Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I think it is fair to say that given any opportunity where I might ferret out a Pictorama worthy toy I am likely to achieve. After the first five minutes at yesterday’s East Coast Comic Con (Deitch Studio was fully represented and I did a somewhat real time post of our day which can be found here – for those of you who are wondering the cold I was fighting bloomed overnight, now complete with chesty baritone cough) I rapidly assessed it as not the kind of gathering that would produce much antique toy fodder. While I was generally right about that, I did find this little guy stuffed away on a shelf while Kim and I took a break wandering the con.
This little bear breaks several of the Pictorama essential guiding principles of toy purchase: he’s a teddy bear (I own very few and I have written about those here), made by the Steiff company, and a reproduction. Don’t get me wrong, teddy bears are wonderful and it is only because they are such a deep rabbit hole to go down that I generally have excluded them as potentially overwhelming my limited resources of space and funds. (Some early examples of Steiff bears have gone for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, but I could easily do a lot of damage at the hundreds of dollars level myself.) I have seen several that would indeed tempt me, but fortunately I generally don’t run across those rarified items and do not go looking for them.
If I did buy teddy bears many would actually probably be Steiff, as I have always felt that somehow the antique Steiff produced bears have an extraordinarily life-like and human look in their eye. They are unquestionably, beautifully made. For those of you who aren’t in the toy know, Steiff is sort of the gold standard of early stuffed toys, marked by a metal button and tag in the left ear of the toy. Started in Germany in 1880 by a Margarete Steiff, a seamstress who created a line of elephant pincushions which evolved into toys, Steiff evolved into a world renown toy maker. Margarete’s own story is an interesting one of perseverance as she was left paralyzed and never walked after an infantile illness.
With the help of her siblings and others Margarete attended school and ultimately bought a sewing machine, starting her own tailoring business which morphed into plush toys. A favorite nephew drew animals at the zoo for designs (hence the elephant and then the introduction of other animals) and his bear was turned into a plush toy, purchased in volume by an American company. It was this mohair fellow that was, in 1906, then christened the Teddy Bear in honor of Teddy Roosevelt. The toy company, whose motto was, Für Kinder ist nur das Beste gut genug! – for children, only the best is good enough! Well over a hundred years later the company still thrives today. (There is a strange and wonderful silent short from the teens where Steiff bears are animated into a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story – the toy bears are shot at the end by a Roosevelt-like character.)
So, now my Pictorama friends are wondering, why isn’t my collection chock a block full of Steiff cats? They did indeed make cats, including one model of my friend Felix, which has long eluded me as a very expensive item. Strangely, while I find the teddy bears very alluring and compelling, I have never been that charmed by their cats. A few small examples have wandered into my collection and I posted about them once before. (That post can be found here.) However, there is not much variation and somehow they lack an essential humanity (so to speak) of some of the bears.
Lastly, I rarely buy contemporary toys. The quality and sometimes patina of old toys is generally what interests me and I am rarely charmed by new toys. I have occasionally made exceptions however, for something especially well made or otherwise compelling. (I made an exception for a few toys by a company called Hansa which makes beautiful toys representing a vast variety of animals. I own a rooster and a beaver and my post about them can be found here – definitely an avenue of collecting that could easily swamp my resources!)
I have been aware of this line of reproduction Steiff bears. These were expensive toys when they were sold new and used fetch a generous amounts in resale too, as much as a few hundred dollars. I had never seen one in person and frankly I was amazed at how well the reproduction matches the quality and feeling of the original toys. Steiff was clearly aware that their reproduction was good enough to fool a casual observer and therefore it is well marked with its ear tag as a coll ed 1987 replica 1913.
According to the tag which Steiff used mohair and traditional (kapok) stuffing, pads of felt, as well as hand embroidery. As someone who handles antique toys daily, for me he truly has the look, feel and heft of an original toy – slightly prickly mohair and all. I am very impressed with all aspects of him. His arms and legs move independently, although his head does not turn. The label mentions a voice box which I find no evidence of – neither functionally, nor can I locate by feeling his body.
As I mentioned, he has his original tag with some history as well as his ear tag. Our fellow is identified as a Circus Bear. He was available in a selection of colors; green and yellow variations are available online, but a photo shows blue and red too. For the princely sum of $30 Kim purchased him for me yesterday and now he resides in the Pictorama collection, welcomed among his antique and largely feline brethren.