Nipper, Rolly & Pip: Steiff’s Classic Commercial Canines
Steiff’s Elektrola Fox and an RCA Victor advertisement.
The Steiff Company has a long history of producing character items that are popular in the culture of the times. This almost-century-long tradition goes back to the early 1900s, when Steiff produced a felt version of “Bibendum” in 1913. “Bibendum,” or “Bib,” is the Michelin Tire Man, who is still part of that international tire company’s advertising strategy today! Other early, very famous Steiff collaborations have produced a Peter Rabbit doll, Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls, and a series of characters dolls and playthings from the “Katzenjammer Kids” cartoon series. Of course, dogs have always been favorites—both as commercial characters—such as Snoopy, Lassie and Benji—as well as in the hearts of Steiff collectors. Let’s take a look at three lesser-known collaborations that have resulted in delightful and quite desirable Steiff canine collectibles.
Listen closely to the description behind our first famous canine. This fox terrier is sitting and unjointed. His body is made from white dralon (a synthetic plush like material), which is punctuated with a few brown and black spots. His ears are brown mohair. His face is detailed with large black and brown pupil eyes and a sweet black hand embroidered nose and mouth. He left the factory in Giengen, Germany, wearing a little red leather collar. His head is tilted off slightly to the side, as if he is listening to something. And what could that be?
Yes, this is Nipper, the Elektrola Fox, one of the early logos behind the media company now known as RCA. He is, of course, listening for “His Master’s Voice.” Nipper was produced by Steiff in 12, 17, 25 centimeters from 1968 through 1974. He was also made in a rare 45-cm display size studio piece in 1968 only.
Nipper made his first appearance—with his trusty gramophone—on company literature in 1900. Nipper was named as such as a result of his habit of nipping on people’s heels. He became the company’s official trademark. There are several urban legends behind his soulful expression and body posture. Some believe that he is listening to a recording of the voice of his first master, who passed away in the prime of his life. Although Nipper as a logo debuted more than 100 years ago, and is only used today as part of the marketing behind HMV stores in Europe and the UK, this cute canine is almost universally recognized and is considered to be one of the top 10 famous brands of the 20th century.
[For more about Nipper, read “Advertising History: The Origin of ‘Nipper,’ the RCA Victor Dog]
Steiff’s Rolly Dalmatian and a screenshot from Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.”
The next paparazzi-worthy pup is none other than Rolly Dalmatiner or Rolly Dalmatian. Rolly is standing, unjointed and made from white mohair that has been carefully hand-painted with black spots. He has sweet, large black-and-white google eyes, which give him a playful and baby-like appearance. He wears a thin red collar and Rolly’s tags proclaim that he is “copyright 1961 Walt Disney productions.” He was made in 12 and 22 cm in 1962 only.
Rolly just might be top dog in Disney’s classic animated movie, “101 Dalmatians.” This family favorite flick debuted in 1961 and was based on the book “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith. Rolly was of the named baby Dalmatians in the movie, which introduced the world to puppy parents Pongo and Perdita and perhaps the meanest Disney villain ever, Cruella de Vil. Actress Barbara Baird was the voice behind Rolly. As a point of trivia, Disney animators gave each Dalmatian puppy exactly 32 spots—truly confirming their status as “Spotty Dotties!”
It is interesting to note that a lot of two dogs, including a pristine, 22-cm version of Rolly, was sold at the recent October 2010 Steiff auction at Christie’s in London for close to $1,100!
Steiff’s Pip and a Pip, Squeak &Wilfred puzzle.
Our last commercial canine has a bit of history behind him . . . well actually a lot! This velvet vision is called Pip. He is 10 cm, sitting, and made from green velvet, which has faded over time. He has a swivel head and a yellow inset facial area. His nose is black and hand embroidered; he has a little red tongue and dots on his upper muzzle (perhaps to give the impression of whiskers.) His googly eyes are white, brown and black glass and are adjustable—making many funny facial expressions possible! He has his red ear tag and trailing F button.
Overall, precious Pip appeared in the Steiff line from 1926 through 1931, with one notable exception. He was available sitting (in 8 and 10 cm) and standing (8, 10, 12, and 17 cm). As for materials, he was made in mohair in pink, maize, lavender and brown tipped mohair and in velvet in light blue, green, orange and red. He was also produced as a pincushion in the late 1920s. Interestingly, he made a surprise appearance again in the catalog in 1941 as a 17 cm brown tipped mohair purse.
Pip was quite the celebrity in his time, which many refer to as the Roaring 20s. Pip is based on a dog character from Austin Bowen Payne’s “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” cartoon series. This popular strip was published from 1919 to 1956 in the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper founded in 1903. The beloved cartoon series featured the adventures of an unlikely trio: a dog (Pip), a penguin (Squeak) and rabbit (Wilfred). Because of copyright and legal issues, Steiff was not able to sell Pip in England.
These Steiff dogs are blue ribbon finds and worthy of best of Show at a Westminster Kennel Club event! Like most things of “purebred” nature, they are hard to find and cost a pretty penny. Assuming very good to excellent condition, with at least one form of Steiff ID, the items discussed and pictured above value as follows:
• Nipper the Elektrola Fox can value in the $250 to $500 range;
• Rolly the Dalmatian can value in the $300 to $550 range;
• Velvet Pip can value in the $500 to $1,000 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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