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Size Does Not Dwarf the Appeal of this Precious Vintage Steiff Doll

by Rebekah Kaufman (02/13/12).

Steiff’s Zwerg Puck or Dwarf Puck, stands 20-centimeters tall and is five-ways jointed. He is quite detailed and very charismatic for his size!

Every enthusiast has extra-special items in their collections—a certain piece that just take a Gold Medal for its rarity, design or simply the story behind the piece. Here is one of those treasures from my hug of more than 700 vintage Steiff collectibles.

The Item:
Sometimes small is big—very big—when it comes to vintage Steiff finds. And such is the case with this petite and very playful Steiff doll!

What we have here Steiff’s Zwerg Puck or Dwarf Puck, who stands 20-centimeters tall and is five-ways jointed. He is quite detailed and very charismatic for his size! His face, a classic “center seam” design, is made from felt and 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 has donned a triangular-shaped yellow mohair hat. He has very large feet (proportionally) and is wearing denim blue-colored fabric boots.

His History and Design Legacy:

Puck’s clothes consist of a light blue felt jacket, a brown felt shirt and blue and white cotton calico pants. He has donned a triangular-shaped yellow mohair hat and is wearing denim blue-colored fabric boots. Since he was in production for a relatively long time, the clothes has changed over the years.

Puck is part of Steiff’s Golden Era of felt doll production, which basically lasted from the very early 1900s through 1950. Steiff launched a series of “charakterpuppe” or caricatured dolls around 1903; most were made entirely from felt and were five-ways jointed. They had a vertical seam down the middle of their faces and black button eyes, often with comical, exaggerated features—such as extremely lean or rotund bodies, huge feet or cartoon-like faces. Models representing sportsmen, postmen, firemen, policemen and members of the military were all produced in the “caricature” style. Despite their “distorted” body shapes, all had exquisitely handmade clothing created from the finest materials, buttons, trims and ribbons.

Around 1909, Steiff began creating more “realistically proportioned” playful, fun dolls, including cherubic-looking children, students and dolls dressed in authentic costumes from foreign lands. As part of this series, they also created fun “story book” characters, including the casts from “Max and Moritz,” “The Katzenjamer Kids,” “Hansl and Gretl” and other popular books and legends of the time.

Dwarfs are a beloved part of German culture and folklore, as well. As a result, Steiff created many of them in the 1911 though 1943 time frame. Puck—by far the cutest of the Steiff dwarfs—was produced in 20, 30 and 40 cm from 1914 through 1943. The smallest-size Puck was often pictured in company literature at the helm of a small wooden cart pulled by four 10-cm Steiff rabbits or tiny ducks.

In addition, because of his longevity in the line, his outfit changed slightly over time, with variations in the color and material used. This was most likely dependent on what was available on hand in the factory as he was being produced.

Like all Steiff dolls, he sports the identifying button in his ear.

Why He’s So Special to Me:
I had always wanted a Puck but, like many pre-war designs, they so seldom come onto the secondary market. I was visiting a Steiff-loving friend in Hawaii, and we were sharing our lists of dream finds. I had mentioned to her that I had always wanted a Puck, as I found his long beard, fun yellow mohair hat and expression so irresistible. She looked away, started typing something on her laptop computer and pulled up the website of a dealer friend of hers in the United Kingdom. Right smack dab in the middle of the page was a listing for my beloved Puck! I could not believe my eyes! I tried to hide my enthusiasm and, of course give her first dibs if she wanted him, as she was the one who discovered him. But no, she said he was meant for me. So I took her up on that right away!

As soon as I returned to my home in New England, I placed my order for Puck. A few weeks later he arrived, beautifully and safely wrapped for his journey across the pond. I could not be more pleased with him. He now spends his time with other Steiff friends of his period, including a few special Teddy bear and a sitting Schnauzer.

His Value:
Steiff’s Puck so seldom comes on the market that it is challenging to assign a true value to this unusual item. Over the past decade or so, a handful have sold at major European auctions in the $400 to $600 range. Here in the United States, Steiff dolls do not have the same interest and draw as they seem to overseas; this might have to do with their designs and general cultural themes. As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it, and Steiff rarities will always generate interest and will without a doubt appreciate over time. It is my best guestimate that Puck in the United States today values in the $300 to $500 range.

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

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