The cuddly world of Steiff collecting
Steiff has dominated the history of teddy bear and plush toy manufacturing. Among all the teddy bears and stuffed animals in the world, those made by Steiff are the most collected, the most revered. Steiff collectors have a history as long as the Steiff company itself. Collections are passed down through generations, creating new waves of Steiff collectors and re-generating an interest that seems very unlikely to slow any time soon.****The sheer variety of Steiff toys available, and the length of the company’s history, provides a fertile collecting ground for investors, seasoned arctophiles, and those newly interested.
Steiff was created by Margarete Steiff in Germany in 1880. The empire arose with an army of toy elephants that began life as pincushions. When Margarete noticed them being taken up by children, the idea was kindled for the Steiff toy company, and thus, a business was born, along with the motto ‘for children, only the best is good enough’. The first teddy bear, for which Steiff would reach international fame, was created in 1902 – the year U.S. President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt made the bear a popular animal after refusing to shoot a tethered baby bear while hunting.
Steiff’s bears were seen at the Leipzig Trade Fair the next year by an American businessman, who ordered 3,000 and sold them in America under the name ‘Teddy Bear’. None of the bears from this original order survive. 1904 saw 12,000 of the teddies sold, and the surviving examples of these PB28 ‘Rod’ Bears, so called because they were jointed by three metal rods, are extremely valuable and sought after, considered the holy grail of Steiff by top end collectors.
By 1906, other companies were muscling in on the action, and a veritable plethora of teddy bears were being design and produced. But Steiff will always be the first and the most successful, respected for their high standards of quality. In 1907, Steiff manufactured 974,000 bears, a number that increased each year from then.
The 1920s onwards saw Steiff turn once again to animals, producing diverse menageries as well as bears throughout the rest of the century.
Since these auspicious beginnings, the company have created thousands of variations of teddies and other stuffed toys, that remain the favourites of arctophiles the world over.
Antique original and special limited edition teddy bears lead the high end of Steiff collectibles. Some are even created using diamonds and gold, sending their price soaring to thousands of pounds.
Other than bears
For collectors starting out, particularly on a budget, it is a good tip to focus on Steiff’s other products: animals, skittle animals, animals on wheels etc, rather than the more high profile teddy bears as they are much more affordable, and rare examples much easier to come by. Prices can start from just £20-£30, even for vintage originals. If hunted out second hand, a collector may be able to find a good deal on a Steiff toy.
Character toys that take Mickey Mouse, Paddington Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh etc will always be more expensive as they have the whole of their own collecting area to support them as well as interest in Steiff.
Second hand toys run the risk of being ‘well-loved’ by their child owners, and thus damaged. Always buy the best condition you can afford, and work your way up from there.
Rarity plus desirability
The creatures that were unpopular with children at the time of manufacture were therefore sparsely produced, and are now often the most rare and sought-after – the two key circumstances for creating value in a collection. It may be a tip to watch the woodland animals. They were never the most popular, and are still overlooked. While they have not yet found popularity among collectors, there may well be a surge of interest at some point. Their rarity, added to this new desire, will see them soar in value.
Steiff collectors may choose to focus on one type of animal or genre in this way. For example, vintage Steiff panda bears were created from the 1930s through the 1960s, and collecting all of their can make for a good project. Many though, once they get the Steiff bug, feel compelled to adopt every Steiff they find.
Identification of Steiff toys
Steiff toys are identified by the trademark button in their left ears, embossed with the Steiff name. Earlier examples are embossed with an elephant logo. Some special examples possess both. They retain more value when they have these, especially along with the original chest tag.
Replicas of their early bears are common, such as the 1912 Titanic mourning bear. Replicas can be identified by a white tag with a black lettering attached to the ear button, while limited edition possess a white tag with red lettering. Yellow tags are for Steiff’s general assortment.
The date of a toy, particularly bears, can be roughly ascertained by records of the measurements and when these were commonly produced, as well as the size of the button placed in the animal’s ear.
Where to find Steiff toys
New Steiff toys can be found in most toy shops and online.
Old Steiff toys can be sought out at second hand stores, flea markets, yard sales, auctions and online, especially auction websites like eBay.
Clubs and information sources
- http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com is a detailed Steiff blog with a comprehensive archive of information: fascinating articles, interviews with collectors, and advice for collecting. It is run by third generation Steiff collector and US Steiff official consultant archivist, Rebekah ‘Steiffgal’ Kaufman. She also helps solves Steiff mysteries about the age and origin of a toy if contacted.
- http://steiffbears.org provides detailed information on every Steiff toy ever made, as well as a trading forum and valuation service. They own one of the most extensive rare Steiff toy collections in the world, so really know their stuff.
At the very top end of Steiff collectibles are the teddy bears, and it is no wonder these consistently find the highest prices at auction for any teddy bear. Interestingly, many of these top sales occurred in the 1990s or early 2000s – suggestive of a particular boom of interest in teddies during this time.
The most expensive of these was not an antique or vintage bear at all, but a designer bear. The Steiff Louis Vuitton teddy bear, manufactured in the year 2000, sold at the Teddies de L’An 2000 charity auction in Monaco for $2.1 million.
Other notable sales of Steiff bears include:
- Steiff Teddy Girl bear - £110,000 in 1994
- Steiff Titanic mourning bear - £91,750 in 2000
- Steiff ‘Rod’ bear PB28 - £82,000 in 2002
- Steiff Elliot bear - £49,500 in 1993
See main article: Top 10 most expensive teddy bears
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