Sunday, May 24, 2015

Creating Panda-Monium Over This Most Unusual Steiff Bear

Oh baby! Steiffgal does not mean to pander to you, but how can you resist this utterly charming Steiff cub! Have you ever seen anything quite like him? Check out this black and white beauty and learn what we can piece together about his mysterious origins.

There's nothing not to love about this rare bear. Baby Panda is 80 cm, standing, and unjointed. He is made from long black and white mohair, while his muzzle area is made from shorter white mohair. He has flat, cardboard lined feet and is self-standing. His paw pads are made from trivera velvet material, which has been airbrushed with paw prints. He has four rubber claws on each pad. His face is detailed with black and brown pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose and mouth, and black airbrushing around his eyes and on the tip of his mouth. He is simply adorable and has a most toddler-esque look to him.
 

This sweetie absolutely deserves a standing ovation. But who is he, and when was he made? He does not appear in any of the standard Steiff reference books, at least as far as Steiffgal could find.
 

It is Steiffgal's best thinking that this "petite" Panda is a version of the company's early 1970's "Jungbaer" or Bear Cub. This terrific brown plush Ted is pictured to the left for reference. Like Baby Panda, Jungbaer is 80 cm, standing, and unjointed. He also has an insert muzzle area. Jungbaer has the same trivera velvet material paw and rubber claw construction as his Panda cousin; they both share a very similar "look and feel" in terms of their body shape and proportions. Don't the two of them look like they could be friends from kindergarten? Jungbaer was made from 1972 through 1975 in this size only; in 1972 he was sold as a US exclusive. 

Baby Panda also has other family ties. It is entirely possible he is related to another Steiff standout - a full sized adult Studio Panda. A photo of him is shown here on the left. Big boy is 190 cm, standing, unjointed, and made entirely from long shaggy mohair - except for his ears, which are made from black dralon. His face, which is made from slightly shorter white mohair, is detailed with large brown and black pupil eyes and a hand embroidered black nose and mouth. His mouth has a little additional grey airbrushed highlights around his jaw. Panda's foot pads are made from heavy plastic material, while his paw pads are made from trivera velvet material. They are carefully airbrushed with authentic looking hand prints. He has four rubber claws on each of his hands and feet. Panda keeps his standing balance via a metal support stand attached to his backside.  

Like Baby Panda, the origins of Big Panda are not clear. But studying him closely, Steiffgal thinks, given big Panda's size, appearance, and body shape, that he is a modification of Steiff's Studio standing Braunbaer or Brown Bear that was in the line from 1972 through 1980. You can learn more about this big brown buddy by clicking here. 

So what does all this mean in terms of identifying Baby Panda's approximate birthday and evolution?  Well, given his appearance, size, and probable relationship to other documented bears in similar patterns, it is Steiffgal's best estimate that he was made around 1970 or so as an early example or trial of this general cub pattern.  Most likely, his construction (more complicated given two distinct colors) and materials (expensive mohair) deemed him too costly and labor intensive to put into the standard line.  As such, his pattern was converted to a simpler, more economical design by making him one color in less expensive synthetic plush. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this great standing baby bear has added a little Panda-monium to your day.


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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Monkeying Around With This Early 1970's Steiff Riding Chimp

With Memorial Day  - the unofficial first day of summer - coming up next week, it's time to put the top down and go for a spin!  And Steiffgal can't think of a better vehicle to do that with than this utterly marvelous riding chimpanzee.  Let's take a joyride together and learn more about this great primate on wheels!

Let's not monkey around and get right to the point why this chimp on the go is so great.  Here we have Steiff's Reit Schimpanse or Riding Chimpanzee.  He is 50 cm, standing on all fours, and unjointed.  He is solidly stuffed with excelsior and has a grey painted metal grip handle. His body, head, and limbs are made from chocolate brown dralon fabric.   His hands, feet, ears, and face are made from a soft peach colored velour like material.  His face is detailed with friendly brown and black pupil eyes in eye pockets, an open, smiling mouth, a white dralon chin, a brown painted nose, and delightful, realistic airbrushed highlights.  

And what about his snazzy ride? Riding Chimp is mounted upon a black metal carriage with front wheel steering.  His red metal wheels have white rubber tires that say "Steiff 100" on them.  He retains his original red and white pull rope, which is wrapped neatly around his front axle.  This mobile monkey was produced in this size only from 1969 through 1972.  Despite his relative "newness," this design is rather rare and seldom seen on the secondary market.  (And that's understandable - who could part with such a charming treasure?)

This adorable riding animal certainly has great wheel-appeal.  And although not called out by name, the driver has a striking resemblance to Steiff's beloved and popular "Jocko" chimpanzee.  Jocko was produced in 9 sizes ranging from 10 to 80 cm from 1949 through 1990 overall. A whole family of Steiff's Jockos are pictured here on the left. However, there are a few fundamental differences between this item and Steiff's standard line post war Jocko pattern.  First, riding Jocko is made from dralon and soft velour, while standard line Jockos are made from mohair and felt.  Second, riding Jocko is unjointed.  Standard line Jockos are fully (and quite playfully!) jointed.  And finally, riding Jocko is permanently standing on all fours. Standard line Jockos are designed for sitting.  

Riding Chimp was produced during a time of change and challenges at Steiff.  During the late 1960's and early 1970's, many toy companies were starting to produce a great number of lesser priced (and of course, lesser quality) products.  These competitors were taking market share, and in some cases demand, from Steiff.  As a result, the company started trying to create efficiencies in manufacturing.  This was done in several ways, including simplifying patterns, decreasing or eliminating jointings, and using less expensive materials, among others.  

Riding animals have always been legacy patterns for Steiff.  However, given their size, complexity, and material and manufacturing requirements, they are by nature expensive to produce.  As such, starting in the 1960's, the company began transitioning away from woolen mohair, the material traditionally associated with these higher end toys, to dralon - a less expensive and highly durable synthetic fabric.  Dralon riding animals from this period, in addition to this chimpanzee model, included a bear (shown here on the left, with his great red wooden FAO Schwarz tag), Cocker Spaniel, Schnauzer, donkey, pony, goat, fox, and elephant.  Almost all were based on slightly modified versions of well known Steiff patterns of the era.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's Riding Chimpanzee has been more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

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

Friday, May 8, 2015

Shooting (Vintage Steiff) Stars!

Picture this:  a photo exhibit featuring irresistible vintage Steiff!  Sound too good to be true?  In this case, there's proof on film it will happen soon!  Awhile back, Steiffgal was contacted by colleagues at the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE). This fantastic organization, founded in 1933, is the oldest nonprofit adult education center in New England, and offers nearly 2,000 classes each year!  About three times a year, the BCAE mounts an art exhibit (usually photography) which is hosted at their facilities.   The late fall, 2015 BCAE show theme is "Toyland." As such, Steiffgal was invited to share highlights from her Steiff collection to be photographed for this upcoming event.  

There's alot that goes into a photo shoot to insure that the results are pretty as a picture.  The first thing, of course, is choosing which items to capture on film.  To prepare for this, Steiffgal invited the photographer, Joel Benjamin, to her home to view the collection and learn about Steiff.  Joel, a very talented creative director and fashion photographer, was immediately drawn to the whimsical and soulful Steiff items from the 1920's through the 1950's.  And Steiffgal could not agree more - items from that period are amongst her favorites as well. So with that framework, Steiffgal carefully selected about 50 Steiff items from those decades and carefully packed them up for transfer to Joel's downtown Boston office.  You can see these "ready to go" totes and boxes here on the left.

Steiffgal and friends arrived at Joel's photo studio around 10am the day of the shoot.  The facility was located on the fourth floor of a handsome old brick building in the heart of the city.  The studio itself was immaculately clean, comfortably furnished, and neatly stocked with every possible thing that could be required for a professional photo shoot, including numerous backdrops, assorted lights and lighting features, mannequins, computers, printers, and monitors, and of course, many cameras and accessories. And it had great music, too! The first thing that Steiffgal and Joel did was unpack the totes.  They then laid out the Steiff items on a large white table and reviewed the potential photo subjects.  Do you recognize any of these beloved vintage friends pictured on the left?

It's no surprise that Steiff's "First Lady" of dogs - Molly the Puppy - was selected as the first to be shot.  Steiffgal brought along a Molly family of three -  two 10 cm puppies and a 17 cm "Mom."  All were early post war models with red imprinted chest tags.  Joel had a tiny iron which allowed Steiffgal to carefully iron their linen US Zone tags.  Each got a little fluffing with a metal toothed pet brush, and then they were all ready for their sitting. All the animals in this session were photographed against a pure black paper background, which truly highlighted their natural beauty and authentic forms.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  And sometimes, it takes what feels like a thousand shots to get just the right one. There is so much to manage in a shoot, especially when you are capturing more than one item in a picture.  In this case, there were three dogs - each with their own personality, expression, and pose.  In addition, Joel had to optimize the camera position, background, lighting, reflection, size, and scale of the elements of the shot, among many other optical and logistical factors. 

One of the most interesting things about this photo shoot was how just the right pose truly brought these otherwise inanimate animals to life.  For some pieces, this happened magically, even on the first take.  For others it took more time - adjusting a head angle or tilt, hiding or showing a tail, or adding or taking away an accessory - these small changes could make all the difference in the world.  In a few cases, the items were so irregularly shaped, or complicated in design, that Joel decided that they would just not fit in with the general look and feel of the show, despite their loveliness in "real life."  These included a sweet lying lamb from the mid-1930's who just wasn't feeling the love with the camera. And on the other side of the coin, an impish late 1940's Teddy baby practically told Joel how he'd like to be posed for his portrait - sitting, and adorably angled to the camera, as if he were attentively listening to a bedtime story.  

Most of the treasures in this shoot were able to stand (and deliver!) on their own.  However, several of the items needed a little help in staying vertical for their portraits.  Not wanting to busy a shot with a visible stand or prop, Joel came up with a way to support them in a way that would be invisible to the camera.  He made a hole in the back of the black paper background.  He then put a narrow silver metal rod horizontally through this hole.  The item would then rest against the end of the rod, with the support hidden by its body and the angle of the camera.  This was a perfect solution for "non flat footed" 1920's era cubs like Teddy Clown and a blue-eyed Petsy, as well as a grumpy early 1950's style Original Teddy bear.   It also worked quite well for a floppy mid-1940's silk plush Teddy baby doll, who sat for her portrait and used the rod as a backrest. You can see this setup in the photo on the left.  

Each portrait photo taken during this shoot was truly a work of art.  But taken together, they had the makings of an outstanding exhibit.  Joel took great care to insure that the items chosen for the show were representative of the Steiff line (cats, dogs, bears, wild animals, farm animals, field and forest animals, etc.) and were varied in color, size, and pose.  He even chose to do only head shots for some animals, like a large early 1950's blue-eyed Swapl lamb, a 1930's era green-eyed white Jocko chimp, and a proud 1930's era lioness.  These close ups are especially breathtaking and life-life; they seem to make real eye contact with their viewers!

It took nearly seven hours to photograph about 35 vintage Steiff treasures for the upcoming BCAE show.  Steiffgal is happy to report that all of the vintage Steiff behaved well and no items - including a family of blue-eyed Siamy cats - pulled any high maintenance diva behavior in front of the camera!  Joel explained that his next steps in the project included some photo touch ups and editing, determining the actual final printed size for each photo, printing, framing, and then planning the exhibit layout.  The show is scheduled for late fall, 2015 and Steiffgal will certainly post updates about it as more information becomes available.  Thank you Joel for a most memorable and enjoyable day!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on photographing Steiff items has put you in a great frame of mind.

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

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Well, Hello Dally!

Well, hello Dally!  Steiff recently had the pleasure of attending the annual April Sturbridge Doll, Toy, Bear & Holiday Show in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  And besides a few wonderful old friends, look what else she just happened to run into... a giant Dally Dalmatian Steiff treasure!  Check out this spotty dotty and see what makes him so interesting from the design and rarity perspectives.

Steiffgal's not lying when she says this almost life sized reclining Dalmatian is really a top dog.  He is made of white mohair, in a lying position, and unjointed.  He has great black airbrushed spots and paw pads, and embroidered claws.  He also has black highlighting on his ears and face.  His great doggy face comes to life with an open, large, smiling, peach colored lined mouth; happy black and brown pupil eyes; and an embroidered nose.  He wears his original red leather color and has all of his IDs.  These include his colorful, bear faced named chest tag, his yellow ear tag which reads "2360,1", and his raised scrip button.  His product code translates to... 2=lying; 3=mohair, 60=60 cm, and ,1=with a squeaker. According to Steiff reference books, this model was produced in 28 cm (number "2328,1") and 43 cm (number "2343,1") in 1956 only as an exclusive for the upscale toy retailer FAO Schwarz.

You don't have to be a numbers sort of person to figure out there's something very special about this example.  This dog is actually one size larger than those mentioned in readily available resources.  And he is clearly "right as rain" in terms of IDs, quality, appearance, and era. So how can this be? Steiffgal can come up with two possible explanations, which in some ways have overlap.

First, it is impossible to expect that every reference book is always 110% accurate, so it is entirely possible that three, not two, sizes of this model were actually produced for the store on a commercial scale.

Second, it is possible that only a few of these large versions were produced overall, or perhaps a handful were produced as samples and never put into full production.  As such, they were not captured in the full accounting of these items in the line.  This is magnified by the fact that this dog was produced for such a very short time overall. 

However, there is precedence for the appearance of unusual sized versions of Steiff items made only for FAO Schwarz.  For example, Steiff produced an exclusive and charming grey wool plush Poodle for FAO Schwarz named Snobby. She is five ways jointed, has brown and black pupil eyes, and an unusual black leather nose. Her coat is in the "French" style cut.  According to available references, this Snobby was produced from 1962 through 1968 in two sizes: 28 and 35 cm.  However, Steiffgal has one in 43 cm.  You can see these three happy FAO Schwarz Snobby Poodles here on the left. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this awesome, huge FAO Schwarz Steiff Dalmatian was "best of show" for you!

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