Saturday, March 17, 2018

Go To The Head of The Class With This Amazing Steiff Student Doll

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Well, when it comes to Steiff, there is always something new to learn, no matter how old you are - or how many years you've been studying all things button-in-ear! Such is the case with this marvelous and extraordinarily rare black doll, best known through a Steiff schoolroom display from the turn of last century. (But more about that in a bit!) This "head of the class" little fellow belongs to a dear friend of Steiffgal. And boy does she have a schoolgirl crush on him indeed! Come see what makes him so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

This delightful doll is cataloged as "Negro Boy" in the Steiff literature. He is 35 cm, standing, fully jointed - including special knee joints - and made from light brown felt. These knee joints allow him to sit easily and comfortably. He has the typical Steiff vertical facial seam and a quilted, set-in mouth and red painted lips. He comes to life with very unusual tri-colored, almond shaped glass eyes, prominent and dimensional ears, and distinctive hair made from black curled wool material. His outfit, which is correct in design but not original to him, consists of a striped shirt, red vest, and plaid pants. Unlike many of the Steiff dolls of his time, this pattern is purposely barefoot. He was produced in this size only from 1912 through 1918.

Now for a little history lesson on him. This boy was produced at a key time in the company's doll history. Starting in 1911, the company began manufacturing dolls representing different far away countries and dressing them accordingly. They were referred to as "nation types." These included a Mexican cowboy, a Sinhalese girl from Sri Lanka, and a man and a woman from Argentina, among several others. These were all idealized as well as stereotypical in design, with exaggerated facial features and detailing, dramatic skin tones, and perfectly-to-scale national outfits. It is very possible that this line was designed by Albert Schlopsnies, Steiff's creative consultant who was hired to help grow the company's doll line and marketshare starting around 1910.

Prior to Steiff's nation types doll series, Steiff did make dolls in local attire (like their series of German farmers starting in 1908) as well as dolls dressed in regional outfits (like their Dutch children also starting in 1908.) However, unlike the nation type dolls that had specific ethnic features, coloration, and distinctive outfits, the dolls in local attire or regional outfits were standard line dolls dressed in outfits that were slightly modified in shape, form, or proportion - not entirely new patterns.  The Dutch girl, Alida, is shown here on the left. She was She was made from 1909 through 1919 in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm.  She is described as "felt, jointed, Dutchwoman, original costume, Sunday best." "Sunday best" most likely meant she was wearing special or more upscale clothing for church - not an everyday outfit.

It's a clothes-call when it comes to Negro Boy's outfit. It is based on the clothing worn by schoolboys in a c. 1911 display. A photo of this display appears above, the picture is from the Cieslik's Button in Ear The History of the Teddy Bear and His Friends. In the photo you can see a black teacher giving a multiplication lesson to a classroom of black schoolboys. In the front rows are boys in yellow vests and red and white striped shirts; behind them are boys in orange vests and green and white striped shirts. Perhaps these different "uniforms" reflect the the boys' ages or grades. This one room school display is almost identical in theme to the company's one room school display featuring white children. You can read more about that display here.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this adorable Steiff schoolboy has you feeling like a genius!

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

This Pre-War Steiff Siamy Is Simply The Cat's Meow

It's always fun to add a little something unexpected to your Steiff meow mix! And such is the case with this wonderful feline treasure that snuck in on little cat's feet. Steiff's Siamy Siamese cats have been favorites with collectors since their introduction in 1930. Check out this very vintage version and see what makes her purr-fect in every way.

Despite being a bit mohair challenged, this pretty kitty has quite the tail to tell. She is 22 cm, sitting, head jointed, and made from mohair - tan on her body and head, and brown on her ears, muzzle, front legs, back foot pads, and tail. You can see traces of brown airbrushed highlights on her face. Her face comes to life with blue and black slit pupil style glass eyes and a simple pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. 
Her red claws are also hand embroidered. She proudly retains only one of her original clear monofilament whiskers. She has a non-working squeaker in her belly and sports a teeny tiny long trailing "F" button as her Steiff ID. Sitting, mohair Siamy was made in 14, 17, 22, 25, and 30 cm from 1930 through 1932 and then again from 1934 through 1942 overall. 

Given how many cat-calls she received from collectors, Siamy was produced in a number of forms. She appeared as a tail turns head model in 15, 18, 23, 26, and 31 cm from 1931 through 1933, and in wool plush in 14, 17, 22, 25, and 30 from 1930 through 1932. Siamy-inspired novelties included a 17 cm hand puppet called Punch Siamy that appeared in the line from 1930 though 1934 and a 30 x 30 cm Siamy pajama bag that appeared in the line from 1930 through 1937. The puppet and pajama bag are both incredibly rare on the secondary market.  Steiffgal has only dreamed about the Siamy pajama bag, and has only handled one Siamy puppet in over four decades of collecting all things button-in-ear. 

Siamy used one of her nine lives to reintroduce herself into the Steiff catalog after the company reopened for toymaking business at the conclusion of World War II. However, she was only made in 11, 15, and 23 cm from 1953 through 1954. The post-war pattern had several key design updates over the pre-war pattern. To see these obvious differences, compare the photos above! The cat on the left is a prewar 22 cm Siamy and the cat on the right is a postwar 23 cm Siamy. 

Specifically, these update included:

  • The postwar model was distinctively more plump and rounded than the prewar model.
  • The postwar model had its tan mohair tail and front legs painted brown, while the prewar model had a brown mohair tail and front legs. 
  • The postwar model appeared with either an open or closed mouth. Steiffgal has only seen closed mouthed prewar models. 
  • The postwar models had a somewhat inverted triangular shaped muzzle and forehead construction, while the prewar models had a simpler, rounded muzzle. 
  • The medium and largest postwar models had felt lined ears and the smallest had felt ears. Prewar Siamy cats all had brown mohair ears. 
But one thing about Siamy's pattern didn’t change significantly over time—she retained her famous trademark blue eyes which continue to melt the hearts of collectors almost 90 years after her debut.

Steiffgal hopes that this little discussion on Steiff's Siamys has been the cat's meow for you.

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

This Tiny, Turn of Last Century Steiff Pomeranian Is The Wheel-Deal Indeed!

What's the "best of all worlds" Steiff find for you? Everyone certainly has their own take on what that might be. For Steiffgal, that would include a small, prewar dog on wheels with ID with an interesting history. So it was a real treat when she was recently asked to help rehome just that from a fine estate in Ohio. Apparently his previous owner had a real life Pom, so its clear why this treasure was a crown jewel in her collection. So without further "pom" and circumstance, check out this petite treat and see what makes her so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.  

This little gal is the wheel-deal indeed. She's an early standing and unjointed 17 cm Steiff Pomeranian on wheels. Her legs, face, and ears are made from felt and her body and tail are made from lovely long mohair. Both started out more white but have mellowed to a vanilla color over time. Pom's adorable face is detailed with prominent seams, early black shoebutton eyes, a thin hand embroidered brown nose and mouth, and a touch of tan paint on her nose. Her legs are quite firm and appear to lined in metal rods to support her. These rods end at the tips of her paws in loops. These loops in turn secure her to the axles that connect to her metal wheels. Each wheel measures about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and has four spokes.

In terms of age and marks, this pretty Pom retains her tiny long trailing "F" Steiff button in ear as her ID. She was produced in 17, 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm (measured top of head to toe, sans wheels) from 1902 through 1929 overall. This design appeared exclusively on metal wheels through 1916/17; as such, she was certainly made at the beginning of her manufacturing time frame.   

Pomeranian dogs are a legacy design for Steiff. The company's earliest felt and mohair Poms were manufactured in many configurations, including sitting, jointed, on a pincushion, and on wheels - like the example under discussion today. An interesting, unusual, and rare five ways jointed version was produced with its legs jointed and attached to the back end interior of the body torso - not along the outside of the hip area as typically seen. A great example of Steiff's Pom pincushion is shown here on the left; this item realized $700 in January, 2018 at a Theriaults doll auction. The photo is from Theriaults.

It goes without saying these antique Poms are charming - and charmed! Every turn of last century Pom that left the Steiff factory in Germany was decorated with a red cord with two pom-poms or tassels. This gave the dogs an undeniably “regal” appearance. The breed does have some connections to German royalty, which may explain why Steiff decorated them like “little kings.” Steiff's earliest Poms also have enormous appeal to vintage doll collectors, who love to pose them alongside antique dolls from the same era.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on Steiff's early Pomeranian dogs has unleashed your desire to add one to your collection someday!

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Spinning A Yarn Over This Unusual Steiff Woolen Miniature Teddy Bear

Are you ready for yet(i) another Steiff treasure? This one is so unusual that its hard to believe it was really made by Steiff - but it was, and at a really challenging time in history. Take a look at this small white Teddy bear that Steiffgal recently purchased on eBay. Despite its obvious condition issues, its rarity and unusual form make it simply irresistible!  Come take a look at what makes this "blizzard baby" so interesting from the design and historical perspectives.

This "abominable snowman" looking sweetie is actually Steiff's woolen miniature Teddy bear. He measures 22 cm tall standing and is made from white wool yarn "pom-poms" supported by a small wire skeleton in his torso. His coloring has aged to a mellow vanilla over time - perhaps to match his laid-back personality today! His arms and legs are probably string jointed; they hang loosely at his sides but can be moved about. His two half-circle shaped ears are made from white mohair. His very simple face comes to life with two brown and black glass pupil eyes. When he was new, he had a very small black hand painted nose and mouth. He retains his short trailing "f" Steiff button in ear. According to the 1892-1943 Sortiment, this really unusual design was produced in 22 cm from 1936 through 1938. 

It is clear that Old Yeti today has a face only a mother (or a diehard Steiff collector) could love. But it was not always that way. He started out life looking like the bear pictured here on the right. The photo is from Christies, from their October 2010 Steiff sale. He is cataloged here as "A Steiff Wool Pom-Pom Teddy Bear, (5522), standing, white, brown and black glass eyes and FF button with yellow cloth tag, 1936-1938 - 9in. (23 cm.) high." The catalog also notes, "Only 955 examples of this bear were made between 1936 and 1938." This tissue-new example realized GBP 5,250 at auction.

Despite old Yeti's appearance today, you can still make out some of the traditional Teddy bear features Steiff was trying to capture in this woolen miniature version. These are most prominent in the shape of his limbs. His arms do feature clearly curved wrists and suggest small hand paws. And his legs are also defined with proportional feet. These shapes are not wired and it is hard to figure out how Steiff pulled this off using pom-poms, but they did. Steiffgal suspects that the ears are mohair as they would be able to support and sustain a button-in-ear while a pom-pom version could not. You can see a close up of Old Yeti's button in ear here on the left. 

Old Yeti has a great yarn to spin.  He is a part of the company's long history of woolen miniature production. The very first woolies, introduced in 1931, were a series of six birds. Each was a different color and made in 4 or 8 cm. They had metal legs and feet and felt beaks and tails. They wore their buttons and earflags as tiny “ankle bracelets” around their sturdy legs. Soon after, Steiff added rabbits, cats, mice, monkeys, ducks and other animals to their line. Despite their proportions, most had jointed heads and, where appropriate, charming details that included tiny metal legs; felt beaks, wings and ears; colorful slippers; and headwear, including bonnets, top hats and lacy veils. Most of the standard line woolies were made in the 5 to 15 cm size range; this Teddy bear was among the largest if not the largest sized "miniature" produced. You can see a small collection of Steiff's prewar woolen miniature birds here on the left.

Collectors can certainly admire Steiff for trying to create a Teddy bear in the woolie style.  And, given his years of production - when mohair fabrics were in short supply but wool threads less so - could understand why the company would use this type of material in its Teddy bear production strategy.  

Steiffgal hope this discussion on Steiff's prewar woolen miniature bears has added a few Teddy hugs to your day.

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