My passion for collecting dolls and bears spans over half a century. There’s a photo of me at 4 hours old in my Mom’s bed, reaching for a Teddy bear that was only a few inches out of my reach. My favorite childhood doll, who still keeps me company in my study, is a 1967 Mattel African American “Thumbelina.” When you pull her string, her head rotates like a real baby. My paternal Grandmother was a collector, and even though we did not see each other often, I fondly recall talking about dolls and bears with her on our occasional trips across the country to visit her in California. Today, and I am the proud steward of many of her childhood treasures.
Although I own a few vintage Sasha and Terri Lee dolls, Steiff dolls are by far my favorites. I own about 40 pre-1950 Steiff dolls. Most are felt; my animal-dolls are mohair and felt. Steiff’s early dolls are very hard to find in good or better condition, so there is a real sense of accomplishment when I welcome a new addition to the collection. The felt dolls are rare for two key reasons. First, Steiff’s heyday doll period really only lasted for a few decades at the turn of last century, and not that many were made over this short period of time. And second, few survive because of their material, which tends to invite insect damage even under the best circumstances.
My prewar Steiff doll collection includes a few favorite categories, including “men in uniforms,” children dolls, storybook figures, and animal-dolls. Here are my favorites from each category - at least as of today!
Steiff’s 30 cm “Boyscout Bob,” gets my salute in this category. His head and friendly face are detailed with black button eyes, large ears, hand painted facial features, and painted brown hair. He wears black lace up boots made from oilcloth; blue and black wool knitted legwarmer socks; blue felt shorts; a real brown leather belt with a metal buckle; a beige felt collared shirt with pockets and epaulets; and a matching beige felt hat with a leather chin strap. When he was new, he had a long wooden staff in his right hand. He was produced in this size only from 1909-1919 as an exclusive for the British market; his outfit exactly matches those worn by British Boy Scouts during the time of his production.
|Steiff from the Rebekah Kaufman Collection|
Head of the class goes to this 28 cm “Alida” Dutch girl. She was made from 1909-1919 in 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm; her blue and black glass pupil eyes suggest she was made in the middle to the end of this time frame. Alida is cataloged in reference books as "felt, jointed, Dutchwoman, original costume, Sunday best." By "original costume" Steiff means that their dolls are dressed in apparel that is traditional to a country - in this case, the Netherlands. And by "Sunday best", that would imply "fancier" clothing for going to Church on Sunday, which makes sense in the case of Alida given her elaborately embroidered dress bodice and red cuffs.
One selection in this category has always dwarfed all the others. My favorite here is a little man named Puck. Puck is 20 cm and is very charismatic for his size. His face is detailed with shiny black eyes; a comical, round nose; an open, smiling mouth; ruddy cheeks, large ears; and a very long, white mohair beard. He has large, clown-like felt hands and very skinny fabric legs. His clothes, which are integral to his body, consist of a light blue felt jacket, a brown felt shirt, and blue and white cotton calico pants. He dons a triangular shaped yellow mohair hat. He has proportionally very large feet and is wearing denim blue colored fabric boots. Puck was produced in 20, 30, and 40 cm from 1914-1943. The smallest size Puck was often pictured in company literature at the helm of a wooden cart pulled by four tiny Steiff rabbits or ducks.
I think Steiff’s delightful vintage “pupp-animals” are the best of all worlds. These animal dolls, had the heads of popular Steiff characters, the bodies of dolls, and carefully tailored outfits. My favorite here is this 22 cm pug dog doll. His arms hang softly at his sides, and he has flat feet for standing. Pug's head, ears, and the tops of his hands and feet are (or in this case were) made from mohair. His body is made from a tan linen fabric. He is filled both with soft stuffing and crunchy excelsior. His head and face come to life with floppy ears, oversized black and brown glass pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, a pink mouth, and a distinct brown inset muzzle area. He is dressed in brown cotton pants, a tan checked shirt, and a light grey-blue felt tam-o-shanter style hat. This dog doll was made in 14, 22, and 28 cm from 1932-1935. Each size came in six different clothing styles, which included pajamas, swimsuits, dresses, and play suits.
Yes, for better or worse, they have evolved towards more expensive, harder to find dolls. I also am much more sensitive to condition than I was in the past. I think that happens a lot with enthusiasts who have had the pleasure of collecting and studying a category closely over a long period of time.
I like dolls (and most things as well) that have a quirky or playful nature to them. These always make me laugh, and I love to laugh (and make others laugh as well.) That probably explains why Bob, Puck, and the pug doll are favorites. I also love dolls that have a great story or provenance to them. For example, Alida was given to her previous owner in the 1930’s by friends of her parents after their invalid daughter (born in the early 1920's) died. And, I often name new additions to my collections after their first owners, in order to keep their spirit alive.
Gosh no. I can’t even make toast! I sincerely admire those collectors who do sew for their dolls. Several of my colleagues from Doll Study Club of Boston and Doll Collectors of America make the most outstanding outfits for their dolls; their work is truly museum quality.
If I had an audience with Santa or FAO Schwarz, I would ask for three things. The first would be a 1921-1927 Steiff “Aprico-Process” doll, complete with its bearhead pendant. These dolls were designed by Steiff freelancer Albert Schlopsnies are are seldom if ever seen on the secondary market - if anywhere - because of their rarity and fragility. The second would be a Steiff Shockheaded Peter doll; these were made from 1909-1927. Steiff did a great job capturing the essence of this favorite literary character down to his long leather fingernails - which are just mind-blowing. And finally, I would treasure one of Steiff’s earliest fully jointed pupp-dolls, including a Bully the Bulldog doll, Charly the King Charles Spaniel Doll, or Treff, the Bloodhound doll. Each were produced in 28 cm from 1929-1930. I have had the pleasure of cataloging and valuing a Bully doll for a client, and seeing a Charly doll at auction. I have never actually handled a Treff doll, so maybe he’d be the one I would request.
I feel truly blessed that I have been able to make my hobby my vocation on many levels. I am very grateful for the people, companies, and organizations who have helped make that possible over time. There are no greater pleasures for me than talking to another enthusiasts about their passions, helping collectors find items on their wish lists, or lovingly managing the collection re-homing process. My work at Morphy’s, Steiff, and through my blog, which can be found at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com, makes this all possible.