Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's On Your Steiff Holiday Wish List?

What's on your holiday wish list? A wonderful vintage Steiff Teddy bear, perhaps? You are certainly not alone there! Well, the timing couldn't be better for vintage Teddy Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa shopping with the upcoming Teddy Bear sale at SAS (Special Auction Services) in London, England.  On December 4th, 2014, the auction house is selling 102 fabulous Teddy bears from Steiff Superfan Jena Pang, including some remarkable and very rare examples. Steiffgal checked in with friend and SAS auctioneer Daniel Agnew to learn more about what is certain to be a great auction to top off the 2014 Steiff sales year.

Steiffgal:  What was your first reaction when Jena contacted you about selling the bears?


Daniel Agnew:  I have known Jena and his wonderful collection for a number of years, almost as long as he has been collecting. I thought he was joking when he asked me to come and see the bears again for a potential sale. How could anyone part with these bears? He had to keep reminding me to come and see him. I eventually went down and then we discussed his collection, and the logistics of the auction process, and I was back a few days later picking them up! 

Steiffgal:  What was the process to get the bears from Jena's collection to your business? How long in advance before the auction did you need them in-house?

 Daniel:  This was a very unusual circumstance, once Jena had decided to sell, he wanted an auction this year. I was virtually on deadline for my 6th November auction, so after some pondering we decided to do a double catalogue, with the 6th November one half and Jena's auction the other. I literally had to collect and catalogue the sale in a few weeks. Normally we close 8 weeks before the auction. I live an hour south of London, Jena lives an hour to the east of London and Special Auction Services is about an hour west of London, so it took some managing to get it collected. 

Steiffgal: Cataloging is a really important part of the auction process. How did you (and your team, if that was the case) go about cataloging the bears? How long did it take? Where was it done? 

Daniel:  I catalogue on my own; this is done at SAS in Newbury. I also had Jena's insurance valuation document which we had prepared a few years ago. So I could pad out the antique bear descriptions in the comfort of home, also Jena had extra information that he prepared. It was fun to put it together, but would have been a bit less stressful if we had a bit longer than a couple of weeks to get it all done. 

Steiffgal:  Getting the photography right is key for creating a memorable auction catalog.  Can you explain to the Steifflife readers how you go about photographing the bears for the catalog?

Daniel:  We have a new photographer and I am a very fussy specialist when it comes to bear photography. So, we did several test shots and then I have to set the bear up, so we get that important eye contact. The bear has to speak to you from the pages of the catalogue. That bear needs to be saying, "please, take me home."  And, the image has to be suitable for the printed catalogue and the on-line catalogue. 

Steiffgal:  You have been in the auction and vintage toy world for many years.  How is this auction similar, and atypical, to other toy and plush auctions you have conducted in the past?

Daniel:  It's a fairly unique auction. Jena's collection has at its core 27 exceptional Steiff Teddy Bears, then there are a few other antique bears by different makers. Jena also had a selection of artist bears and limited edition collectors bears, which makes up the rest of the auction. It's a total of 102 lots, which is small for one of my auctions, but it's perfectly formed and we will be all home in good time for dinner!

Steiffgal:  Of the bears up for offer, which are your top three favorites, and why?


Daniel:  How can you ask me to choose three! I want them all. OK, after looking through the catalogue again, and again. I can easily chose my favourite; Lot 1014, Constantine. When I first saw this bear, he simply took my breath away. A huge, chunky, centre-seam, blank button, 1905, 28 inches, and a stunner.  For a bear which is almost 110 years old, he is in exception condition. If I had a spare £10,000 lying around, I would snap him up.  

I have about five second favourites, but I think I'm going to plump for Lot 1016, Winston Howitz. I like this bear because he is a cinnamon, I have a white and a golden mohair Steiff bear, which are smaller than this one, so he would be a nice addition to my collection, but the most intriguing thing about Winston, is that he has a 'Howitz' name tag under his arm, the sort of tag that is sewn into your school clothes (does/did this use to happen in US?). When Jena bought this bear, nobody had realised this was there, but I find it fascinating to think who this person was, that owned this beautiful bear.
 

For my final choice, I could chose any of the other antique Steiff bears, but I'm going to go for something different and completely different to my normal taste. Lot 1091, a Stier Bear made by artist Kathleen Wallace, he is called Harmony and is a Pierrot/clown bear. I just love his colours.

Steiffgal:  Thank you so much for giving us a peek at the inner workings of this great upcoming Steiff sales event!  Best of luck you! 

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

It's The Best Of All Worlds With This Vintage Steiff Bear Doll

Who deserves a standing ovation? Why, this precious Steiff Puppbaer or Doll bear, of course! Steiffgal admits to having a huge plush crush on this bitty boy, a recent addition to her Teddy hug. Not only is he totally adorable, he also has a bit of a mystery to him. But more on that later. Let's first take a look and see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

This Teddy Baby doll is truly the best of all worlds. He has the head of the beloved Steiff Teddy baby design, the body of a doll, and a charming, well fitting outfit made from period fabrics. He stands about 22 cm tall, is head jointed, and has dangling arms. His head, hands, and the tops of his flat feet are made from light yellow woolen plush. His body and limbs are made from a flesh colored fabric with a somewhat velvety finish. His face is detailed with brown and black glass pupil eyes, a brown hand embroidered nose, and a smiling, tan felt lined mouth. He wears green trousers and a red and white calico shirt - which are original to him - and a tiny old fashioned brass basketball charm around his neck, which is not. Overall, this model was made in 14, 22, and 28 cm from 1931 through 1943.

It is interesting to note that over his production period, Steiff's Teddy Baby doll was dressed in about 11 various outfits.  This particular example is in outfit #8, which is documented simply as, "green trousers, red blouse." Outfit #8 was manufactured from 1935 through 1942.

Although Steiff produced dressed animals, especially monkeys, bears, and rabbits, since the turn of last century, it was not until the late 1920's that the company produced a true animal doll such as the Teddy Baby under discussion here. In 1929, Steiff introduced a Pupp-Bully, Charly, and Treff. All were 28 cm and only remained in the line through 1930. Between 1931 and 1932, Steiff debuted a number of animal dolls, including a cat (pictured here on the left), duck, pug dog, and a boy and girl rabbit couple. And like the Teddy Baby doll, all were made in 14, 22, and 28 cm and appeared in a number of different outfits over time. In the mid to late 1930’s, Steiff would go on to produced a delightful series of additional pupp-animals including an elephant doll, Waldi the Dachshund as a hunter, Scotty the Terrier as a Scotsman, and Arco the German Shepherd as a farmer. However, due to supply restrictions and geopolitical realities, production on all of these doll models ceased by 1943. 

Once the factory reopened for toy production at the end of WWII, Steiff briefly resumed their manufacturing of their “pupp-animals.” In 1949, a pair of fully dressed, 25 cm wool-plush Teddy Baby dolls appeared in the line; these were quickly followed with the introduction of a pair of 25 cm blond and brown mohair dressed Teddy Baby dolls in the early and mid 1950’s. Steiff continued the production of their pre-war pair of boy-girl rabbit dolls but renamed the set Hansili in 1954. They also extended this doll animal line to include two additional models of rabbit pairs, a Dachshund doll boy and girl set (pictured here on the left), and a fox doll boy and girl set. Overall, all of these sets were discontinued by the early 1960s, probably due to their highly detailed, labor-intensive and costly production requirements.
 
Ok, so perhaps you are wondering by now what is so mysterious about this little Teddy Baby doll. When Steiffgal was doing a close inspection on him, she noticed something entirely unexpected. He has a US Zone tag sewn into his leg seam. But that would suggest a production date in the c. 1947 to 1953 time frame. So what's going on here? Only Teddy knows for sure, but here are a two scenarios:
  1. It is entirely possible that he was produced in the late 1930's or early 1940's, put in storage during the war, pulled out after the war, labeled, and sold in the late 1940's to early 1950's.
     
  2. It is also entirely possible that he was indeed made as part of the early post war production. As noted above, the literature documents that Steiff did produce a 25 cm wool plush Teddy Baby doll from 1949 through 1950. Perhaps Steiff also made a few of them in 22 cm at the time as well.
Either way, given the US Zone tag, Steiffgal is all but certain he did not leave Giengen until at least 1947, and that his "birthdate" is somewhere in the 1935 to 1950 time frame. Unfortunately, Ted's primary IDs have been lost to time. However, given his documentation and look and feel, Steiffgal suspects that originally he had either a short trailing F button, a blank button, or a raised script button.
 

Steiffgal hopes that this discussion on this precious Steiff Teddy Baby Doll has been as enjoyable as child's play for you!

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Live From New York - It's The First Ever North American Steiff Teddy Bear Making Workshop!

Here's a question for you. Do you know how long it actually takes to make a Steiff Teddy bear from start to finish? The answer might surprise you... usually in the 8 to 9 HOUR range! Can you believe it? Well, Steiffgal wouldn't have either... until last weekend when she participated in the first ever North American Steiff Teddy bear making workshop in New York City. The workshop, which was arranged by Steiff North America's Club Manager and Superpal Carolyn Smith, was lead by Ralf Fahrig, Steiff's Area Sales Manager at Margarete Steiff GmbH, and his team of two amazing Steiff seamstresses.  

Overall, two workshops were held:  one starting at 9am, and one starting at 1pm.  Each was sold out and over 40 Steiff enthusiasts had the great pleasure of customizing and detailing their very own bear.   The room was set up with two large tables; each was draped in a black tablecloth.  In the center of each table were several completed bears for study and inspiration.  Each table was stocked with needles of various sizes, thick tan thread, many floss choices for claw and nose embroidery stitching, bins of different eyes in various sizes and colors, scissors, mohair combs, thimbles, and other tools.  When the workshop attendees entered the room, they found their partially completed bear and name tag, and sat at that designated place. For the most part, people spent the first 10 to 20 minutes of the workshop experimenting with the different floss and eye color combinations to plan out how they would like to detail their bear; you can see Steiffgal's initial thoughts for this here on the left.

The bears all started out the same, except for what was embroidered in brown on the bear's tan felt paw pads.  This was customized per each attendee's request.  The bears were 28 cm, five ways jointed, and excelsior stuffed.  They were made from long, curly, brown tipped mohair with a cropped muzzle.  Each had an open seam up the back, no embroidery on their paws or face, and lacked eyes and a decorative ribbon.  Here to the left you can see Steiffgal and her not-yet-worked upon cub; one paw says, "Steiff Workshop" and the other one says, "My handiwork RK, 11/8/14."

The very first thing attendees were instructed to do was to be careful of sharp pointed objects!  And also to take care of their hands, as their fingers would be doing alot of stitching and thread pulling, which sometimes causes bleeding.  So to prepare for that possibility, Ralf and his team gave everyone white German band-aids to put on their stitching fingers.  Here you can see Steiffgal modeling these giant bandages! 

Our first "hands on" task in the workshop was sewing up the back seam of the bear.  This opening was about 4 inches long.  We were instructed on how to thread the needle and knot the thread, and do a somewhat complicated "ladder" style stitch up the back.  We were to make 3 of these stitches then pull them together tightly, then do another 3, and pull... until the seam was completed.  Because the bear was stuffed with excelsior, attendees had to keep tucking strands back in the body cavity, as it sometimes fell out as part of the sewing process.  This step turned out to be the easiest and most forgiving of all the ones needed to complete the bear - as the long mohair could be "combed over" any crooked seam or stitching on the back.  After the back seam was completed, the stitching was knotted, and that knot was invisibly pulled through the body for durability and aesthetic reasons.  

The next step was to embroider the cub's hands and feet with claws.  Attendees had many choices of the colors in which to do this, including black, red, green, blue, and several shades of tan and brown.  We used a bigger needle and thick embroidery floss to create these stitches.  It was quite difficult to space the claws correctly, as well as make them the same overall length on each paw.  Like with the back seam, the stitching was again knotted and pulled through each limb for durability and aesthetic reasons.  Steiffgal chose to do her cub's foot claws in dark brown, and his hand claws in light brown.   

Finally it was time to face the music and work on the bear's noggin.  Each participant embroidered their bear's nose and mouth with a thinner version of colored floss; the colors were similar to those available for the claws.  Steiffgal chose dark brown for this.  In general, for a bear of this size, his nose has 6 or 7 equal length stitches, then a longer stitch, then another 6 or 7 equal length stitches.  The stitches have to line up on the top and bottom.  Then, once the nose is done, the mouth is formed, using the larger middle stitch as a "hook" for the downward facing mouth stitches. Steiffgal cannot begin to tell you how challenging all of this was.  It was much, much harder than it looks or sounds.  And, as a matter of fact, Steiffgal actually had a fellow participant help her rip out her first attempt at nose stitching, because it was so awful. But practice makes perfect, or in this case, improvement, and her second attempt was much, much better.  In the spirit of creative design, Steiffgal also chose to put a light tan "Jackie" style horizontal nose highlight stitch across her bear's completed dark brown nose.

The almost last step in the workshop was inserting the eyes into the bear's head.  Steiffgal chose gold and black pupil eyes for her cub. This process was completed via a metal tool that looked like a giant thick needle about 6 inches long.  This "weapon" was securely mounted on a sturdy wooden handle.  Participants threaded the giant needle and strung one eye onto the hanging thread ends.  They then jabbed the needle through the area of the bear's eye socket, through his head, to the back of his neck. They then did this again with a second piece of thread and the other eye.  (This sounds cruel, but the Steiff team assured everyone that the bears never feel a thing, and welcome the opportunity to see with their new eyes!) In a perfect world, the eyes landed with the correct spacing and in the desired location... and the threads for each both ended up within a 1/4 inch or so at the same place on the back of the neck.  Like the nose stitching process, this was MUCH more labor intensive than you can imagine, and many participants, including Steiffgal, had to try it a few times to get it right.  It also took tremendous hand strength to drive the needle through the bear's head, as well as tug the two neck strings tightly and knot them correctly.  The ends from this knot were then re-inserted into the bear's head for durability and aesthetic reasons.   After each bear had his new eyes, they were adorned with a large golden ribbon which read "Teddy Bear Workshop" on one end and "New York City 2014" on the other. 

After all that work and worry, it was so exciting to see all the bears truly come to life with their new claws, noses, mouths, and eyes.  And each really reflected the taste, character, and personality of their creator.  Some cubs were very serious, and others were young and more playful looking.  Some people designed their bears to match their favorite colors or even the decor of a special room in their home.  One person in the morning workshop was building a very special bear which was going to be her 25th wedding anniversary present to her husband! 

At this point in the workshop, the bears were almost finished... except for perhaps the most exciting part of all.  The Steiff "buttoning," of course!  Participants picked white ribbon ear tags with red lettering out of a large bucket.  Each was imprinted with numbers ranging from  1 to 150, and it was by luck and chance who got what edition number.  Steiffgal drew number 110.  The buttons used on this edition were the gold plated "elephant" style ones. The button and ear tags were inserted into the bear's ears by a rather simple metal tool that sort of resembled a large vice.  A member of the Steiff team layered the top of the button, then the white ear tag, then the bear's ear, and finally the back of the button and then "squeezed" these items together with the large vice.  The top and bottom of the button sandwiched tightly, securing the bear's forever branding trademark.  And, at long last (just a hair over four hours time...) all the cubs were finally completed and ready to go home with their new "friends for life."

The workshop was amazing in so many ways, and truly a once in a lifetime treat for many of the participants.  For Steiffgal, it gave her a new appreciation for the precision handiwork that goes into every item leaving the Giengen factory, as well as a better understanding about how the company's items are built to last for generations.  For others, it was a time to meet new enthusiasts, catch up with old friends, and discuss all things "button in ear."  But it goes without saying that EVERYONE who participated in the workshop left with a greater passion for the brand, enormous respect for Steiff's professional craftspeople, and a deeper and far more personal understanding about what makes Steiff collectibles so incredibly special.

Steiffgal hopes this review of Steiff's Teddy bear making workshop has inspired you to attend one as well!

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Taking The Chill Out Of Your Day With This Darling Steiff Snowman Puppet

It's beginning to look alot like Christmas... at least around these parts! This morning, Steiffgal had the unexpected pleasure (or pain, depending on your perspective) of waking up to snow showers in her town! And the white stuff got her thinking about one of her favorite little Steiff oddities that is coming more and more seasonally appropriate each day! Check out this happy handful to see why he's worthy of a round of applause!
 

Let's set the stage and introduce this great Steiff hand puppet. Here we have the company's Hand Sneba. The German word for snow is Schnee, so his name makes perfect sense. Sneba is 17 cm tall and made from a white synthetic fabric called dralon. He is detailed with black pom-pom style buttons up his front, an orange felt nose to resemble a carrot, a red hand embroidered mouth, shiny black eyes, and a black felt hat. When he was new, he had just a touch of pink on his cheeks and you can just barely make that out now on this example. Sneba's head and the tips of his hands are stuffed with excelsior. His button and yellow tag are located on the edge of the front of his body.  Like most snowmen, this one only lasted a very short period! He appeared in the Steiff catalog for one year only - 1964 - making him one of the rarer post war puppets created by Steiff.
 

Like many things we all know and love, Sneba has cold hands but a warm heart! And despite his unassuming looks and personality, he has three very interesting features from the collector's perspective. 

First is his design. Unlike the vast majority of Steiff puppets produced by the company before the early 1980's, Sneba appears to be a totally original design and not based on a popular standard line character. The only other somewhat period snowman designed item Steiffgal can think of is the 25 cm white wool plush snowman that the company designed as a US exclusive in 1955, who is pictured here on the left. However, as you can tell, there really isn't any design overlap between him and Sneba.  This photo is from Gunther Pfeiffer's 1947-2003 Steiff Sortiment book.

Second is his material. During Sneba's period of production, Steiff made most animal puppets out of mohair, and character puppets with molded heads and felt and/or fabric bodies - not dralon. Sneba is in good - but extremely rare - company with Hand Gora, Steiff's dralon gorilla puppet from 1961 through 1964. Gora is pictured here on the left for your review. She is 17 cm; her body and head are made from long and short grey dralon and her hands are made from short tan dralon.  Her face comes to life with peach colored tan felt ears, black and white google style eyes, and extensive airbrushed features.  

And topping up reason number three is his accessory. Sneba wears a handsome black felt chapeau. Like many of Steiff's legacy dolls, Steiff's earlier "people" puppets generally wore head wear to complement their well designed outfits. Except for Steiff's Hand Bear Sailor puppet from 1972 through 1975, Steiffgal cannot think of another Steiff non-human puppet donning a hat. Hand Bear Sailor is pictured her on the left for your review. He is made from a very golden yellow colored mohair. His head is hard stuffed with excelsior, while the rest of his body is floppy. His paws are made of tan velvet material. His face is detailed with large black and white google eyes and a black plastic nose. 

Steiffgal hopes this discussion of Steiff's interesting Sneba snowman puppet has taken a bit of the winter chill out of your day!

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