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Get a Handle on the Functional and Delightful Steiff Charly Purse

by Rebekah Kaufman (06/12/12).

The 1930s-era Steiff Charly purse.

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

The item:
This blue ribbon beauty certainly qualifies for “Best of Show” in terms of her beauty, design and willingness to lend a paw in service.

What we have here is Steiff’s Charly Handtasche or Charly Purse. This precious pooch is 22 centimeters tall in a standing (albeit slouchy) position with a jointed head. She is made from long and short mohair plush and her ears and tail are brown-tipped mohair, while her body and face are off-white mohair. Her face is detailed with oversized brown and black-pupil eyes and a simple black hand-embroidered nose and mouth. She also has black embroidered claws on all four paws. And here’s what makes her a purse: her belly is hollow like a pouch, and is lined in lime-green velvet. It closes with a study brass zipper. The pouch volume is quite small; it probably is the volume of about a small-sized apple.

Finally, when she left the Steiff factory in Giengen many years ago, she had a trusty round mohair handle attached to her zipper tab. According to Steiff records, this Charly Purse was produced in 22 and 25 cm from 1927 through 1940. This particular example, with her trailing “F” Steiff button and red ear tag, was made in the 1928-through-1934 time frame.

Her history and design legacy:
Charly didn’t start out as a purse design, but evolved into one. The original Steiff Charly (based on the King Charles Spaniel breed) was introduced in the late 1920s. She was produced both sitting (10, 14, 17, 22, 25, 30 and 35 cm) and standing (7, 10, 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm); the two versions were head-jointed only. Charly dogs were made from light brown or orange-tipped mohair and white mohair, had extremely long fuzzy ears, large, childlike brown and black-pupil eyes, a very detailed facial seam structure and a prominent tail. Their filling was soft kapok, meaning that they were lighter in weight and more cuddly than other animals stuffed with crunchy excelsior. The Charly pattern appeared in the line through 1936.

Two original Steiff Charly dogs, one sitting and one standing.

Charly was an immediate sensation, and it is easy to understand why from a historical perspective. During the 1920s and 1930s, real—and toy—dogs were the constant companions of high society ladies across Europe. And cute, smaller breeds—like King Charles Spaniels, Bulldogs and Pekingese—were all the rage as pets, as well as accessories! Understanding this trend, Steiff produced close to 40 new canine species, including a series of lap dogs, including the TreffBully and Molly models.

Charly proved to be a great source for highly successful “theme and variation” product introductions, due to her popularity with collectors. She appeared as a 17-cm light brown and white mohair puppet from 1928 through 1939, was made in two pincushion styles—both the sitting and standing versions were mounted on a square mohair pincushion—the sitting version was produced from 1929 through 1932, and the standing version was produced from 1930 through 1932. Charly was also made as a music box, a 10-cm standing or sitting nomotta woolen miniature from 1935-1937, and as a playful, purple-dressed 28-cm Pupp-animal doll from 1929 through 1930.

Why she’s so special to me:
This is one Steiff piece I had always admired, but never dreamed I could actually add to my collection. About a decade ago, I was on the team that helped to design new Steiff products for the North American market. I had seen a Charly Purse online and fell in love with it and figured others would feel the same. Convinced that it would be a hit with collectors, I somewhat selfishly proposed that the company produce this item as a limited-edition replica. I suspected at the time that this would be the closest I would ever come to having the opportunity of owning one.

Charly’s red eartag and trailing “F” button.

Charly’s lime-green belly pouch.

Steiff did end up producing their Charly Purse as a replica in 2005 and it was well received by collectors all over the world.

Fast forward to 2012. I found this Charly Purse in an online auction at a very reasonable “Buy It Now” price. I had one of those moments where my hand clicked for the purchase faster than my brain had the time to process the opportunity. And, when my Charly finally arrived from “across the pond,” she was even more precious and delightful than I expected.

Today, I carry my replica Charly Purse when we spend an evening out on the town; Charly is a particular favorite with other patrons at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where we regularly frequent its stellar performances. Vintage Charly is happiest at home in her glass vitrine.

The old Charly (left) with an example of the new replica version.

Her value:
Functional Steiff items, such as this Charly Purse, were made to be used, so examples in very good or excellent condition with IDs are extremely rare. As a result, they are in demand with collectors. This is a beloved, traditional pattern which continues to really resonate with collectors even today. For comps—which are few and far between—somewhat recent sales of Charly purses in very good to excellent condition have been in the approximately $550 to $700 price range.

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 this Steiff Charly purse in the United States today, in very good plus condition with her trailing “F” button and red ear tag, values in the $650 to $725 range.

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

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