Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hop Hop Hooray For This Fabulous Steiff Rabbit On Wheels!

Any bunny in the mood for a little fun?  Well, its hard not to be in a playful frame of mind when it comes to Steiff delightful rolling collectibles!  And here's one that wasn't 'round for too long - she was only in the line for one year!  Check out this "smooth as silk" pull toy rabbit on red wooden wheels and see what makes her so cool from the design and historical perspectives.  

It's off to the races with this fabulous vintage Steiff rabbit.  She is standing on all fours, unjointed, and made from tan artificial silk plush.  Her coat is brought to life with tan, grey and black airbrushing.  Her soft ears are lined in peach colored felt.  Her pensive face is detailed with black and brown pupil eyes, a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth that is highlighted with a touch of pink paint. She has a few monofilament whiskers, a non-working squeaker, and retains her original blue ribbon.  Rabbit glides along on four red wooden off center wheels and has a red and white pull string attached to her chest.  For her Steiff IDs, she retains her short trailing "f" Steiff button and traces of her yellow ear tag. A close up of these IDs is shown below. This hoppy-go-lucky charmer was manufactured in this size in 1949 only.

This item certainly has wheel appeal and was made at a most interesting time in the company's history.  After the factory reopened for toy making business in the late 1940's, their manufacturing processes were challenged by limited material supplies.  Mohair and felt, traditional Steiff fabrics, were hard if not impossible to source, and had for several years been allocated to military uses, such as uniforms, hats, blankets, and other items.  

But Steiff has always found ways to get the job done, even under the most difficult of supply chain circumstances.  A great example of this is their use of plush made from wooden fibers right after World War I, when they also faced limited access to woolen materials.  The company was also forced to get creative with materials around and just after World War II as well. During this period, Steiff "improvised" with artificial silk plush materials to manufacture some of its most beloved designs traditionally made from mohair - like this rabbit on wheels. Artificial silk plush was a cheaper, lower cost, and poorer quality option, but it was available on commercial scale.  And "silk" most likely refers to the shine and softness of the plush.  However, this synthetic material tended to lose its sheen and good looks quite quickly; as a result, it unusual to find Steiff artificial silk plush items in great condition today. 

Because of the time frame in which artificial silk plush items were made, it is possible to see a number of different Steiff button designs on items besides the short trailing "f" button noted on the rabbit on wheels. The photo to the left shows a few other artificial silk period plush items, including:

  • Front and center, a black and white sitting bunny produced in 15, 18, 22 cm from 1938 to 1943.  His button is STEIFF in all capital letters.  His ID and production dates suggest he might have been made in the early 1940's, put into storage during the war, then buttoned and sold right after the war.
  • Standing tall in the back is a silk plush Teddy baby produced in 22, 25, and 30 cm from 1948 to 1950.  He has a blank Steiff button.
  • On the right, a sitting Bazi Dachshund, produced in 14 and 17 cm from 1948 to 1949.  He also has a blank Steiff button.
  • And on the left, a somewhat rare brown Teddy bear, he is not noted in the Steiff Sortiment but is estimated to be from the late 1940's.  Unfortunately he has lost his button, but one just like him was found with a short trailing "f" button.
It is interesting to note Steiffgal has never seen a US Zone tag on any silk plush item,  even though these tags were technically supposed to be sewn onto any Steiff item leaving the factory from 1947 to 1953.  Have you ever seen this combination?  Alas, another mystery for another day.   

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's silk plush fabric items has added a touch of creativity and inspiration to your day.  

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fawning Over This Lovely Vintage Reclining Steiff Deer

Every Steiff enthusiast has a few extra special items in their collection that are truly deer - ahem, dear... to their heart.  Those treasures that seem to truly capture the essence of the Steiff brand, its breathtaking designs, and impeccable quality.  Steiffgal recently welcomed such a piece to her hug, and in all honesty, cannot stop fawning over it.  Take a look at this vintage Steiff forest friend and see what makes her so unique from the product design and construction perspectives.

Steiffgal's not lying when she says this reclining deer is one special collectible.  This sweet fawn is lying, unjointed, and made from light brown mohair.  Her little legs are bent and folded over in such a way to appear like she is relaxing peacefully, as she would in a forest in nature.  She has a tiny,  bump-out style tail. Her precious face is detailed with a black hand embroidered nose which is highlighted with a tan stitch; black button eyes; a spot of red to indicate her lips; and large, pert, all mohair ears that have a distinctively triangular shape to them.  The mohair on her facial area is slightly shorter than on her body and limbs.  She retains her long trailing"f" style Steiff button and traces of a yellow ear tag. Fawn was made in 14 cm only from 1934 through 1943.  

From a design and construction perspective, this fabulous fawn has two really special features of note.  

The first of course is her remarkable front leg shape, design, and assembly.  Her two front limbs literally fold over and tuck underneath her.  So of course the question comes up - how did Steiff create this effect?  It would seem almost impossible to cut, sew, and stuff such a small area given its location and scale to the rest of the item.  So what's the secret?  Steiff created this effect by putting a piece of bendable metal wire in the front legs during her manufacturer.  The legs were assembled straight out, but then bent gently into place during finishing.  You can see her underside construction here on the left - don't worry, she's just posing for the camera here!

Steiffgal's not going out on a limb to say that this front leg construction is quite unusual.  As a matter of fact, the only other item that comes immediately to mind as also having this wired front leg detail is Steiff's pre-war lying sheep.  This sweetie was produced in 14 cm only in lamb's wool plush from 1937 through 1939 - the same size and production era as the deer under discussion in this post.  This sheep is pictured here on the left. 

The second is a bit more subtle but no less interesting in terms of ingenuity.  One cannot help but notice the elegant and lifelike lines of the lying fawn, especially around her back hip area.  It turns out that on both sides of her hips, she has an unusual "swoosh" shaped insert into her mohair.  These are in perfect symmetry on her body. These inserts have the effect of adding texture and a rounded differentiation to this area of her body, as well as physically bumping out her hips in a most authentic way.  The swoosh is almost "patched" into this area and it is mind-boggling to figure out from a manufacturing perspective how this was done!  But, thankfully the skilled Steiff seamstresses knew the secret, and we can all love and appreciate their handiwork today.  One of the fawn's swoosh inserts is pictured here on the left.  

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's truly wonderful and tranquil lying fawn has added a little rest and relaxation to your day.

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sit and Stay Awhile With This Delightful Steiff German Pinscher Dog!

Pinch me!  Or in this case, better yet, "Pinch" me!  Ever have that feeling when a wonderful Steiff item just makes its way into your collection, like it was meant to be?  Well, that's how Steiffgal felt when a somewhat rare - and totally adorable - vintage Steiff dog recently joined her hug.  Check out this captivating Steiff canine and see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.  


This sitting sweetie is none other than Steiff's German Pinscher dog.  He is sitting, head jointed, and made from long mohair that was tipped in brown when he was new.  His face is detailed with oversized brown and black glass pupil eyes, a prominent black hand stitched nose and mouth, and a center-seamed muzzle.  His pert triangular mohair ears are lined in pink felt, and as is customary to the breed, he has a proportionally very small tail.  He has black hand embroidered claws on his front paws; his back paw stitching has been lost to time.   Pinscher is in a very appealing and authentic sitting position; his back legs are angled and bent in the way a real puppy sits - especially when they are trying to be compliant for a treat!  This handsome hound retains his long trailing "f" Steiff button and red ear tag; his collar and pendant were made by Steiff but are modern and not original to him.  This Steiff Pincher pattern was produced in 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm from 1914 though 1931 overall. 

So how much is that doggie in the window?  Steiffgal cannot reveal this, but she can share that she found this Pinscher in the booth of a dear dealer friend at the 2014 Steiff Sommer Event in Giengen, Germany.  And indeed, it was love at first sight!

German Pinschers have a far back but somewhat limited history in the Steiff product line.  The first ones appeared in 1903 and were five ways rod jointed; in many ways they looked quite similar to Steiff's earliest rod jointed cubs with their simple expressions and gutta percha noses.  These earliest Pinschers were made in 35 cm only from 1903 through 1906. These are extremely rare; one at Christie's in London realized $12,862 at auction in 2010; he is pictured here on the left.  The next Steiff Pinschers in the line were like Steiffgal's new friend as discussed above -  the ones produced from 1914 through 1931.  The last prewar Pinschers produced by Steiff were made from 1935 through 1943.  These pretty pets came in 17, 22, and 28 cm and were also sitting and head jointed.  However, they were produced in grayish brown mohair and had a slightly updated body and facial pattern.  As far as Steiffgal can tell, Steiff has not had a German style Pinscher in the line for over 70 years... perhaps the time is right again soon?

Like many popular dog breeds today - like dachshunds -  Pinschers of many types originated in Germany.  You can check out a real-live German Pinscher here on the left. For over two centuries, German Pinschers have traditionally has their ears and tail docked. You can see these details on Steiffgal's Pinscher under discussion here. The early belief was that docking the tail was "thought to prevent rabies, strengthen the back, increase the animal's speed, and prevent injuries when working" ... while cropping the ears "prevented injuries while working and increased the intense appearance of the canine and eliminate the subdued, puppy look of droopy ears." Today, both of these procedures are primarily done for cosmetic reasons and many owners do not elect them for their dogs. It is interesting to note that it is thought that German Pinschers came close to extinction in the first quarter of last century.  Thankfully, a gentleman from West Germany named Werner Jung began breeding German Pinschers after World War II, and is credited with saving the breed. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's delightful pre-war Pinschers has been as welcomed as a loving pinch on the cheek!

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Steiffgal and Steiffpal's Excellent Giengen Adventure!

Cue the special effects... and the time travel sequence! It's time for Steiffgal and Steiffpal's excellent adventure to Giengen, Germany to the Annual Steiff Sommer Festival!  Well, it's not quite as dramatic as that, but this year, Steiffgal did have quite the adventure getting to Germany to take part in the company's annual event celebrating all things "button-in-ear,"  which this year ran from June 27th through June 29th.  But once she arrived, things were, as collector's say, "just minty!" Here's a travel diary of the highlights - and challenges - associated with this trip to the birthplace of the Teddy bear.

Wednesday, June 25th

Night:  Steiffgal met Steiffpal at Logan Airport around 4:30pm for their 7:00pm flight from Boston to Stuttgart (about an hour's drive from  Giengen.) Over the years, Steiffgal has traveled the world with Steiffpal for Steiff events; this was their third annual trip to Giengen together.  After a yummy early dinner at Durgin Park restaurant in Terminal E, they headed to the gate, and awaited their flight.

The flight boarded late, because of some temperature control issues. Eventually the duo got on board and found their seats, located in the very rear of the plane.  The cabin was about 90 degrees inside.  After a few minutes the captain came on the public address system.  It was impossible to make out his words; he sounded like the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons - wah wha wha wha; wha, wha wha wha.  What he was saying was that the plane has been hit by a cart and was damaged; the flight was cancelled and all passengers had to evacuate the plane immediately. Once back in the terminal, the airlines announced that the next available flight to Germany was in 3 days and that all passengers were to pick up their luggage at carousel 4 and make alternative travel plans.  Oye veh!

Thursday, June 26th

Morning:  After about 100 texts and phone calls back and forth between Steiffgal, Steiffgal, and the travel agent, the duo were rebooked to Germany, albeit in a somewhat less efficient manner.  They again met at Logan airport, and took a plane to LaGuardia Airport in New York.  

Noon and night:  Steiffgal and Pal took a shuttle across town to JFK Airport, where they waited 6 hours to board a flight to Duesseldorf, Germany.

Friday, June 27th

Morning:  Thankfully, the flight was relatively uneventful and the team landed in Duesseldorf at 6am German time.  After passing through passport control, Steiffgal and Steiffpal ran to their connecting gate for their final leg to Stuttgart.  Once at the gate, the attendant "helpfully" told them that their flight was cancelled, and the next flight would be at 4pm, if space were available.  Oye veh - again!

Noon:  Steiffgal and Pal headed to the traveler's help desk, to see what the options were.  Already, they had lost a day at festival... not good!  They decided to take the train from Duesseldorf to Giengen - about a 5 hour ride.  After collecting their baggage and finding the station, they boarded a train for a one stop transfer to a connecting line.  Once at the station,  they discovered their connecting train has been cancelled!  Oye veh - yet another crazy curve ball in what should have been a straightforward 8 hour trip!


Night:  Finally, four trains later and after much standing in line, waiting on platforms, and wondering if they were traveling on the right trains and in the right direction... Steiffgal and Steiffpal arrived in Giengen around 4:30 in the afternoon!  Hallelujah!  The team made the quick walk from the Giengen train station to the company's campus.  And what a homecoming that felt like - after Wednesday, Thursday, and most of Friday in transit! After a few quick hellos, a kind friend took them to the Lobinger Hotel  - a five minute drive from downtown Giengen - where they could finally put away their baggage, freshen up, and start enjoying their time away! The Lobinger Hotel is pictured above on the left.  After a few beers, dinner with friends, and a quick walk to the convenience store across the street from the hotel, Steiffgal and Steiffpal hit the hay in anticipation of a fabulous weekend at Festival.

Saturday, June 28th

Morning:  The day started with a great German breakfast including lox,  muslix, and of course, hearty bread chock-full of seeds and nuts!  Steiffgal and Steiffpal squirreled away two giant pretzels from the buffet for a later-in-the-day treat.  Then they took the shuttle from the hotel to the Steiff campus.   

Immediately upon arriving at Festival, Steiffgal and Pal headed off to the vintage dealer area, where they met with longtime friends and sellers - and "circulated the economy" in a pretty enthusiastic way. Steiffgal purchased a number of unique items from several dealers in this area for friends, colleagues, and her store.  She felt like Santa Claus with her long "Steiff wish list" from friends in hand; however, she was only moderately successful in fulfilling these purchase requests.  This was probably because she arrived a day after opening day and many of these highly sought after items had already been sold.  She bought a 35 cm sitting German Pincher from the 1920's for her own collection; this beauty is pictured here to the left.  He is sitting, head jointed, and made from brown tipped mohair.  He was produced in 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm overall from 1914 through 1931.


After a few hours, Steiffgal and Pal found themselves in the Steiff sales area, which was a large tented space filled to the brim with new Steiff items from the Steiff warehouses and overproduction areas.  This sales area is traditional to the Festival and there are always great treasures to be found - including some one of a kinds and hand samples! The company constantly refreshed the displays throughout the event, so it was important to keep checking back. Here, Steiffgal purchased a number of gifts for friends, as well as a few unusual items for the store.  For herself, she found a somewhat unusual five ways jointed golden Winnie the Pooh, which she thinks was made as an exclusive for Japan a few years back.  Pooh, who is five ways jointed and is 24 cm standing, is pictured here on the left. 

Noon:  After a quick lunch of a giant pretzel and a cold beer, Steiffgal and Steiffpal toured the wonderful Steiff Museum, which features exhibits for kids, families, and vintage collectors as well.  As part of the weekend celebration, the lobby of the museum had a handsome display of two important Steiff Japan projects:  a collaboration with BMW, and a youth soccer (or football if you are not from the USA!) program for children impacted by the severe earthquake of 2011. The museum has many permanent, dynamic displays and vignettes, including one about Margarete starting the company which takes place in her early workshop, and another about Richard Steiff, which takes place in his creativity studio.  The museum also features a huge display of studio animals, hands on kids play areas, a multi-floor slide in the shape of a snake, and of course a breathtaking display of vintage Steiff treasures from  the late 1880's onward.  Steiffgal's favorite museum treasure was a fully jointed felt baby doll - something she had only read about in the past - who is pictured here in the upper left.  This dear dolly was produced in 28 and 35 cm in 1916 and 1917 only.


Night:  For many, one of the major highlights of the Steiff celebration weekend is the annual Teddy Dorado auction, which is held the Saturday evening of the event.  This year, Steiffgal read the catalog descriptions in English from the stage, while Pal wore the white gloves and presented many of the treasures to the audience. The auction featured 78 hand selected items at a spectrum of price points.  

The auction was especially meaningful for Steiffgal because it was there that she got to meet a new friend from the UK in person - one she had been Skyping and emailing with for almost a year!  This friend had discovered a very special item in an auction lot; this treasure turned out to be an extremely rare black Steiff bear!  After much consideration, the friend decided to sell this black bear, whom she named Black Jack, at the Teddy Dorado summer auction.  And what a good choice that was!  He realized over 18,000 euro!  He is pictured here above on the left. Other auction highlights that evening included a one of a kind mohair owl from the collection of Ava Steiff which realized over 9,500 euro; a Teddy Clown that realized almost 6,000 euro; and an unusual Teddy bear on a green mohair mat which realized over 9,500 euro (prices shown include the buyer's premium).  After the auction, which lasted over 2 hours, Steiffgal, Steiffpal, Black Jack's family, and the Teddy Dorado team all enjoyed a wonderful celebratory dinner at the Sud Italia restaurant in downtown Giengen.  

Sunday, June 29th

Morning:  There was no rest for the weary and after a quick breakfast, Steiffgal and Pal were back on the Steiff campus.  The first stop of the morning was back to the sales tent, where the team scored a few more good deals.  Pal picked up a few early style bears, and Steiffgal purchased more gifts for friends as well as an unusual long blonde mohair dog that looked like a cross between a lab and a chow chow.  He is pictured here above on the left. They then again walked the vintage sales area, where Pal bought a special black and white cow that she'd been after for awhile. 

Noon:  After a light lunch of pretzels and beer (are you starting to see a theme here?) the team decided to brave the rain and wind and take a foot tour of  Giengen.  The town itself is quite small, only about 17 square miles total.  The downtown has a few banks, restaurants, convenience stores, and retail stores all set within turn of last century or earlier buildings with cobblestone sidewalks, fountains, and lots of flowers in window boxes. It is really quite charming! After wandering about for an hour or so, Steiffgal and Pal found themselves at the birth house of Margarete Steiff, located just a stone's throw from the factory on Lederstrasse, or Leather Street.  The front of the house is pictured here above on the left. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for both travelers, and you can take this tour yourself (albeit virtually!) by clicking here!

Night: With jetlag and the frenetic pace finally catching up to them, sleepy Steiffgal and Pal grab said their goodbyes to friends on the Steiff campus and took the shuttle back to the Lobinger hotel. Upon arrival, they dropped off their bags and met a group of friends from the US and UK for drinks in the hotel lobby.  Over time, the group slowly migrated to the dining room, where everyone enjoyed a leisurely traditional southern German style dinner.  Steiffgal had a salad and pot roast with onion gravy, while Pal had veal schnitzel with fries.  Then it was back to the rooms for packing - and repacking - bags to fit within the airline's travel regulations, and a good night's sleep.

Monday, June 30th

Morning:  With bags packed, Steiffgal and Pal met friends for a quick breakfast in the lobby, and then checked out of their hotel.  They caught a ride with a colleague to the Stuttgart airport. Although it was pouring rain, the drive was interesting and very scenic. Once at the airport, they breezed through security and the plane - heading to London - took off and landed right on schedule.

Noon:  At Heathrow, Steiffgal and Pal did a little window shopping after the elaborate security screening.  A delightful surprise was seeing a Steiff bear featured in the window of Hamley's airport store!  Next on the airport agenda was the team's annual "last meal before crossing the pond" at Wagamama, where Steiffgal and Pal each had a delicious lobster and seafood salad and split an order of edamame - this yummy meal is pictured above on the left.  The plane did indeed board on time, and except for an hour long ground delay, took off and landed "relatively" on time and in a completely uneventful manner!  Yay!  Apparently the travel curse has been broken!

Night:  Steiffgal and Pal say their goodbyes in Logan Airport and promise to return to Giengen together in 2015!  

Steiffgal hopes this travel log has convinced you to attend Steiff Sommer 2015 - without the travel hassles, of course!

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