Steiff

 

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.

Cat Chair (episode 2)

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: My constant searching for photos of people posing with Felix has also introduced me to what turned out to be a broader world of people posing with a variety of novel things. As readers of Pictorama know, the souvenir photo postcard operation of the 1920’s and beyond could focus around a stuffed Mickey Mouse, Felix, Spark Plug (Barney Google’s horse) and these very large black cats. In one of my earliest posts I featured the first of these cards I purchased – Giant Cat Chair. I own three cat chair photos altogether and would love to acquire more, but they appear quite rarely. One of the most noteworthy things is that the cat is definitely a different one in each so there was a number of places – all of these from Britain – where you could pose with a big cat chair. This one appears to be a smallish-large cat chair – just the right size for this little tyke – and the tongue sticking out is different than any of the others I have. Also, this one has the remarkable feature of his tail sticking straight up in the air. This one looks the most of all like a Steiff toy cat, but very, extra large.

The card itself is smaller than regulation size postcard, closer to a photograph than a photo postcard, but postal ready on the back. The writing on the back (which was never sent) appears to say Alan 18 month Cliftonville 192. (I wonder if they meant to write 1920? If so, it is a bit of a sobering thought to consider that little Alan would have been old enough to fight for England in WWII.) Cliftonville is hard to read, but likely since that appears to be a seaside area in Margate. While having a fast look at images from Cliftonville I found this rather splendid image on Reddit of a beauty contest in Cliftonville in 1936.

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Beauty Contest, Cliftonville, England 1936

 

Despite the glories of the seaside park in general, the general background of this card is a bit tatty. The wooden building behind little Alan is sort of interesting, with a bit of gingerbread design on it, but in the distance we see an iron fence and a large building that appears to be an apartment house. In general, if a seaside resort, the area they have chosen for cat chair photos is a bit down at the heels and sad. The kid, Alan, is well dressed, (I love the little belt on his top) is well turned out and clearly enjoying a holiday or special day at the shore.

Tatty scenery or not, I would have loved to have my photo taken astride this kitty – and it would be a tight fit, but he’d look pretty good in my living room today as well for that matter should he turn up on eBay one of these days.

 

 

Loaded for Bear

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: For those of you who are following my recent trip to France, this little bear was purchased at Antic Toys Dolls, in Lyon – my first toy purchase that day.  I don’t collect teddy bears, but on rare occasion, a bear calls out to me and is purchased. This one is very small, only about five inches, fully jointed. The salesperson, with his very limited English, told me that it was Steiff, but I don’t believe there is any evidence it is, although a very nicely made bear indeed. What I love about Steiff teddy bears, and occasional other bears, is a real human look in the eyes and this bear does have a very sweet and serious face.

If I was very wealthy, there would be select teddy bears I would work to add to my collection. One is this Dean’s Rag Company black bear below. I love not only his expression, but the idea that he has claw footed bear-ish feet!

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Dean’s Black Bear (sadly) not in my collection

 

And I would also own a very early Steiff. This one is a good example and I would scoop him up in a second if I could too.

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Early Steiff Bear, not in my collection

 

I do not remember for sure where I purchased this small white bear below with his somewhat baffled expression. Like my latest purchase, he is fully jointed, but about ten inches. The threads coming off his nose give him a unplanned Chaplin-esque look. I am not positive, but I think I may have brought him back from a flea market in Berlin (where I also purchased an alligator evening bag and a German cat ad cut-out, future post) or a junk store in Dresden on the same trip. Perhaps bears appeal most to me when I am looking for a bit of the comfort way on the other side of the ocean.

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Kim introduced me to the song The Teddy Bears’ picnic when we first got together and I am crazy about it. I offer it for your enjoyment here: The Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Subsequently, we were introduced to this incredible short (a sort of Goldie Locks Teddy Rooselvelt killing cute bears) which has a fascinating interlude where animated Steiff bears romp in the middle, The “Teddy” Bears 1907. This one leaves me shaking my head – but you don’t forget it!

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Sheet music cover, not in my collection