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Monkey on My Back: How I finally came to accept my number one Steiff sin! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephanie Finnegan   
Tuesday, 10 July 2012 08:32
“Jocko” has been a popular chimp in the Steiff lineup. I was instantly smitten with my simian souvenir.
On the Serious Toyz auction site (, I found this “Jocko” for sale, but it wasn’t mine.
The bold red color suggests “STOP! Don’t tear that button out of the ear.” Sadly, my tag wasn’t a bright red.
My tag was a light-colored pastel yellow that seemed to clash with “Jocko’s” red clothing. As a child, I thought it should coordinate more exactly, so I ripped it off. And then I removed his button earring, too!
Flying in the face of the “Button in the Ear” dictum, this Steiff duck has its pedigree on its wing, since the bird has no ears.
Steiff advertises that they have a “Steiff for everyone.” And they do! This “Seaside Collection” is unique and very pacific in appearance. Made of unusual felt, the “button in the ears” are still quite prominent.
At the 2012 TOBY awards program, Steiff did very well. Their version of “Snoopy Flying Ace” received a nod. (Check out his traditional flying headgear . . . and his button!)
Another Steiff winner for the 2012 TOBY awards was this “Christmas Carol” motif. It is a classic in every sense.
“Andy” is a super cute boy bear. My super cute son, Tommy, has been taught “hands off the buttons”!
In my daughter Jane’s room, a little-girl Steiff stands amid her treasures. Her original costuming and accessories have remained impeccably intact.
“Jocko” has been a popular chimp in the Steiff lineup. I was instantly smitten with my simian souvenir.
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When I was a young kid, I was always happy when a friend or a relative went on vacation. Not only did it mean the receipt of a postcard—I was equally thrilled to see panoramic sweeping views of Paris as I was to get a shot of an alligator floating menacingly beside a Florida glass-bottom boat—but it also guaranteed an exotic souvenir.


My family didn’t go away much—in fact, we didn’t go away at all. I only recollect one family weekend trip, and that was to nearby Pennsylvania’s “Amish Country.” (Apparently, we also went to a Lake George resort for a week, but I wasn’t 2 years old yet, so that experience is totally mythic to me.)


Not soaring through the skies or getting our kicks on Route 66, we stayed home for the summer, fall, winter, and spring. There’s a joke that comic Colin Quinn has repeated in his act: “My family took Irish vacations. We sat on someone else’s stoop.” That definitely described our change of scenery during my childhood.


So, you can understand why I lived vicariously through the travels of my pals—and I was fortunate to have a lot of friends who really accumulated “frequent flier” miles at young ages.


One of my favorite memories was when I got my first Steiff. It was a marionette version of their “Jocko,” the monkey. (Though now as an adult, I suspect he was really an ape, since he mirrored the looks of a chimpanzee—a vest-wearing, string-bearing chimpanzee.) At the time I was completely smitten with the simian! He was completely adorable, and the fact that he came directly from Germany made him a cosmopolitan, international sensation to my way of thinking. I loved, loved, loved him, and treated (or perhaps tortured) my siblings and parents with pageants and puppet shows that starred “Jocko” and my other stuffed beasts. (I was a big fan of “The Sound of Music” at that age and fancied myself an honorary Von Trapp kid!)


Now, here is where my recollections of “Jocko” turn from a valentine’s to a painful jab. I de-buttoned him! Yes, it’s true. I was a child and had no idea about the button in the ear and the importance of tags and signage. I thought the ear jewelry and the big round Steiff label were compromising his style, so I cut them off and threw them away.


Many years later, when I got into the doll and bear biz, I learned about the value attributed to the “button in the ear.” I actually became red-faced and flustered when I recalled how cavalierly I un-Steiffed him.


“Jocko” had remained a staple on the bookshelf of my childhood room. Over the decades he had lost his strings—they became knotted and tangled during one of my more enthusiastic performances—and I began to decorate his vest with pushpin buttons from concerts and rock shows (Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, Elvis Costello). Little did I know but I was again damaging his value by decorating his original costuming with assorted holes and fraying.


Then when I turned 22, and had my own source of full-time income, I headed to Mexico and brought back souvenirs and trinkets of my own to share with nieces and nephews, cousins and children of friends. Now I was the world traveler!


The last image I have of “Jocko” is when I pinned a little pair of maracas on his vest, a remembrance of my own trip south of the Border. That was the first full-fledged vacation I took on my own, and it was the beginning of a decade of globe-trotting. I decided to make up for lost time and was determined to see the world.


And poor “Jocko” sat on my shelf as I became a grown-up with more mature concerns and more pressing decisions than whether I should put the Rolling Stone tongue-pin on his front pocket or on his vest’s hindquarter.


I don’t know what I ultimately did with my Steiff chimp friend. I can’t remember if I gave him to my friend Linda’s son as an impulse present one day, or if I donated him to the Salvation Army thrift shop, or if I packed him up to move him with me when I left my parents’ home for my own apartment (a horrible moving-day experience that ended up with two boxes of my items being misplaced and lost by the moving-van company).


Sometimes I imagine that “Jocko” was loved by a little boy who pretended they both were famous, brave adventurers and explorers. Or I think he might have been united with a little girl who treated him to a lifetime of tea parties and heart-to-heart bedtime chats.


Or, maybe, he’s found his way onto eBay, where he sits waiting to be purchased as a discarded stuffed animal—his glorious days as a Steiff authentic collectible forgotten and behind him. Whatever “Jocko” might have faced after he left my room, I am grateful for the years that I played with him, decorated him, and remembered him.


So, if you ever see a slightly worse-for-wear chimp that is wearing a red vest covered with buttons and maracas, give him a home. He’s one solid ape and really is more fun than a barrel filled with monkeys.


In the meanwhile, I have mended my heathen ways, and would never ever remove the button or any other emblems that connote a Steiff original ( My children both have a Steiff bear in their bedrooms, and that’s one of the life lessons I’ve imparted to them: “Say your prayers, brush your teeth, always do your best, and hands off the button.” They know to preserve their ursine collectibles in the most pristine way possible. I hope that somewhere “Jocko” is smiling and forgiving me.