C’mon, Get Happy with Steiff’s Comical Clowns

Steiff’s first version of its “Clownie” doll from 1954 through 1955; here pictured in 14 and 19 cm.

Ah, spring. The days are getting longer, and in many parts of the country, sweet signs of life are beginning to appear . . . a welcomed crocus budding on the front yard, squirrels scampering about and an occasional bird song, too! It’s certainly time to get happy . . . and there are no better happiness “ambassadors” then Steiff’s clowns! Let’s take a timely look at these endearing entertainers and see what makes them so interesting—and fun—from a collector’s perspective.

It’s no joke to say that Steiff has a long and playful legacy of producing wonderfully comical clowns! From what I can tell, the first clown appeared in the Steiff catalog in 1894 as a 28-centimeter doll with a soft body and colorful clothing, including a felt hat, ruff and harlequin-patterned suit. From the early part of last century through the 1940s, Steiff produced clowns in many forms, including elaborately dressed felt clown dolls, ball-dolls (figures with a goofy ball shaped body and “normal” limbs), musical figures, pom-pom characters, hand puppets, and roly-polys (on half-spheres that wobble about). Even Teddy bears got into the Steiff “clown” act for a few years! Dressed in a felt pom-pommed hat and colorful neck ruff, these comical cubs were available in 15, 17, 20, 22, 25, 28, 32, 35, 43, 50 and 80 cm from 1926 through 1930.

Steiff clowns really hit the global spotlight in the early 1950s. The first, and perhaps most collectible post-WWII clown doll, was a delightful little funnyman in the line only from 1954 through 1955. Aptly named “Clownie,” he was made in 14 and 19 cm. He was attired in a green felt jacket, black felt pants, a red-and-white striped shirt, a pink bow and yellow-green felt shoes. His finishing touches included a red felt hat and big white gloves. This Clownie design is very rare and collectible due to his extremely limited time in the catalog.

Shortly after Clownie was retired from the line, Steiff launched another clown doll to the world, confusingly also named “Clownie.” This second design had much longer staying power, and was in the line from 1956 through 1975. The second Clownie wore blue-felt patched pants (patches were on the front and back of his trousers), a white calico shirt, a red bow and black felt shoes. Like the first Clownie, the second one also donned white gloves and a felt hat. The smallest Clownies had hard rubber heads and bodies, while those 19 cm and larger had fabric bodies with movable arms.

Steiff’s second version of its “Clownie” doll from 1956 through 1975; here pictured in 14 cm.

Steiff”s cheery “Happy” clown hand puppet from 1963 through 1974.

In terms of sizes, Clownie 2 was manufactured in 14, 19 and 43 cm. He was also available as a 120-cm display piece by special order. (I have also come across a 43-cm sized Clownie with a music box embedded in his back, but have never seen reference to this unusual model in any Steiff catalog or reference.) The 43-cm Clownies had very long, thin necks, which tended to snap or crack over time. As a result, it very unusual to find a 43 cm Clownie in very good or excellent condition today based on this structural issue.

It is interesting to note that the production methods for both Clownies are based on lessons that Steiff learned from the large-scale manufacturing of both the Mecki and Micki hedgehog dolls from the early 1950s.

Another lesser-known Steiff clown, whose production time overlapped with the second Clownie, was a jolly jester named Schlenkerpuppe, or Cappy Floppy Doll. This silly softie stood 28 cm and was produced from 1968 through 1974. He was unjointed and designed for fun and play. Cappy had a plastic head, yellow felt cap with a bell, while felt glove hands and red felt feet. His costume was a red and blue artificial silk “harlequin” style suit with a white felt neck ruff.

In addition to dolls, Steiff also produced clowns as puppets. Three outstanding ones come immediately to mind. Two are relatively well known, but one is so unusual that it doesn’t appear in the “Steiff Sortiment” books, the gold standard reference tomes for collectors around the world!

The first well-known post war Steiff clown puppet was called “Happy” or “Hand-Punch Happy.” This perky puppet was 17-cm tall and was detailed with red and gold felt clothing, red wool pom-poms and a white felt neck ruff. He wore a gold felt hat with a bell on the end and white felt gloves. He was in the line from 1963 through 1974; those up to 1972 had plastic heads, those after 1972 had softer PVC heads.

Notice Happy’s face and head? It is the same as Cappy’s as mentioned above. Steiff also used this very popular face and head for other dolls, including a caveman and a sandman and for puppets including Blacky the Chimney Sweep; these were produced in the same general time frame as Happy and Cappy.

The second post-war clown puppet produced was based on Steiff’s “Clownie 2” doll design. Recognizing a good thing when it had one, Steiff produced this pattern as a 17-cm hand puppet from 1967 through 1976. Clownie had a blue felt body with red and yellow patches, a white collar, bow tie, black felt hat and white gloves. He had a plastic head from 1967 through 1973, and a PVC head from 1974 through 1976.

Steiff”s cheery “Happy” clown hand puppet from 1963 through 1974.

Steiff’s traditional male “Clownie” hand puppet from 1967 through 1976.

Now for something completely different—in so many ways. This final post-war clown puppet was also called “Clownie” and was somewhat based on the “Clownie 2” design. However, unlike her brothers before and after, she was distinctively feminine in appearance and is the only “girl clown” I can think of in Steiff’s entire history of production. Clownie was produced exclusively for the high-end toy store FAO Schwarz in the mid-1960s and appeared in its catalogs for a few years; this is perhaps the only print reference to her anywhere!

Clownie was about 17 inches top to bottom. Her head was made from plastic and was detailed with a shock of red mohair hair and sweet facial painting in black, teal, white and red. She had a white Peter Pan-style felt collar and a blue felt body. The front of her dress was accented with three red woolen pom-poms. Her hands were made from flesh colored felt. This puppet is so unusual that most collectors do not know of her existence. Believe it or not, I found this Clownie on eBay and was the only bidder—and paid less than $15 for her!

Steiff’s seldom seen female “Clownie” hand puppet, an exclusive for FAO Schwarz in the 1960’s.

Vintage clowns are a delightful way to add a little humor and levity to any Steiff collection. Except for the FAO Schwarz exclusive puppet, most post-war models are relatively accessible and appear on the secondary market with some frequency.

In terms of value, assuming full ID and very good to excellent condition, early Clownie dolls from 1954 through 1955 may value in the $125 to $300 range, while later Clownie dolls from 1956 through 1975 may value in the $75 to $200 range. The Cappy doll may value in the $75 to $200 range. The Happy and traditional Clownie hand puppets both may value in the $50 to $150 range. Finally, the FAO Schwarz exclusive Clownie female hand puppet may value in the $350 to $500 range.

Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.

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