I've created this website because I collected these whimsical animals as a child (OK, OK, full disclosure, I added some as an adult, too). I also know how frustrating it is to search online to find out more about a vintage item, only to find nothing but outdated auction listings. So a few years ago, I did some sleuthing around--and finally found out the address of the Wagner workshop, something I'd tried to find for nearly two decades.
Once I contacted the firm, they generously provided information about its history and how the little animals were made. Sadly, the firm shut down in 1998 with the retirement of the family and later moved away from its historic location--to where, I know not.
At any rate, here's what I do know: The Wagner Handwork Company got its start in the late 1940s when Fritz Wagner (1906-1971), a sculptor and mold designer, began an arts and crafts workshop in the German town of Rodental. There he created more than 300 different animal molds. The animals ranged in size from 5 cm to 20 cm.
These charming little creatures are part of a long German history of creating animal figures from wood, plaster, clay, and papier-mache, then covering them with wool or other fibers (such as flocking) to create top-quality toys and figurines for Christmas nativity and village scenes (known as "putz" scenes, based on the German word "putzen"; this verb generally means "to clean," but is also used to describe preening, polishing, and furbishing, or decorating).
Each animal was made by hand from a paper-and-clay-based composition "blank," then covered, or flocked, with cotton fibers. Color was applied next, using nontoxic paints. Fine details such as claws, nostrils, eyebrows, spots, and the ever-present smile were also handpainted.
Last of all, trimmings such as plastic horns, saddles, and the like were glued in place. Some species even had clothes made for them. This careful process produced about 400,000 animals every year.
Where Can You Find Wagner Animals Today?
Well, no new ones are being produced, so your best bet is to look for them on eBay or vintage-toy trading sites. Sometimes people sell them on Etsy, too. I know more than one collector who's found them at yard sales. And if you're really lucky, you may sometimes stumble upon them in independent toy stores, dollhouse shops, thrift stores, and out-of-the-way gift shops. If you're in Germany, naturally, you'll probably have better luck!
Nope, sorry, I don't have any for sale. Please note that I also cannot give you values for your animals. (I used to do that, but only 1 out of 10 ever said "thank you" in reply, so I'm now peevish about it. Sorry!)