1889: THE GRAND STALLION ‘MAXY COBB’
Before cycle racing took over, harness racing was all the rage. Descended from Greek and Roman chariot racing, harness racing uses thoroughbred horses and lightweight sulkies. It appears that the Dutch brought the sport to America in the 17th century. It had been popular in Holland because it transcended class boundaries: anyone with a fast trotting horse could enter, and poor farmers’ well-trained trotters often defeated breeds owned by royalty.
In America, by the end of the 18th century, trotting harness races had become a popular rural past-time, using quite unsophisticated carts and hole-riddled country roads as tracks. In the early 19th century the first harness racing tracks were established, and trotting races incorporated in the list of attractions of any self-respecting county fair.
Soon horses were bred specifically for the sport, the term ‘standardbred’ emerging in 1879. In 1788 an English thoroughbred stallion named ‘Messenger’ had been imported into the United States to be used as a sire for race horses. From Messenger’s lineage came the legendary ‘Hambletonian 10’ in 1849. He was subsequently known as ‘The Daddy of ’em All’ as virtually all standardbred horses in North America can count him in their lineage.
Although since overshadowed by cycle racing, and then motorcycle and car racing, harness racing – or ‘trotting’ – is still enjoyed around the world.
Victorian children’s tricycles were very expensive, only affordable to upper-class families. Children were less likely to choose their own tricycle; instead the parents or grandparents purchased them for the children. Often a tricycle was considered more like decoration for a nursery, while the child grew old enough to use it. As a result, manufacturers tended to make them in styles that would appeal more to the older generations than the actual users. Horses featured in many styles of children’s tricycle, and a particular genre was the Horse & Sulky tricycle. Some of these were quite cheaply made but, as you would expect from their reputation, the Steiff Horse & Sulky tricycle was fitted with a top quality straw-stuffed horse and the sulky was also well-made and robust.
1930 Steiff Children’s Horse & Sulky Tricycle
Antique Steiff items are highly collectible, particularly in America, where good condition examples sell for thousands of dollars. According to my friend in America who sold me this example, a similar Steiff sulky (though not as good condition as this) recently featured on the Antiques Roadshow, its value assessed between $1000 and $2000.
This Steiff sulky is very well-preserved: both the straw-filled soft toy horse and the metal tricycle bely their age. In fact, it looks so much newer that I spent a long time researching it to confirm that it is prewar. I found that postwar wheels are different, and most have white tyres. And the later Steiff logo is also different. (Compare the wheels with those illustrated in the 1929 Steiff book ‘The Perfect Zoo’ at the bottom of the page).
The Steiff catalogue cover below is from 1938
CHILDREN’S SULKY TRICYCLES
MARGARETE STEIFF GmbH: Founded 1880
Margarete Steiff was born in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany, in 1847. As a child she was struck with polio and became paralysed in her legs. But she was determined to succeed at everything she did. She completed an apprenticeship as a seamstress at the age of seventeen. After working for some years in the profession, in 1874 her father converted part of their house into a workshop for her and, in 1877, she started her own felt clothing business. In the December 8, 1879, edition of ‘Modenwelt’ (Fashion World) magazine, Margarete saw a sewing pattern for a small stuffed elephant. Using this pattern, she initially made the elephant as a pin cushion. However, these little stuffed animals soon became very popular as children’s toys.
The official founding date of Steiff Manufacture was 1880. The first big seller was the elephant, which her younger brother Fritz sold at the nearby Heidenheim market. Just six years later Margarete had sold over 5,000 elephants and was now designing other stuffed animals, too. In 1892, the first illustrated Steiff catalogue was released, showing the diversity of the range. In addition to elephants there were monkeys, donkeys, horses, camels, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, hares and giraffes. Margarete’s motto also featured prominently:
‘Für Kinder ist nur das Beste gut genug! – For Children, only the Best is good enough!’
Richard Steiff, Margarete’s creative favourite nephew, entered the company in 1897. He had attended the school of applied arts in Stuttgart and studied in England. His animal sketches were the basis for many Steiff creations. In 1902 he designed the ‘Bear 55PB’ bears, the world’s first stuffed toy bears with moveable arms and legs. After searching for a covering that was suitably cuddly and also good for colouring, Richard selected mohair plush produced by Florweberei Schulte (Schulte pile weaving mill) in Duisburg.
Margarete was somewhat skeptical, but Richard was allowed to present his bears at the Leipzig toy trade fair. The breakthrough came when an American trader discovered the bears and ordered 3,000 of them. The bears began an unprecedented selling success in the USA from 1906 under the name of Teddy Bear – named after the American president Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt. By 1907, almost a million teddy bears had been produced.
In order to make their own high quality products unmistakeable, and fend off numerous cheap imitations, Franz Steiff developed the brand sign ‘Steiff – Button in Ear.’ At the world exhibition in St. Louis, Margarete was awarded the Grand Prix, and finally in 1906 Margarete Steiff GmbH was founded, the company name which is still used today.
THE PERFECT ZOO
The 1929 book ‘The Perfect Zoo’ is out of print, but a copy will be offered for sale by auction in Germany on 31st October 2015. See the link below –
Steiff (children´s) picture-book ‘The Perfect Zoo’ by Eleanor Farjeon; published in the year 1929 by David McKay Company, Philadelphia/USA; 31 pages; twelve coloured pictures sized ca. 7.1in. (18cm) wide & ca. 4.7in. (12cm) high each; written in English