Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

The tale of the Hare and the Hedgehog was well-known by the 19th century. On the left is an 1855 illustration by Gustav Süs (photo courtesy Gustav Süs, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons), on the right two partygoers of 1862 dressed as these characters (photo courtesy of Joseph Albert, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Anyone who is a fan of television’s Animal Planet channel has undoubtedly noticed that in addition to the pet-world favorites like dogs and cats, other small animals are gaining popularity as pets. Hedgehogs with their prickly coats and amusing ways seem to be gaining interest, perhaps owing to an already fond association with them through children’s literature, movies and toys. Unlike their live counterparts (which are not legal as pets in certain US states and various other countries) the hedgehogs of the plush toy animal world are safe, cuddly friends for collectors of all ages.

The concept of anthropomorphized animals has its roots in the earliest days of humankind. Often these figures were used to illustrate concepts about nature and human-being’s relationship to the world around them. By the time that fairy tales were being gathered by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, humanized animal characters were well-known from centuries of folklore fables.One of the tales recorded by the Grimm brothers was that of the Hedgehog and the Hare. In this tale the upper-class hare behaves snobbishly to the humbler hedgehog insisting the hedgehog could not possibly prevail against hare in a race. The hedgehog ultimately turns the tables on the hare through his use of guile. The implied message that those who are looked down on are often more clever than their detractors would not have been lost on the readers of the tale.

Taking their places alongside classic tales featuring hedgehog characters a wide range of more modern books centering on these beloved characters are available today.

From these early tales the hedgehog became entwined with the representation of the common man (or woman). In 1905 Beatrix Potter published The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. Potter’s creative mind drew on her sketches of her own pet hedgehog and her long-time acquaintance with a Scottish washer-woman who worked for her family. In her fanciful tale she blended the beauty of the natural world with the most endearing characteristics of a practical working-class woman.

Beatrix Potter used her pet hedgehog Mrs, Tiggy-Winkle as a live model for her literary character of the same name. Her character’s nature was based on a long-time acquaintance of Potter. On the right is a large-scale diorama of this character which is part of The World of Beatrix Potter attraction in Bowness-on-Windermere, United Kingdom. (Photo courtesy of Silly Little Man licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)
Potter’s hedgehog character has been made many times in plush toy form. Left to right are; Eden Toys Inc’s 1972 version (photo courtesy of Ruby lane shop Oldeclectics), Steiff’s 2019 Limited Edition # 355233 22cm (9″) Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and the 9″ 2018 licensed version made by Steiff for the Danbury Mint.  
R John Wright Dolls offer their lovely 12″ version of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle as an edition of 500 in 2008. Photo courtesy of Susanin’s Auctions.

Similarly, the 1908 publication of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows also includes hedgehogs in various adventures with his other characters. These hedgehogs rooted in the world of imaginary childhood friends, laid the foundations for fond associations with characters of this type.

In the 1930s animated film pioneers, the Diehl Brothers (Paul, Ferdinand and Hermann) of Munich, Germany developed their process for making stop motion films using puppets. In 1936 Ferdinand received a US patent (#2058858) for a method of making replaceable sections for a doll (puppet) face to enable one figure to show many expressions. This was one of many techniques developed by this progressive family of film makers. In 1937 they released their film version of The Race of the Hare and the Hedgehog to great success as the public embraced their hedgehog hero and heroine. The brothers would go on to make a number of films during this period which were enjoyed by both adults and children despite the Third Reich’s attempts to use the films to their own agenda. 

Ferdinand Diehl working on the film The Race of the Hare and the Hedgehog. Ferdinand’s approach to film making was a painstaking, highly thought-out process to capture realistic movements with the puppets used, his US patent for a head with interchangeable lower portions allowed for an easy and effective way of accomplishing the degree of realism sought.

After the end of WWII Paul and Ferdinand retired and Hermann went on making film shorts, many of which were made for the new government and featured social messages on health, safety and good citizenship. The principal character in his films was Mecki the hedgehog and his family. As a promotional tie-in to his films, sets of postcards showing photos of Mecki in various situations were produced in black and white and later in full color. Mecki’s popularity soared. In 1946 an entertainment magazine called Hörzu was debuted and in 1949 the magazine began using Mecki as their mascot. In 1951 The Steiff company obtained licensing to create Mecki and his family as plush toys.

The Diehl Brothers hedgehogs were celebrated and promoted in a series of postcards during the 1950s and ’60s. Left to right the titles of the postcards shown here are; “Haven’t Forgotten,” “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year,” and “Take Care.”
From 1949 on Mecki would be the editorial mascot of the German entertainment magazine Horzu. Today the collected films of Diehl Brother’s Mecki Character can be purchased on disc.

The earlier of the Steiff Mecki toys had felt bodies and limbs, with tipped plush mohair spikes and molded latex faces. In 1961 Steiff began using vinyl for the faces. These famous hedgehogs were made in a wide range of sizes Mecki and his wife Micki have been available in 17, 28, and 50cm sizes (approximately 6 5/8″, 11″ & 19 5/8″). Their children Macki and Mucki can generally be found in a 12cm (4 ¾”) size.

The Steiff company made Mecki and his family under a licensing agreement with Diehl Brothers Films beginning in 1951. Shown here are a 20″ tall Mecki (on left) and Mecki with his wife Micki in 10″ and 7″ sizes. Photos courtesy of Ron Rhoads Auctions.
In addition to the Steiff Company’s Mecki line other naturalistic hedgehogs have been included in the lineup for many years. Joggi have been made in many sizes and color variations. Photo on left courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers.

As the 20th and 21st centuries progressed hedgehogs would continue to find favor in the realm of childhood fantasy as new versions of the old stories were brought to both television and film. In the 1980s a stop-motion series of Wind in the Willows was created in Britain. There have been various versions of Beatrix Potter’s stories created in film, most notably the 2018 Columbia Pictures (under the Sony Pictures umbrella) movie Peter Rabbit.

Sega of Japan introduced its Sonic the Hedgehog video game in 1991. In 1993 Caltoy obtained licensing to create plush versions of Sonic. This character has subsequently been made in plush and other toy forms ever since and generations growing up in the 1990s and beyond now eagerly seek these nostalgic friends on the secondary market.
Artist and photographer Anne Geddes licensed a line of dolls based on her designs which included her “Baby Hedgehog.”  On the left is the 9″ doll made by Unimax Toys, Ltd. which came out in 1997. Becker Associates LLC continues to offer these dolls as seen in their 2019 product catalog sheet shown on the right.
The film Peter Rabbit was released by Columbia Pictures in 2018. The Ty company’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is one of many licensed characters sold as a tie-in for the movie.

Considering the wide array of hedgehog toys, dolls and animals which have been and continue to be offered it is safe to say that hedgehogs have a strong future in the world of collectible toys.

Author – Linda Edward

Bibliography

IMBd.com

www.filmothek.bundesarchiv.de

www.steiffusa.com

https://housefulofhedgehogs.typepad.com/houseful_of_hedgehogs

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