Size Defies With Steiff’s Tiny Animal Companions
There is something absolutely magical about the company’s smallest animal companions. Here we have a 7 cm tiny elephant. Isn’t he ADORABLE?!
Over the course of its nearly 140-year history, the Steiff company has produced items ranging in scale from as tiny as a ladybug to as large as life-sized adult giraffes, lions, and elephants. Regardless of their measurements, all Steiff editions left the factory manufactured under the highest quality and aesthetic standards. However, there is something absolutely magical about the company’s smallest animal companions. These petite treats are universally coveted amongst Steiff, doll, miniature, antique, and childhood collectors, and for good reasons. They don’t take up too much room and pack tons of personality into their bitty bodies. And because of their scale, they are delightful displayed on their own or in groups, in the arms of dolls, or in dollhouses or room boxes. Just imagine a clown or circus themed doll with a palm-sized chimp, zebra, or elephant. Or a forest gnome with an elfin fox, bunny, or fawn. Or a country boy or girl with a diminutive duck, sheep, or goat. Now that’s one powerful charm offensive!
The company’s smallest midcentury Hexie Dachshund stands on all fours and is cataloged at 9 cm. In real life, she actually measures 9.5 cm from top of head to toe. The discrepancy is probably due to the fact that Steiff animals are individually produced.
For the most part, Steiff’s smallest animals from the 1925-1975 timeframe are usually cataloged in the 7 to 14 cm range. Steiff’s way of measuring is a blend of art and science and can be confusing. Steiff does not include ears (like for rabbits) or tails (like for alligators) in their measurements. Usually, items are measured vertically, top of head to toe, but sometimes they are measured horizontally, from nose to rear. Because Steiff items are made by hand, each will vary a bit in looks and sizing. For example, the company’s smallest midcentury Hexie Dachshund stands on all fours and is cataloged at 9 cm. In real life, (or at least on the one in my collection shown in the photo above) she actually measures 9.5 cm from top of head to toe, and 12-3/4 cm from the tip of her nose to her backside, not including her tail. Given their individual production, I’ve always been comfortable allowing plus or minus 10% to any given Steiff cataloged measurement.
So what do you need to know to be able to recognize that a Steiff flea market find or an existing collection treasure from the 1925-1975 timeframe is indeed the smallest size manufactured? Although there are exceptions to every rule when it comes to Steiff, here are some general trends and a few guidelines to point you in the right direction.
- Material matters.
Steiff often used velvet material to make the smallest (and sometimes almost smallest) versions of their otherwise all mohair animals, especially during mid-20th century production. This was in part to give these petitely proportioned items a softer, more youthful presentation. For example, Steiff made the smallest versions of their early postwar pigs, giraffes, zebras, and donkeys in velvet. All larger sizes of these species were made from mohair.
Steiff often used velvet material to make the smallest versions of their animals. Velvet gave them a softer, more youthful appearance.
- The devil is in the details.
Steiff used velvet or felt as distinctive detailing on some of the smallest versions of their popular, otherwise all mohair or wool plush designs in the 1925-1975 timeframe. The smallest version of the company’s beloved, fully jointed mohair Niki rabbit (see photo below) had velvet lined ears; her big siblings had mohair lined ears.
Here we have the company’s beloved, fully jointed mohair Niki rabbit who had velvet lined ears; her big siblings had mohair lined ears.
The company’s smallest mohair Peky Pekinese dog had a velvet top to her muzzle while her older sisters had all mohair muzzles. Steiff’s baby lambs featured single-thick felt ears when manufactured in “puppy proportions.” And as an endnote, many of Steiff’s smallest jungle pals – including okapis, elephants, lions, and camels – were made with rope style, not fabric, tails.
Many of Steiff’s smallest jungle pals – including okapis, elephants, lions, and camels – were made with rope style, not fabric, tails.
- Everything in moderation.
The smallest version of any given Steiff animal sometimes is a simplified version of the standard general line pattern via subtle design shifts and/or a change in jointing. For example, the smallest versions of the company’s popular midcentury Arco German Shepherd dogs all had closed mouths, while all other larger sizes had open mouths. And the smallest version of an item may also be unjointed, while larger versions have some jointing. Steiff’s smallest standing Charly the King Charles Spaniel was produced in eight sizes ranging from 7 to 36 cm from 1928 through 1939 overall. The smallest Charly was unjointed, while all other larger sizes of this pattern were head jointed.
Steiff’s smallest standing Charly the King Charles Spaniel was produced in eight sizes ranging from 7 to 36 cm from 1928 through 1939 overall.
Steiff’s sitting Molly the Puppy is a good example of a pattern that was significantly streamlined from its original design in the smallest version. This legacy dog was produced prewar in 12 sizes ranging from 7 to 80 cm from 1925 to 1943 overall, and postwar in five sizes ranging from 10 to 25 cm from 1949 to 1969 overall. The smallest 7 cm Molly (photo below) was unjointed, with minimal seams, and a straight body. The next size up at 10 cm (see below) – and all others as well – were head jointed, with sophisticated seaming related to color contrast, and a rounded, more defined body.
The smallest 7 cm Molly was unjointed, with minimal seams, and a straight body.
The 10 cm Molly was head jointed, with sophisticated seaming related to color contrast, and a rounded, more defined body.
Other pattern priorities also suggest scale. The smallest versions of some Steiff items – like dogs, felines, and jungle cats – sometimes have no claws or simple painted claws, while medium versions often have painted claws, and larger versions usually have embroidered claws. These design modifications happen for practical reasons – sometimes there just isn’t enough space or fabric on a design to include a detailed feature.
Friends for life.
It’s not your imagination. Steiff’s tiny treasures more often than not feature significant playwear. That’s why desirable vintage models in very good or better condition with IDs are so desirable with collectors worldwide. Steiff’s legacy motto is “Only The Best For Children.” As such, everything that left the factory was designed and built for fun and play. Steiff’s smallest items were often gifted to children as pocket pals or backpack companions, accompanying them to school and other life adventures. That helps explain why many of these smallest vintage friends – if they even survived to this day – are a bit thread-bear! And, I learned from a European physician that tiny Steiff bears are often placed on the incubators of premature babies in Germany. That can’t but help be the start of a beautiful, lifelong friendship, too.
Many of these smallest vintage friends – if they even survived to this day – are a bit thread-bear!
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles. You can follow her blog, which focuses on vintage Steiff finds, Steiff antiquing and travel adventures, international Steiff happenings, and the legacy and history of the Steiff company at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com. Sign up for her Steiff newsletter by contacting her directly at email@example.com.
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