Two Steiff Jocko the Chimps from the 1910-1920 time frame; The one on the left is a dark brown fellow in absolute pristine condition (sitting on a modern-day Steiff play block) while the other is a very loved, but still proud, Jocko puppet.
The Steiff Company of Germany is probably best known for creating the first Teddy bear in 1902. For many people, giving or receiving a Steiff Teddy bear is more than just a generous act; it’s the kind of exchange that says, “this moment, and you, are extraordinarily special.” Besides Teddy bears, however, Steiff also has a history of creating other species that are so unique that enthusiasts may collect them exclusively. One of these species is Jocko the Chimpanzee. This playful, joyous primate first made his appearance in the Steiff line in 1909. Let’s take a look at Jocko’s history and what makes him such a Steiff celebrity.
Monkeys are a legacy item for Steiff, so much so that they are featured in the debut Steiff catalog of 1892. This first monkey, like most in the early line, was made from felt. He was quite primitive looking and came in 18 and 24 centimeter sizes. He was suspended on an elastic cord, so he could be bounced around like an action toy. Fast forward to 1903; in that year Steiff introduced a larger, more realistic looking string-jointed monkey to the world. His head, torso and lanky arms and legs were made from brown short-pile plush while his simple face, hands and feet were made from brown felt. He had black shoe button eyes and a folksy, pleasant expression. This basic model was produced in 28, 35, 43, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 120 cm over the 1903-through-1928 time frame in a few colors and materials. These early long-limbed Steiff primates remain the “Holy Grail” for many vintage Steiff enthusiasts.
The year 1909 was an important time in the evolution of monkeys at Steiff and when the history of “Jocko” truly began. It was in this year that Steiff updated a version of their basic 1903 model monkey towards an even more lifelike appearance. This new chimp design featured natural body proportions, as well as detailed felt hands, feet and facial features. One key design element on larger models of the new chimp was in the inclusion of felt eye pockets. This meant that his glass pupil eyes were surrounded by raised felt eyelids; they were not simply sewn onto his face as before. Additionally, larger sized chimps also sported a white mohair chin. The updated pattern was produced in 15 sizes, ranging from 10 to 90 cm, at various times from 1909 through 1943. It was in 1929 that this ace ape was finally given his “official” Steiff name, Jocko. Post war, Jocko was one of the very first items produced; this model appeared in the line continuously again from 1948 through 1990.
Over the years since his introduction, Jocko has been produced as a pull toy on wheels, a somersaulting chimp, a stringed marionette, a hand puppet and even a child’s handbag, among other treasured items.
A collection of Steiff Jockos, ranging from the very early 1950s though the 1970s. Note how alike—and how different—their faces, coloring and expressions are!
Jockos have several features that make them so universally beloved and collectible. The first must be their absolutely irresistible—and completely unique—facial expressions. Unlike other more “uniformly” produced Steiff animals, each Jocko truly has a look and feel all to himself—in part to his ingenious ocular structure. It is possible to bundle a dozen or more Jockos together and each one to have a distinctly different look from any other in the grouping. The second is their color. Despite all coming from the factory in Giengen, and from the same mohair fabrics, each ages to a slightly different color, ranging from light brown, to dark brown, to almost greenish, to copper. Each is beautiful in its own way. And finally, the third has to be how “human” and friendly they truly are. As a lifelong Steiff enthusiast, I have used Jockos as “official” guest greeters at parties, props for Christmas card (and other “lifecycle”) photos, and centerpieces at formal dinners. When my husband was not available, I even brought a 90-cm one with me to an event as my “date”!
It is easy to understand why Steiff fans have always been a little ape over this top banana. The good news for collectors is that Jocko is one of the most prevalent Steiff creations, as he was produced in vast quantities for over 80 years. This means that even beginners should be able to find –and afford—a Jocko to add to their collections! But be warned, most enthusiasts can’t stop at just one . . . or two . . . or three . . .
Older Jockos from the late 1920s through the early 1950s, depending on size and condition, usually value in the $100 (really tiny) to $750 (life-sized) range. Those from the mid 1950s onward usually value in the $50 to $400 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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