Monday, December 23, 2013

Ever Seen a Purple Cow?

With all the chocolate that's in our house now that it's Christmas, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to focus on Wagner's purple and white milch cow. Especially after a weekend spent driving around enjoying the countryside in Washington State's Snoqualmie Valley, home to many farms including the original Carnation Dairy Farm. The weekend's got a sort of "moo-tif" going on...

Anyway, here she is, in all her glory:

I am afraid I must be a rather lame journalist at this time, because my paper files are still packed after moving house, but as I recall this sweet lilac cow was linked to Germany's Milka brand of chocolates. I'll update this information when I relocate my correspondence with the Wagners as I can't recall if the cow was an official promotional item, or one created to tie in with the great popularity of the chocolate as well as the famous ditty by Gelett Burgess:

                                                        I never saw a Purple Cow,
                                                        I never hope to see one;
                                                        But I can tell you, anyhow,
                                                        I'd rather see than be one.

The Wagner company was terrifically fond of cattle in general, producing them in a wide range of colors. There are black and white Holsteins in the herd, as well as pretty chestnut-brown Jerseys and brown-and-white cows. 

In addition to these gentle creatures, there exist fierce black and brown bulls, Brahman cattle, longhorn steers, American buffalo (bison), and a rare version that looks to be a European buffalo or wisent. 

And, of course, calves. And a lying-down version of a cow, in the large-size format.

The purple cow also makes an appearance in the form of a comical-looking creature sitting on its backside. Sometimes this version appears sitting on top of one of those moo-cans that you tip upside down, then turn right side up again so that it emits a lowing sound.

Milka promotes its chocolates with plenty of purple-cow parading and features a cow very like Wagner's mauve moo-er on its wrappers, complete with a little bell around the neck.

Some Wagner Kunstlerschutz collectors lament that they "never saw a purple cow" and really hope to see one. However, though this periwinkle bovine wasn't common a few years ago when she first trotted onto sites such as eBay, she seems to have become easier to find, perhaps as the craft shop liquidated its assets and passed along backstock to outside sellers. 

So if you don't find a purple cow in your Christmas stocking this year alongside all the chocolate, you might just be able to track her down online when you're deciding what to give yourself as a little gift this year.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Shutterfly Wagner Kunstlerschutz Photo Site Started

Hello! In response to numerous requests, I've started an online sharing site for people to post pictures of Wagner and other vintage flocked animals. It looks like I have to send emails to people inviting them to sign up (for free)  and then they can post pictures, if I'm understanding the directions correctly. So I'll endeavor to do that in the next little while. I think if you comment here, I can obtain your email address when I click on your name. 

The photo site is

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

And March Goes Out Like a (Wagner) Lamb

OK, technically it's now April, but this is the follow-up post to my one about Wagner lions and March roaring in like a lion!

Which truly has happened in my neck of the woods...the last weekend in March has been full of fluffy, woolly clouds in a brilliant blue sky and sheep-like flocks of blossoming cherry trees.

The Wagner company was certainly fond of sheep.

That's good news for people who like to set up Christmas village putz displays, Nativity scenes, and Easter scenes.

And though sheep are THE image for depicting mass, anonymous, unthinking obeisance, the Wagner crafters always  managed to imbue each sheep with its own little personality because of each piece being hand-painted and hand-crafted.

The standard sheep is the typical Wagner animal that's just shy of 3 inches tall or so. Most of the sheep have a vinyl collar held in place with a silver pin. The collar is typically green or red.

Newer ones often lacked the collar, but seemed to have somewhat chunkier bodies.

The typical sheep are colored either white or beige. Old sheep are often rather grubby, either from  handling or from dust or both.

Black sheep are rare. They don't show the dirt, but they have their own problems. Baa, baa, black sheep! Have you any lint?

Wagner also made sheep in other positions, such as the head-down variety...

and the lying-down variety (shown here in two sizes).

Wagner also made little lambs. These didn't have glasslike bead eyes but just painted-on ones. Personally, I don't like the look this gives them...just don't seem as personable to me.

Wagner didn't want the ewes to be lonely, so the crafters also made rams.

Here are two rams, one with bead eyes and one without. Don't know why,  how often, or when they  made the switch.

The ram also came in a super-sized form. Kind of cool but not my favorite piece...I guess the fabric wrapped around the body, instead of flocking, makes him kind of generic, plus he's got such ostentatiously plastic horns.

Probably all that plastic made him an easy one to copy; here's a vintage piece, a knockoff with its own kooky charm.

"Boo! Boo! Creepy sheep! Have you any ghoul?"

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Pride of Wagner Lions

Standard Wagner lion with two-tone mane.
March is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, so it seems as good a time as any to take a look at the lions produced by the Wagner workshop.

They must have been rather fond of lions--or else lions were just very popular as sales items--because the standard lion (measuring about 2 inches tall, not including his mane, and about 2 1/2 inches long, not including his tail) is one of the most common Wagner Handwork animals you'll find on eBay.

I know he was included in what I always fondly recall as a Kunstlerschutz "starter set"--a little box divided into six compartments by strips of cardboard, which contained the lion as well as a zebra, a giraffe, an elephant, a bear, and a camel. All six of these species, actually, are very common.

Standard Wagner lion with red mane.
Though Wagner lions are plentiful, each one shows the characteristic individuality of a Wagner animal that's due to its being handcrafted using lot-dyed flocking and real rabbit fur (from farmed rabbits, presumably raised for food). Some have rusty red manes while others have dark brown or nearly black manes. You may even come across ones with nearly blond manes, and two-tone manes are very common. This diversity in mane coloration is of course true with real lions, too.

Standard Wagner lion, MC Original version.

The typical, common Wagner lion is the standing lion shown in the pictures above. But before these fellows joined the pride, there was the lion bearing the M.C. Originals label (the green label with a letter C encircling a chimp's face, commonly called "the monkey-head label).

Wagner made animals for the Max Carl company in its earliest days, and the lion then looked quite different. Instead of standing, he is walking, and his tail curls over his back instead of hanging behind him.

It's  fun to see how the lion's face changed over time. The MC lion has a smile and a painted-on white muzzle. He also has green eyes, like a housecat.

The later lion has a wider face, more spots on his muzzle and less white, and a red tongue. He also has orange eyes, more akin to the brown-gold eyes of a real lion.

Less common are Wagner's seated lions. These lions are made with a body mold that is similar to that used for the seated cats: the front paws are separated and the back half of the body is molded into a rounded form meant to evoke the tucked-up position taken by the rear legs and feet of an animal like a dog or cat when it's seated. The face is just like the standing lion's.

Of course, even the King of the Jungle gets tired and needs a lie-down now and then. So Wagner also made a reclining lion:

Early on, the workshop also produced a seated lion in a larger size; the lion below measures about 3 1/4 inches tall but is otherwise just like his smaller brothers.

Not content with simply doubling the size of the standard seated lion, the crafters made an even bigger lion (about 4 1/2 inches tall). They gave him a wide-open, red mouth complete with plastic fangs. Just as with the little lions, each big lion was one of a kind. As you can see with this pair, who look like they're laughing about a trick they've just played, the one on the right has such a thick mane that his eyes are completely obscured. Kind of the Cousin It of the pride. Probably is useless in hunting zebras.

Funny thing I just noticed about these two seated lions, besides the differences in the gapes of their mouths (the one on the left is definitely yukking it up a lot more), is that the mold for the two is quite different. The lion on the left is just like the other seated lions: hind end molded as a "blob," front legs set apart. The one on the right has his front legs molded together as a unit as well as the back.

Right, so you'd think the crafters would be content with lions in three sizes--but no. They decided to supersize him, and so they finished up with a lion-sized lion, a big Leo who sits a full 7 1/2 inches tall. (But lacks teeth!) And they also went to the other end of the range and produced a tiny lion barely an inch tall. Here's the whole array of Wagner lions from jumbo to miniature:

If you look for Wagner Handwork Kunstlerschutz lions on eBay, you will no doubt turn up the odd lion that a seller links to the Wagner variety but actually may or may not be part of that lineage (or lionage, ha ha). Beware that people sometimes list any old flocked lion as being made by Wagner or coming from Germany (this goes for any flocked-animal species, actually), but that many companies have made flockies, and today most of them are made in China.

I'm guessing that this little fellow, however, probably is a Wagner; he's flocked, he's laughing, though he lacks a  mane and is wildly different from the rest of the pride, but he's got the "monkey label."

Then there's the Original Fur Toys version. Original Fur Toys were indeed made in Germany, but I haven't been able to find out if they have any relation to Max Carl or Wagner.

They might, but then again, plenty of companies in Germany and elsewhere, back in the day, made toy animals out of fur and flocking and leather as well as composition or any combination thereof.

At any rate, the Fur Toys version of the lion looks a bit goofy. I'm thinking he's not exactly the Einstein of the Serengeti.

And last, but not least, this subspecies below might strike you as some sort of remade Wagner lion or major mistake from the workshop after perhaps a bit too much Schnapps...

...but apparently weirdly colored lions were made as promotional giveaways for soccer teams. I've seen the color above and also a blue lion with a white mane; surely there are other patterns. Here in the USA you get bobble-head dolls on giveaway days; in Germany you get adorable flocked lions. Who wins? You decide.

Oh, there IS one more lion I know of. He's lurking around here somewhere. Trouble is, he is VERY tiny...scarcely an inch long and 3/4 of an inch tall. He's known as the little leaping lion. And right now he's doing a very good job of hiding. I'll add him when I can find him to take a picture of him. I suspect he may be lying down with the lamb, in which case I may find him when I pull out my Easter animals later this month.