Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Object History: Stuffed Animals

Once again, this post comes with a preface: I (still) have not seen my object in any way. So, we will be continuing this experiment with the tiger described in the last post, India, the 2001 Ty Beanie Buddy.

It has been surprisingly difficult compiling the history of the 'stuffed animal'. Semantic issues caused a lot of searches to end in detailed descriptions of taxiderm-ied wildlife. Most commonly, my attempts at determining the history of 'stuffed animals' (as opposed to stuffed toys, which could mean dolls, puppets, plant life, etc) have led to histories of the teddy bear. Changing my search terms to include 'plush animals' helped greatly. This blog will essentially have two parts. First the history of this particular tiger, then a longer history of stuffed animals after the jump.

History of "India" the Tiger:
India began its life in China as one of hundreds of hand/machine sewn, synthetic fabric construction Beanie Buddies marketed towards children in 2001. India is a part of the Ty Beanie Baby empire which began producing small, bean and fiber-filled stuffed animals in the late 1980s. India's sub category was never quite so popular as the original Beanie Baby, and almost entirely purchased by or for children and adolescents as a comforting toy, not as a collector's item. India was then shipped to the United States and sold in a variety of stores including drug stores, toy stores and gift shops. The stuffed animal could have sat in a variety of warehouses and shelves between the time of production and time of purchase. India the tiger is a not a rare stuffed animal, but is very important to Leyla.
This particular tiger stuffed animal was purchased in the United States in 2001 and given to Leyla in the same year by her Aunt and Uncle to serve as source of comfort in a complicated transitional time in her life. She was 16 at the time.  While I am not positive, Leyla seems to be the tiger's first and only owner. The tiger has been re-moniker-ed as Mr. Pugsley, gendered male and been attributed meaning by Leyla, who now sees him as a type of companion. He  has traveled across the globe over the last nine years, going to LA, Philly and Ireland.  He occasionally takes some jaunts through the washing machine, and sometimes finds himself as a pillow for he 'lives' in Leyla's bed. He has had the life of a favorite stuffed animal and Leyla describes him as somewhat mis-shapen and smushed due to his occasional use as a pillow.  Mr. Pugsley could probably tell a pretty specific and substantial story of Leyla's life for he seems to have followed her everywhere throughout the last nine years of her life.

Ultimately, stuffed/plush animals are children's toys meant to comfort and with which to play. Where they were produced, what they are made out of or the number produced weighs little on the security (and anxiety when lost) they can provide to a child. Many of these toys given or purchased in childhood, much like Mr. Pugsley, follow us into adulthood, sit in our rooms at college, and continue to serve as sources of comfort, security and a reminder of specific moments in our lives. 

Follow the link for History of Plush Animals: 

The most concrete references at the moment (Inter-library loan has some of the seemingly better sources floating in library limbo currently) note that what we consider to be stuffed animals were, starting in the mid 19th century, marketed as plush animals. The term plush is derived from the material used for creating the pelts of these toys, or their outer shells.  Plush is particular type of animal fiber known for its velvet-like feel. It is typically made from the fleece of Angoran goats and is more commonly known as Mohair. Plush, according to the Steiff Toy Company, can be either knitted or woven. Knitted plush is much cheaper to produce, while woven plush requires more manual labor and is thus more expensive. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum website for their children's museum, early plush animals were filled with fine wood shavings known as wool wood and sewn, however the filling overtime was replaced with a fine silk-like plant fiber called kapok. 

As a marketable entity, plush animals appear on the world scene in the late 19th century. Steiff, the famous German toy company, claims to be the world's oldest manufacturer of plush toys. Founded in 1880 by Margaret Steiff, a seamstress, the company to today produces high quality plush toys for both children and collectors. These toys are handmade with natural fibers, which accounts for their high cost.. English manufacturers began producing plush animals for public consumption as well, and  flourished during WWI due to the ban on German goods. Hampshire Museum Services in England notes that domestic animals such as cats and dogs were the most popular of the plush animals, but exotic animals such as monkeys and elephants were also commonly purchased. These animals were mostly produced for children as comforting toys. However, Steiff in particular produces lines of their animals specifically as collector's items, made of more fragile materials not meant for the often hard life experienced by a child's favorite plush animal.

During the inter-war years and during WWII, plush animal production diminished due to rationing and lack of materials. Looking at the Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalogs from those years also shows that dolls of various forms were increasingly popular over plush animals. Plush animals became stuffed animals after WWII, as plush was very expensive to produce in comparison to polyester, rayon, nylon and plastic accouterments. American factory production increased over these decades as well, and today most stuffed animals are made of cheap synthetic materials. Most plush toys made by American companies are put together overseas in China, Indonesia and Taiwan, through inexpensive hand sewn and machine sewn production. The production process has however also been brought to the consumer. The Build-a-Bear company has would-be stuffed animal owners stuff, sew and 'manufacture' their own animal from prefabricated shells.

Beanie Baby Info found at http://www.aboutbeanies.com/timeline.html.

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