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.


  1. So interesting to see them all together! Thank you for taking time to photograph and post.

    1. You're very welcome...thanks for visiting! It's a lark to write about my favorite childhood toys.

  2. Thanks for making this blog! I have four very loved childhood ponies (one almost identical to the header) that are still with me today, and past internet searches didn't yield much. Looking forward to seeing more of your collection!

    1. You're welcome! Yep, I have a bunch of very much loved childhood ponies too :) Some of them were so played with, they have all the flocking worn off their sides from where fingers gripped them! Thanks for visiting!

  3. Hi! I know you said you kind of got burnt out on people questioning you about value etc...
    I'm not so much worried about the "value" of my animals,
    as I figure things are worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and I'm still at the collecting stage, not selling stage :)

    My interest is more in finding out what all the different animals are. Some are pretty common, others I've probably never seen. I have a couple that "look right" (are very similar in style) but do not have the label. I've never had a label fall off...they seem to be really stuck on! So I have doubts that my "unlabeled" animals are really wagner's, but it's possible.

    If we could somehow post pics here (or somewhere else), we could all share what we have, and see/learn about all the different varieties there are. This blog has gone a long way toward that, but I'm hungry for MORE information! :)

    Any thoughts on this? Could this be done here? on Facebook? or Pinterest? (there is one there )

    Thanks! for all the information you've posted!

    1. Oops, replied below (forgot to hit the "reply" button and wanted to make sure you saw it). And I should have said that I published a book WITH a fellow collector...couldn't have done it all on my own.

  4. Hello! Yes, that sure would be fun, sharing collections virtually. I've wondered about how to do that. I mean, I'd be happy receiving photos and posting them here, but I guess that's not the brightest thing to do in terms of attachments coming in to my email on the computer what with viruses, possible spammers, etc.

    Probably a Flickr photostream that could link here would be easy to do? Or as you suggest a Pinterest page. I'll look into it!

    I did publish a book a few years ago that had all the animals we knew about at the time (there's about 300-odd varieties) but it's out of print; we have floated the idea of an e-book but little things like jobs and such get in the way...maybe we'll finally get around to it someday.

    I'd love to see your unlabeled critters...that'll be inspiration for doing something photo-wise :)

      I uploaded a couple to my flickr (I hope you'll be able to see) is a possible lemur (shown with the koala for comparison). These pics are lousy... I just used my iphone because I have to leave soon.

      The kangaroo is pretty unlikely... You can see a mold line on it's back (I've never seen one on a wagner) and it's feet are not very well done (squared off in the middle) + I've seen a "monkey head" version of the kangaroo and it does not look like this! (although the monkey head ones are often quite different than more "modern" versions)

      I have a bear somewhere in the mail...I actually got 2... one with a label and another that the guy claims had the label, but it got "lost" :)
      It has an open mouth and is brown.
      The other bear I'm getting from this person (the one that has a label) is a black bear, who's head looks different (more rounded with rounder ears) than the one I have.

      Maybe we could create a Flickr group?
      I'll take the time to take better photos!

      Thanks! and I'd love to see the book! :)

    2. Can't wait to see the bears! Yep, took a look at your critters, and you are correct, neither the lemur-koala animal or the kangaroo are Wagners. I got those same beasties as gifts from my uncle when he came back from a trip to Australia. I forget the little sticky label that was once on them but it was akin to a "made in Hong Kong" label and not a Wagner label. Yes, I think a Flickr group is a brilliant idea. I'll try to start one up this week...I don't have one of my own yet so it'd be a good thing to find out how to do.