Nippes Novelty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I sometimes feel that, while glorious in many ways, the advent of online auctions has sadly really devastated flea markets. As a result, the ability to wander through acres of other people’s stuff, milling happily through it for hours on end, is not available as it once was – and this means the happy coincidence of finding something you never knew you needed is less likely to occur. I try to have open ended searches that will be inclusive of all items I might be interested in, but it is always a challenge to look for what you don’t know might exist. However, recently I was searching an online auction that seemed to have extremely varied items and somehow I stumbled happily on these. After some fun with the technicalities of signing up for the auction site, I more or less forgot about it for a month until I was notified, much to my extreme pleasure, that I had won them! They came from an auction house devoted to toy soldiers, Old Toy Soldier Auctions of Pittsburgh – once again proving that although we may not be coming across unexpected bits at flea markets any longer, we certainly have access to venues we would not otherwise. I guess it evens out in the end!

These extremely interesting pieces were listed as Souvenirs made by Heyde. While tons of images of toy soldiers and toy soldier sales come up if you google Heyde – it takes a while to find out about them and the non-soldier toys made by them. I owe the description of the company I do have to an eBay seller named Ascot who is auctioning some of the other novelty items (including an alligator who stands on hind legs bearing an umbrella) as I write this. According to Ascot the novelties sold by the company were called Nippes and included a number of variations on this umbrella-animal theme all of them made of a pot metal similar to these. There are no company markings – some of his are marked German, but I don’t see that on these either. Heyde was, as you may have guessed, a German company. It was founded in 1872 by George Carl Adolf Heyde and was completely destroyed in 1945 during the bombing of Dresden. A brief history of toy soldiers offers that the small lead ones were too expensive to be popular at first, but eventually caught on with the wealthy and became a status toy of choice at the turn of the century.

From what I can see looking at Heyde non-soldier Nippes – the quality is a bit all over the place. Some of the execution is much more slapdash and others, like these, finely executed. They had a line of instrument playing cat band nodders which I would be mad for if a bit more care had been taken in their making.

I have no way of knowing if these figures were sold together and meant as a set or if they just ended up that way. They have a nice heft to them which is one of the things I miss in similar objects made later. These were novelties made to withstand time – and they have.

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