Thursday, December 4, 2014

Polar Bears, Polar Brrrrs!

It's freezing cold right now where I live, so there's no better time to write about those ursine neighbors of Santa Claus, the polar bears.

Wagner made a lot of variations on the polar bear, just as they crafted a wide array of brown bears. Many of the same molds were used for both groups, though the workshop did make some subtle adjustments for some versions of the Arctic bruin.

Here's your basic standard-issue Wagner bear, in the about-3-inches-or-so size that describes so many Wagner animals. This same mold was used to make brown and black bears--it's all in the flocking, after all!

Here's a sitting-down polar bear made from a mold also used to make brown, black, and panda sitting-down bears:

Wagner also made more teddy-bear-like bears and flocked them in white, brown, black, and a pale tan or champagne color. They are posed standing,  sitting up in a begging-dog sort of posture, and sitting down. Yeah, I know the fellow at the far left wearing a bow tie is not a polar bear, but I don't have the standing polar polar, so his cousin has shown up to represent him in this pose.

But the typical bears and the teddy bears were preceded by some early bears wearing the M.C. Originals label, such as the one below. They aren't quite as "sweet" as the later bears, but they have a bit more detail, which often seems to be the case with a variety of Wagner species. To my mind, it doesn't make either one better or worse--just interestingly different. This bear below, for example, has more contours in his body. It's not the same mold, either--you can see his legs are in a different position. The ears are also added separately.

Here's another MC Original polar bear, though this one looks as if it's made from a mold similar to the one used to make bears crafted from the 1960s up until the workshop closed. He's also rather dirty. White flocked animals usually get pretty grubby looking over time. They're an absolute mess if they've been played with, but even the dust seems seems to get deep into the flocking of ones that have been displayed on a shelf in the open. Shelved behind glass, they can stay nice and white--though some seem to yellow with age. I think this one's suffering from both yellowing and grime.

Back in the early to mid-1900s and most likely beyond, various German workshops also made little animals out of fur. These ones often suffer quite badly from decay--the leather dries up and curls, the glue gives way, the fur falls off. I've seen some poor little beasts that are really nothing more than a handful of wizened strips of leather and fur. This little polar bear, however, has survived rather well. His label names no maker, only that  he was made in Germany.

Wagner also made a very tiny version of the polar bear, seen below posed with the standard bear. The same mold was used to make brown and black bear cubs.

Wagner also made BIG versions of the polar bear. Here is the large sitting-down polar bear, posed with a standard one; the same mold was used to make--you guessed it--brown and panda bears, and probably black ones, though I've never seen one.

The biggest bear of all is a large standing polar bear. His flocking isn't as dense as the smaller bears' flocking, but his body is sculpted in great detail. You can even feel the ribs in his sides.

What I find particularly cool about this biggest polar bear is that the crafters took the time to give him the distinctive Roman-nose profile of a real polar bear--he looks quite different from the same-sized version of a brown bear made by Wagner.

OK, enough with the ice and the snow and the land of Arctic bears. I'm off to get another hot cup of coffee.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stork Stories

In honor of Mother's Day (by which time I'd planned to publish this, but did not, so consider this post an overdue baby...I have postpartum expression, I guess), I give you the stork.

White storks are European birds long associated with fertility and the bringing of babies. Many elements of stork life probably inspired this association. The birds build enormous nests, for starters, and they exhibit strong site fidelity, returning to the same nest for years after spring migration.

The stork was the sacred bird of the Roman goddess Juno, who presided over homes and the family. In Christian mythology, storks symbolize peace, piety, and marital happiness.

The stork-bringing-the-baby originated in northern Germany in ancient times, and since then it's been carried (not by storks) worldwide.

A baby-toting stork even makes a brief appearance in a Sioux legend I found online. And supersized logger Paul Bunyan was apparently delivered to his parents by five burly storks.

Today, babies born with red marks on the nape of the neck are said to bear "stork bites." (My daughter had them, as well as a sweet "angel kiss" on her forehead.)

The stork tale's Germanic origins make Wagner's crafting of a stork very fitting. The stork shown above is the version produced in the company's last decade. It has plastic legs glued into two holes in the underside. Unfortunately, these legs have a tendency to pop out, leaving the poor bird rather helpless.

Fortunately, they're very easy to glue back in. They don't usually take any plaster away with them when they fall off, and the Wagner crafters glued them in to start with, so fixing them doesn't make you feel as if you've defiled a vintage item.

While we're on the topic of disembodied storks...the blob below is an interesting item that my friend W. brought back from a visit to the Wagner workshop. It's the raw body of a stork before it gets painted and flocked.

You can see the hole where the excess slip (wet composite material) was drained from the piece after the mold had set for a while.

Below is a much older version of the Wagner stork, from the early 1950s. It's an M.C. Original, an animal made by the Wagner workshop for Max Carl toys. It has legs made of painted lead instead of plastic, and unlike the one-piece plastic legs, which are joined at the feet, the metal legs are two separate limbs. (I am also thinking that some child  picked off the little orange beads that must once have formed this bird's eyes. I can't otherwise explain the white staring orbs he's got. He was like this when I bought him, so I don't know for sure.)

You can see many other differences between the 1950s bird and the 1980s/1990s one at a glance. The new stork, for example, is bigger and bulkier than its ancestor. Also noticeable is the attention to detail on the older stork. It has feather markings painted on its side that the newer version completely lacks. Interestingly, the mold has curves notched into it to indicate feathers and wings, but in the new stork these are just flocked over and not embellished with paint.

We'll end with your laugh for the day. The Wagner workshop, at some point, began selling the stork with a little plastic baby. This stork, however, did not carry the baby sweetly, all swaddled and cozy in a lovely silken bag. Oh, no. This stork had a horrible way of transporting youngsters...or was it preying upon them? What marketing genius came up with this delivery? I ask you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Happy Year of the Horse, Wagner Style

The Year of the Horse, per the Chinese calendar, starts on January 31, 2014. What better time to take a look at some of Wagner Handwork's depictions of this marvelous creature?

Actually, if you're a horse lover, any given moment is a perfect time to think about/gaze upon/obsess about horses. And perhaps Fritz Wagner himself had a sweet spot for horses. (Indeed, the little brown and white pony depicted in the banner for this blog was chosen because it was his favorite among all his own creations.)

Wagner horses display perhaps the greatest variety in size of all the animals in the collection. There are tiny ponies scarcely an inch tall at one end, and 10-inch-tall horses nearly as big as a traditional Breyer toy horse. In between are standard horses about 2 1/2 inches high, bigger horses that handily step in to be their sires and dams at about 4 inches high, and, rarest of all, some beauties that are about 5 to 6 inches tall.

The horses also range from wild horses free of saddle and bridle to fully tacked-up horses with colorful felt saddles. Usually the tack is white or red, but horses with black tack turn up, too. The black horses are almost always kitted out in white tack, a very striking look. Some horses and ponies were given long reins because they were made to pull wooden carts--small, two- or four-wheeled ones for the ponies, a big blue-and-white wedding carriage for one pair of big white horses.

Colors span the equine rainbow, too. Most common colors are bay, white, and black for the standard-size, 4-inch, and 5-inch horses. The ponies are typically skewbald, chestnut, black, or Palomino. The biggest horses are bay and black.

The company made horses to order for toy sets made by other companies, so maybe that's why you'll sometimes find the odd horse flocked in a different color. The standard bay, for example, is usually a beautiful red-brown with black mane and tail, but I've seen Wagner horses flocked in a dark chocolate brown, too, in both the standard and the large size. Sometimes a Palomino turns up, too.

I once saw on eBay, but failed to win, a chestnut standard-size horse--it had a tan body with a matching, slightly golden mane and tail. To date I don't believe I've ever seen a spotted horse, only ponies. And though Wagner made a big gray horse in its early days, I haven't seen gray as a color among its later abundance of horses.

There are variations in the horses' stances, too. The ponies are always standing firmly foursquare, as if saying, "Nope, not gonna be caught in the paddock today, not falling for that oats-in-the-bucket lure!" The tiny horses, standard horses, and large horses typically do, too. The biggest ones, with plastic bodies under the flocking, have all four feet on the ground in a walking posture.

But sometimes you'll find horses that are posed in more of a running position, a gait achieved only by the Wagner horses that have paper-wrapped wire legs; the wooden-legged horses are always standing still. A few paper/wire-legged little horses are even caught rearing up.

I will put up more pictures of the great variety of Wagner horses in the future.