Monday, August 21, 2017

Hat's Off To This Absolutely Amazing Early Steiff Lady Doll!

Hold onto your hat - literally! What Steiffgal has to share with you today just might be head and shoulders above anything that has ever appeared in this blog before! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of viewing a collection of absolutely outstanding pre-war Steiff dolls. Each was breathtaking in its own way, and she will feature a few in this blog over the coming weeks. She wanted to give the first tip of the hat to this particular one - and after seeing her, you will certainly understand why!

It's a hat-trick when it comes to this lovely Steiff lady. Here we have a magnificent lady doll with an elaborate hat built into her head. She is fully jointed and stands about 42 cm tall; her hat adds another 15 cm or so. She wears fabulous, hand made leather lace up shoes, thigh high socks, a purple felt skirt with orange and green flowers printed on it, a white cotton apron, and a black lace shawl with a matching black lace hanky. Her core body is made from orange felt, and that is how her upper torso appears. Her face comes to life with blue and black glass pupil eyes and very delicately hand painted facial features. 

Her "proper topper," Steiffgal suspects, maybe based on some regional or traditional European design. It is literally built on her head. The core of the hat is made from felt and is stuffed with excelsior. It is trimmed with three bands of brown velvet ribbon. The top and bottom of the hat are made from soft white fabric that has been pleated and folded in the most charming and interesting way possible. She does not have a mohair wig or any indication of painted hair.

There's no question that this doll would be a headliner in any Steiff collection. It is suspected that she was produced in the early to mid 19-teens, given her presentation and materials. After extensive searching, Steiffgal could find no mention of this doll and her remarkable "hat-head" in any of the standard Steiff reference books or materials. However, she was able to locate a photograph of a similar doll sold in 1990 at a Theriault's doll auction; it is shown here on the left and the photos is from Theriault's. It is possible that only a handful of these dolls were produced (the construction is so elaborate and therefore time consuming and expensive), that they were only manufactured in extremely small numbers for a special display, or that she was a prototype of some sort. Any of these factors may in part help explain why there is a dearth of information available about her.

Let's button up this discussion with a quick peek at her ID, which is also quite interesting. It turns out this lovely lady had not one, but TWO small trailing "f" buttons in her left ear. She also has a small hole in her right ear - just the perfect size for yet another button. Although the double buttoning in her left ear could be an accident, her ear is so small, and the button is so well placed, that the second button truly looks intentional. In the past, Steiff used multiple buttons to keep track of which items were samples, prototypes, and versions of items under development. In the 1920's, this usually took the form of a regular button in one ear, and a "muster" button in the other. It is entirely possible that this doll's multiple button system is an early form of this tracking system. Unfortunately, only she knows for sure!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this incredible lady doll has given you something to hang your hat on!

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Vintage Steiff Find of Possibly Titanic Proportions

Hey, what's black and white and read all over? Hopefully this post on this remarkable Steiff rabbit! Steiffgal found this bouncing beauty in Orlando, Florida in the salesroom of the 2017 United Federation of Doll Clubs annual convention. Here's what makes him so outstanding from the design and historical perspectives.

This honey-bunny is called Steiff's Dutch rabbit. He stands 28 cm tall (not including his ears) and is made from black and white mohair. He has early Steiff rabbit proportions, including a chunky torso and limbs. His pattern is relatively basic and more playful than realistic. He is fully jointed, meaning his head, arms, legs, and ears can be rotated 360 degrees. His face comes to life with pink and red glass pupil eyes and a very simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. This pattern was produced in white, brown and white, and black and white overall from 1907 through 1916. The black and white version was produced overall from 1912 to 1916, with the 28 cm version appearing only in 1912.

There are three key details about this rabbit that make him the ultimate Dutch treat.


The first is his eyes. They are hand blown, red and pink glass pupil style eyes. You can see tiny air bubbles in the glass if you look at them closely under a loop. Steiff used these eyes on a number of rabbits from the c. 1907 through 1943 time frame. Glass eyes started appearing on a wide scale on Steiff items around 1908, so these really are an early and elegant example of this detailing. It is also interesting to note that the example of this black and white rabbit pictured in the Steiff Sortiment book has black eyes backed in red felt. But it is not unusual for Steiff to produce the same item with slightly different features, and that is probably the case here. But more on this in a bit.

The second is his jointing. This bunny really gets around - pun intended. He is fully jointed, which is not terribly unusual. However, the fact that each of his ears can be rotated in a full circle is quite rare. This is different than having the ears poseable because they are lined in metal wires. As early as 1904, Steiff started to experiment with a number of designs that really took advantage of emerging joint movement technologies. In some cases, these animals were six or even seven ways jointed. Franz Steiff was very interested in creating and patenting a system that would help to replicate the natural movement of an animal's ear. After several years of trial and error, he finally designed such a specialized joint and received a US patent for it on September 8, 1908. Over time, Steiff used this technology on items including cats, squirrels, and this rabbit pattern.

Finally, it is key to mention this rabbit's material and coloring. He is made in part from black mohair. Steiff made only a handful of items from or with black mohair at the early turn of last century; these included a crow, a goat, a few dogs, and black mohair patches on their early guinea pig and rabbit patterns. The company also introduced a black mohair Teddy bear in the early 1900's but it was not commercially successful. Early black mohair items really are few and far between, and seldom if ever seen on the secondary market. 

The black and white version of this rabbit debuted in 1912. This is the same year that the Titanic disaster struck, and Steiff responded by producing black mohair "Mourning Bears" with red felt backed eyes. An example of Steiff's Mourning Bear is pictured above on the left; the photo is from James D. Julia. These black bears from 1912 are considered the "holy grail" for many Steiff collectors. Although the Holland rabbit under discussion here has "albino" style glass eyes, the one pictured in the Sortiment has the same red-backed eye detailing as the company's Mourning Bears of the identical period. Given the timing of all of this, it is possible that the company's black and white mohair Holland rabbits from 1912 were made from the same lots of black mohair as the Mourning Bears, and that perhaps the red felt backed eyes that appear on some examples are a nod to this tragedy as well. It certainly is a mystery of Titanic proportions!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's black and white Holland rabbit has been a hop, skip, and a jump for you.

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

This Unusual and Early Steiff Doll is Cut From a Different Cloth

For Steiffgal, the best week of the year is almost upon us. That is because she's off to Orlando, FL to attend the United Federation of Doll Clubs annual national gathering in just a few days. This world-class event celebrates dolls and playthings from every era, is a fantastic opportunity to meet new collector friends and visit with old ones, learn about everything A to Z about dolls, and of course, pick up a few new collection treasures! If you are not a member of UFDC, public day will be held on Friday, August 4th; if you are a member and are attending, Steiffgal hopes to meet you there!

To honor the celebration of all things dolls, Steiffgal would like to introduce you to a very interesting Steiff little child who recently jointed her hug.

This sweet boy is everything snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Please say hello to Rudi (at least that's what his name is now). Rudi is 35 cm, fully jointed, and truly looks like a sweet schoolboy. His face comes to life with striking blue and black glass pupil eyes, a little nose, pouty mouth, and a brown inset mohair wig. His mohair hair has faded to silvery blond over time, but the brown cotton backing has remained quite dark. Collectors see this sometimes with brown mohair bears which fade over time and have a distinctly "silvery" look to them.


Rudi is dressed to the nines. His clothing is all original to him, and consists of a white cotton shirt with a drawstring neckline, black and blue cotton onesie, blue cotton shirt, and a tan linen apron. The clothing is beautifully made, with fine tiny stitches and hooks and snaps. His shoes are made from black felt, and his blue and white stripe socks tie his entire outfit together handsomely. It is Steiffgal's best guess that he started out life as Steiff's "Erich" - who was made in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm from 1912 to 1927.

Of course, it is never polite to ask someone their age. But the time frame 1912 to 1927 is pretty broad. Rudi is pretty private, but a few of his secrets are very helpful in better determining his "birthday." When Steiffgal purchased Rudi, she adopted him purely for his charming presentation and size. Like all new collection acquisitions, Rudi was given a close inspection. It turns out he has a pretty remarkable body composition which is not obvious from just pictures. For the most part, Steiff's felt center seamed dolls are truly that - made of felt from head to toe. But, occasionally collectors find Steiff dolls made from alternative materials, and those are generally datable to "hard times."

Rudi is cut from a different cloth - literally. His face and well formed fingered hands are made from felt, his shapely limbs are made from fine flesh colored linen, and his simple core body trunk is made from poor quality linen that has a blue or grey tint to it. Steiff detailed this little boy with the best fabrics they had on hand at the time of his production - keeping the most visible parts of his body as aesthetically pleasing as possible. His construction, along with his teeny tiny trailing "F" button, suggest that he was produced at a particularly challenging time during or just after WWI, when the company's access to higher quality fabrics, including felt, was severely sanctioned. As such, Steiffgal suspects he was made around 1915 or 1916. 

So does any of this make any material difference? Yes, fabrics are one way to get an idea of approximate production when it comes to Steiff's early doll production. Steiffgal has a number of other Steiff cloth dolls in her collection from the first quarter of the 20th century; most are all felt, one has a felt face and limbs and a linen body. The all felt ones were made in "good times" (or relatively good times) while those with linen bodies and/or limbs suggest otherwise. Steiffgal also has seen a Steiff cloth Puck Gnome made with a linen face, and suspects he is an extreme "wartime production" example. He is pictured here on the left, the photo is from Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH.  Puck appeared in the Steiff line in 20, 30, and 40 cm from 1914 to 1943 and is one of the company's most charming prewar doll designs (in Steiffgal's humble opinion.)

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on the company's early cloth dolls can be woven into the fabric of your life!


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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Steiff's Tiniest Teddies Are A Big Deal Indeed!

It's funny with Steiff - in many cases, the smaller an item is, the more appeal it seems to have!  Almost every collector would have to agree that this is especially true when it comes to the company's smallest Teddy bears.  These teeny-tiny treasures are like potato chips (or fill in your most favorite goodie here) and you can't have just one - or two - or three!  Steiffgal particularly loves Steiff's 10 cm and smaller bears, as they take up very little space to display, look great posed with other Steiff animals and dolls, and usually have very distinctive - and endearing - expressions.  Here are a few uber-favorite petite treats from her collection and the stories behind them.

Face it, you can't resist this adorable cub either!  This little fellow is called Brimfield, because he was purchased at the Brimfield Antique Fair in Brimfield, MA a few years ago.  He is 10 cm, fully jointed, and made from white mohair.  His nose and mouth are hand embroidered in brown, and his eyes are tiny black buttons.  He does not have any IDs, but is suspected to have a birth date in the 1960's due to his chunkier proportions.   His face truly is as presented - a little crooked - or perhaps a little pensive, depending on what's on his mind.  

Brimfield's pachyderm pal is also made by Steiff.  He is an almost flat, printed blue elephant made out of velour.  He is identical on both sides, and wears a great red headdress and matching blanket.  He measures only 5 cm long and 4 cm tall and has his original Steiff tag, but no button.  This elephant started out life with two other siblings as Steiff's Elephant Pram Toy, a hanging plaything for a baby's stroller or crib.  Steiff's Elephant Pram Toy was made from 1982 through 1985; the company also made a similar themed toy made from printed ducks in the same time frame.

You don't need a Mensa IQ to recognize this next fine fellow as pure genius! Here we have Smarty Pants, named for his big, big head. Steiffgal purchased SP at auction; he was one of several fine treasures in the lot. SP is 10 cm, fully jointed, and made from gold colored mohair. His nose and mouth are hand embroidered in black, and his eyes are tiny black buttons. He has all of his IDs, including his red imprinted chest tag, raised script button, and early and fully legible ear tag reading 5310, dating him to the very early 1950's. He is sort of perfect in every quirky way.

SP likes to horse around with a little wooden rocking pony from F.A.O. Schwarz. The toy itself is beautifully detailed and finished with high gloss paints and stains. It measures about 7 cm long and 7 cm tall. One side reads "100 yrs in Toys 1862-1962" and the other side has the famous F.A.O. Schwarz bell logo printed in gold. The bottom has the word "Germany" printed in black letters. This piece was produced for the toy retailer in honor of the company's centennial, and probably sold through F.A.O.'s world-famous dollhouse department.  

Oh baby! Collectors everywhere will recognize this pouty pal as an early Steiff Teddy Baby. Steiffgal purchased him many years ago on eBay for a song. This Ted is 9 cm tall and fully jointed. His feet and muzzle are made from blond velvet and his body, limbs, and head are made from blond mohair. He has a black hand stitched nose and mouth, and tiny black and brown glass pupil eyes. He retains bits and pieces of his red ear tag and his long trailing "F" style button - dating him in the late 1920's or early 1930's. He has a distinctly old fashioned look to him; he does more closely resemble an older gentleman than a baby.

Bird's the word with Teddy Baby's fine feathered friend. This bitty bird is Steiff's 4 cm woolen miniature Finch bird. He is made from red, black, white, brown, and black Nomotta wool. His beak is made from grey felt and his tail feathers are made from brown felt. He stands upon two darling, bronze colored metal legs and feet.  Finch retains his ankle bracelet style button and tag. This pattern was produced prewar in 4 and 8 cm from 1933 to 1943 overall. This particular Finch was made from 1937 through 1943.

Now its time to hold everything and check out these two adorable pre-war brothers. Isn't it nice how well they play together? Both are 10 cm, fully jointed, and have black bead eyes. The one on the left, Honey Baby, is made from a dark gold colored mohair and has a black nose and mouth. Pip, on the right, is made from white mohair and has a brown nose and mouth. Both were purchased at auctions, several years apart. Honey Baby and Pip retain their long trailing "F" buttons as their Steiff ID. Given their general appearance and proportions, Honey Baby is probably from the 1920's or early 1930's; Pip may date from the 19-teens onward.  

Despite their age difference, these two cubs always seem to have a ball between the two of them! Their bitty ball is made by Steiff and was purchased in the Steiff Sommer sales tent in Giengen a few years ago. It is made from tan and brown mohair and measures all of 2.5 cm in diameter. It was probably manufactured in the last 5 to 10 years as an accessory for another modern Steiff edition. 

Our last miniature highlight never leaves home without a hair out of place. That's because she doesn't have even one left on her supermodel skinny body! Here we have the totally bald yet totally terrific Mouse. Steiffgal adopted Mouse from an estate maybe a decade ago. She is 9 cm tall and fully jointed. She probably was made from white mohair, given her brown hand embroidered nose and mouth. She has particularly petite proportions, as well as the general appearance of Steiff's earliest Teds. Given her long trailing "F" button, she could date as early as 1912.  

If you think Mouse is "minnie," please consider her constant cat companion, Donna. This pretty kitty is only 2.5 cm tall and is made from printed cotton fabric.  Her tiny body is stuffed with cotton, and she wears a perfectly to scale blue ribbon and gold heart pendant. Although Donna was not made by Steiff, she has all the quality and integrity of a Steiff creation. Donna was given to Steiffgal by a good friend who specializes in making historically accurate miniature dollhouse furniture and accessories. 

Steiffgal hopes this miniature bear discussion has warmed your heart in a gigantic way.

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