Steiff button to left ear, tall grey hat and wearing a long black jacket with three gold buttons, blue trousers and painted shoes, holding a carved wooden clarinet, 36cm (14in) tall, the older slim violin player with pointed nose and chin, painted grey eyebrows and real shoulder-length grey hair, skull-cap and wearing a white shirt with black bow-tie, jacket and trousers, leather shoes, holding a carved wooden stringed violin and bow, Steiff button to left ear, 40cm (15 3/4in) tall, the tall and slim trumpeter with pointed features, painted ginger hair and flat hat, wearing a black jacket with five buttons and trousers, with white collar and bow-tie, leather shoes and Steiff button in left ear, holding a painted gold wooden trumpet, 43cm (17in) tall."

So let's strike up the band and take a look at these five fantastic fellows - from left to right.   

The musician on the far left with the trombone is probably Steiff's Dachau (an area in Upper Bavaria) Farmer pattern.  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1908 through 1928.  This particular doll has three very interesting details that make him extraordinary from the design perspective:  he has a Steiff button in each ear - not just his left one; a horizontal facial seam instead of the more typical vertical seam; and 16 tiny Steiff buttons decorating his red shirt-vest. The original Dachau Farmer doll is pictured above. 

The musician in the brown felt coat with the bass fiddle is most likely Steiff's Alb (a district in Baden-Württemberg) Farmer.  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1908 through 1919.   It is interesting to note that at the turn of last century, Steiff created a series of dolls representing farmers from different areas of Germany, including Brenz, as well as surrounding countries including France and Switzerland.  The original Alb Farmer doll is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book. 

The skinny musician in the middle wearing a dark coat and blue pants and playing the clarinet appears to be Steiff's Alphonse, the character from the comic book series "Happy Hooligans."  This doll is 35 cm and was in the line from 1904 through 1928.   Steiff records show that Alphonse was produced as a pantom or marionette style puppet on roller skates.  The original Steiff Alponse doll had a press voice box hidden under his red felt hat.  Steiff's Alphonse doll is pictured above, the photo is from Pfeiffer's 1892-1943 Sortiment book.

The violin player very closely resembles the teacher from a small series of Steiff display pieces featuring the theme "school" - which were inspired by a quote from Busch's "Max and Moritz" book. In 1910 Steiff sold 45 complete school displays. A portion of this display can be seen above. The photo is from Theriault's; this set sold for $50,000 in 2012.

Steiffgal is not able to find a close doll match to the horn player on the far right, but his design and proportions are very typical to Steiff's “charakterpuppe” or “caricature” style dolls.  These debuted at the Leipzig spring fair in 1908 and appeared in the line through 1914 - also making a brief appearance again in 1925. These dolls are noted for comical, exaggerated features – such as extremely lean or rotund bodies, huge feet, or cartoon-like faces. Models representing sportsmen, postmen, firemen, policemen, and members of the military were all produced in the “caricature” style.  A typical Steiff long and lean "charakterpuppe" of a policeman is pictured above, the photo is from Christie's.

It's clear that each band mate is a rock star all on his own.  But some collectors might wonder why the the members don't exactly match the photo of the band pictured in the Steiff Sortiment book.  In this picture, which is shown above, it appears that all three musicians shown are in the Dachau farmer pattern.  First of all, it is important to note that the Sortiment cannot possibly capture every version of every Steiff item and multi-part edition produced. But even more importantly, it has been Steiffgal's observation that the Steiff company very frequently "repurposed" existing inventory into other items.  For example, it is not unusual to find an early rabbit, dog, or cat available on its own, on a pincushion, on a tumbler, or on a skittle.  And for very early products that involved collections of things -  like skittle sets or ranges - the actual product mix would vary somewhat, depending on what was on hand and what was in production.  Given that all of these great dolls were produced in the same general time frame, it is Steiffgals' strongest suspicion that this is what is happening here as well.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff's early "Village Band" going up for auction at Bonham's in May, 2014 has been a great intermission for you.

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

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.
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