Sunday, February 21, 2010

Visit to meet two master craftsmen in Germany.

In 2009 my partner and I decided to travel to Seiffen in the Erzgebirge region, south east Germany. The area is well known for its wooden toy making history. I particularly wanted to visit two mastercraftsman; Karl-Heinz Bilz and Jan Stephani. Both have a long family history of producing beautiful little wooden pushups (Wackelfiguren), and I was very keen to meet them. I hoped to see their workshops!
It took us several train trips, links with country buses and lots of folk saying "Seiffen..wo ist das". No-one seemed to have heard of it... a full day of travel and we arrived at the little town of Sieffen: a toy making heaven!
Our first adventure was to find Jan Stephani; a third generation craftsman, whose grandfather Kurt founded the company in 1935.

I must admit I was quite excited to arrive at Jan's shop (photo left)! I had a few of his push ups, one dating back to his grandfather. I was hoping that he didn't think I was completely mad, travelling all the way from Australia to this tiny little toy making town in the middle of the Erzgebirge mountains, especially to meet him! (photo below right)

Actually I do think he thought I was a bit barmy; he spoke very little English, and I spoke even less German, but I managed to explain why I was there by showing him photos of my collection...he smiled!  He and his wife were very welcoming and I bought all the pushups he had in his workshop!

He then surprised me with a gift. He had (that very day) just finished producing a NEW push up for his catalogue, a penguin (photo left), and very kindly gave me one of his prototypes!
I managed to embarrass myself by tearing up a little. (I know fellow collectors will understand how exciting this little gift was!)

 Photo Above: Bird on the left is by Jan Stephani 2009, bird on the right is by his father (note the marking on the base GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC)

(photo left) A selection of my Stephani puppets.

Our second adventure was to find Karl -Heinz Bilz, also a third generation craftsman, his grandfather founding the business in 1923!
We set out around Seiffen with a street address and found the little work-shop.(photos below) Karl-Heinz was very welcoming. He also had little English but certainly understood why I was there! 

We were taken into his little workshop where there were 100's of half made little puppets and a couple of ladies hard at work painting and threading! Karl-Heinz also showed us how he turned the wood, and then gave us a couple of puppets!  We felt pretty honoured to be allowed to watch the process.  

A selection of my Karl-Heinz Bilz Push Ups!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Push Button Puppets 'Brief History'!

Brief history of push button puppets...
... where did they come from ? When were they first made?

All Puppets in photos are from my own collection.

Push puppets were first made in Switzerland by a wooden toy maker, Walter Kourt Walss in 1932. These articulated,wobbling toys were known as WAKOUWAS; taken from the first few letters of each of Walter's names! The dancing, wiggling toys are now known by many different names around the world (as listed in my profile).

Photo Left: Wakouwa Champs early wooden base puppet.
The term 'Push Button Puppets' was first adopted by an American toy making company in America, Kohner Brothers in 1947, buying the patent from the Swiss inventor Marty Meinard.

The chap on the left is a Kohner Howdy Doody character puppet, wooden body and plastic base (1950s).


Kohner moved into producing plastic puppets in the 1960s.

Photo Left: 1960s Kohner's The Lone Ranger

In the 1970s Kohner starting produced Disney characters with Gabrielle.

Photo Left: 1970s Pluto Push-up Puppet

Many companies followed the Wakouwa invention and the Kohner push puppets, making similar puppets around the world, including England where the company Tri-ang started producing tin bases and wooden tops!

Photo Above: The Tri-ang Dog on Tin base (1940s)

Right : Tri-ang Dog advert in The Maccano Magazine 1947 (with thanks to  french wakouwa collector Sylvia Dehais)
Many smaller push ups were also made in Germany (mainly in the Erzgebirge region) , the Czech Republic, France and  Italy.
Although initially Wakouwas were all wood, gradually celluloid and plastic became common. Now there are many companies producing push puppets all over the world!
 Photo Left: (1960s?) Italian lion
Photo Right: German Erzebirge region push puppet (2009)

Modern Puppets are now being produced everywhere. It appears anything can be made to  wobble ! Photo Left : just a few modern push ups !

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Exciting first week of blogging!

If you've found yourself on this page...welcome!
I'm an English girl living in Melbourne , Australia hence the name Pomsie (Pommy Australian) I suspect I might be one of the first to call myself a Pomsie?!
Why Push Puppets? About 2 years ago I found a small black cat push puppet (pic left) on my shelf and thought to myself 'I loved these when I was a kid', so I hunted out a few more! My partner felt I had discovered a hidden repressed passion which needed feeding so bought me a small yellow spotted dog (pic left) from the local market, and so it began. Now I can't stop, it is a complete obsession. I've now discovered I am not alone, there is a small passionate little community out there of "Wakouwa, Push-Up Button Puppet, Collapsing Toy, Thumb Puppet, Wackelfigur, Wackelfiguren, Wackeltiere, Wackeltier, Drückmännchen, Drücktier, Drückerfigur, Drukfigur, Drukpoppetje, Mackaci Figurky, Pupazzi, Figurine en Boiscollector" collectors (this list is thanks to one of the best collectors out there...thanks Jane Coakeley)...more of my fellow collectors to come in a future posting!...