The Power of Reverse Engineering: Building a 5-Foot Steiff Roloplan Kite

Scott Skinner
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One of the prizes of my kite collection is an original Steiff Roloplan that came to me because of the great people at the Into the Wind kite store in Boulder, Colorado. They were called a few years ago by a man in Nebraska, who asked if they'd be interested in buying two old box kites, rescued from his attic. Whatever they thought of the offer, they politely referred the man to me. We talked for several minutes on the phone and nothing quite made sense to me: the two kites he had were made of cloth, not paper, he knew their approximate age because of family history, but he admitted that they might not be box kites at all. I expressed intense interest in the kites-sight unseen-and proceeded to tell the owner all I knew about kites similar to his: Garber Target Kites, Gibson Girls, and any others that I had first-hand knowledge of. Obviously, what he had was something else, entirely.

We agreed that he should send the kites to me for my inspection and then I would offer I felt to be a fair price. The waiting was intense, as I had no idea what might show up at my door. I was not disappointed; when I opened the mailing tube, here were two yellow-cotton bags with Steiff Roloplan instructions printed on the sides! Carefully opening both tubes, I found classic two-wing, yellow-and-red Roloplan kites, one 150cm (4 feet 8 inches) tall, the other 180cm (5 feet 3 inches).

These were unique in that they both had the word "Atlantic" printed on the yellow top sail; this validated the owner's story that they were purchased by his family when the Atlantic City pier was opened-most likely in the early 1920s. Both kites included the six original bamboo spars and two extras, in case of breakage. Just to show the quality of Steiff products; each spar is labeled with its exact length and weight in grams.

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