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Featured Collection: Steiff Stuffed Animals

Our 'January 23rd Premier Auction' will feature an impressive collection of vintage, replica, and newer Steiff stuffed animals.

The image includes three individually featured bears from our upcoming Premier Auction. From left to right: Lots 1586, 1592, and 1594.

"Only the best is good enough for Children"

Steiff is known as the world's foremost luxury toy brand. The craftsmanship of their product has been considered the quality gold standard for stuffed animals since the company's humble beginnings in 1880. Margarette Steiff, the founder, is credited with the invention of this most cherished play toy.

"Der Mensch treibt just das am liebsten, wozu er am wenigsten Beruf hat"

(man most enjoys doing exactly what he is least suited for)

Afflicted with polio as a child, Margarette Steiff suffered from paralysis of her legs and the restricted use of her right arm. Despite the barriers of this disability and her femininity, she was able to become a sought-after seamstress and eventually a successful business owner. Her self-determination and entrepreneurial spirit are an inspiration to this day.

The creation of her first stuffed animal was happenstance. With leftover scraps of felt fabric and a pincushion pattern she’d clipped from a lady's magazine, Margarette fashioned a simple stuffed elephant. This elephant would be the first of many given to lady friends as pincushions and quickly adopted by their children as beloved toys. Requests for these stuffed animals from neighbors and friends were soon followed by orders from toy dealers. Thus her new found hobby evolved into a thriving business.

photo of Margarette Steiff via:

As the company grew so did its miniature zoo. Steiff's menagerie would eventually include dogs, cows, cats, camels, pigs, birds, creepy crawlers, horses, fish, bunnies, chipmunks, donkeys, and more. But the toy to give the company lasting fame would be the Teddy Bear.

This reproduction of Margarete Steiff's original elephant pincushion is included in Lot 1625 in our upcoming January 23rd Premier auction.

The History of the Teddy Bear:

The first Steiff bear toys were modeled after dancing bears. They were often depicted with a ring through their nose and performing various circus acts. Margarette Steiff's nephew, Richard Steiff, wished to make a bear toy with jointed limbs so that it could be posed and played with like a doll. It would take many attempts until the design was perfected, but the final result would become the world's most iconic children's toy.

Example of inspiration for the original steiff stuffed bears. via:

When designing the first Teddy Bear prototypes, Richard Steiff, frequently visited the zoo to sketch the animals directly from life. This respect for naturalism is especially evidenced by the original teddy bear’s realistic proportions: elongated arms, humped back, extended snout, and beady eyes. The jointed limbs of these bears were even designed to articulate in a natural way- reflecting a live bear’s movements. In addition, Steiff stuffed bears were often given a "growler". This reeded mechanism makes a "growl", or at least a sound similar, when the stuffed animal is played with.

Lot 1585 is the perfect example of the realism of the original teddy bear's proportions. He even growls!

After many an afternoon spent sketching bears at the zoo, Richard Steiff's drawings were translated into patterns from which the first models were made. Materials were chosen to best suit each piece, then cut and sewn by hand. Margarete Steiff herself usually stitched these initial mock-ups to ensure that the patterns could easily be reproduced and to correct any design flaws.

Instead of the traditional felt, Mohair Plush (a shimmering, subtle fiber woven from the fleece of the Angora goat) was chosen to mimic a bear’s real fur coat. This material was ideal for children’s toys as it was dirt repellent, flame resistant, took dye remarkably well, and was silky soft to the touch. This fabric's durability is attested by the many antique teddy bears that have survived generations of play.

Origins of a name:

Many legends surround the provenance of the Teddy Bear's name. One of these goes something like this: In November of 1902 Theodore Roosevelt was invited on a much publicized hunting trip to Mississippi. Many of the competing sportsman had already killed their trophy when Roosevelt’s attendants, not wishing the president to be outdone, cornered, clubbed, and tied a sickly black bear to a willow tree. They called for President Roosevelt and suggested he kill it-- He refused.

“drawing the line in Mississippi” Clifford Berryman, cartoonist for the Washington Star, 1902


The event was later used to illustrate a boundary dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana in a political cartoon entitled “drawing the line in Mississippi”. The cartoon depicts Roosevelt, gun in hand, turning his back on a frightened bear cub. After the cartoon’s syndicated publication, the bear came to symbolize the president, further endearing him to the American public and forever linking his nickname, “Teddy”, with bears.

Steiff would use the name “teddy bear” for marketing their stuffed bear toys in America.

Richard Steiff with one of his first teddy bear prototypes.

Many reproductions of these original Teddy Bears have been produced over the years by Steiff as limited editions for the collector's market. To create one of these bears, the company uses its original archived patterns, as well as the same processes and high quality mohair fabrics it used over 100 years ago. Our upcoming auction will feature several of these very special bears.

Lot 1606 from our January 23rd Auction commemorates the 80th Birthday of the Teddy Bear as a replica of the Richard Steiff's first sucessful teddy bear prototype.

In addition to these replica bears, our upcoming auction will also feature a variety of vintage Steiff offerings dating from the 50's through the 70's. These whimsical (and sometime's rare) pieces are often detailed with vibrant airbrushed designs. This array ranges from the creepy crawly:

This vibrantly airbrushed tarantula was produced as part of a series of creepy crawlers made in 1960 and 1961 (Lot 1626).

To the Reptilian:

Alligator hand puppets (lot 1619).

and from the just plain cute:

Flossie the fish (lot 1639).

to the wide-eyed:

lot 1608.

These vintage classics are accompanied by an assortment of ride-on and pull-along toys like this darling (and much loved) ladybug.

This lady bug ride on toy (lot 1610) has seen some fun as evidenced by the threadbare mohair of it's back, but is still highly collectible in this condition. IT also has a lot of play still left in it due to the high quality of it's construction.

Tips on how to identify an authentic Steiff stuffed animal.

Button in the Ear:

The trademark of original Steiff is the "Knomf im Ohr" or “Button in the Ear”. If the stuffed animal does not have ears look for the button on another part of its body. If the stuffed animal has no button, check for a small hole in the ear. This may be an indication that the animal had a button at one time.

This darling piggy, a selection from Lot 1583, displays a Steiff chest tag, but no trademark button. The nibble in its ear is evidence that it once had one though. We are confident it is a genuine Steiff.

Collectors should always be wary of "knomf im Ohr" imitations. Blank buttons were only used until 1905. If a blank button on an "old" bear appears too shiny, or is lacking the Steiff company logo, it is probably counterfeit. The following is a reference for the various buttons used by the company over the years:

image via:

The button on this stuffed elephant (Lot 1588) dates it to be a 1950's era Steiff toy.

Ear Tags:

Identification numbers on the ear tags can also be used as a reference to determine the authenticity of Steiff stuffed animals and figure out when they were made. Ear tags feature an EAN number which has been in place since 1905. EAN numbers contain pertinent information for the collector. The first number describes the animal's position; the second indicates the material content; and the third and forth describe its size. Limited edition tags will also include an edition number and a number for the total release overall. These tags are white with red lettering. White tags with black lettering distinguish reproduction, or replica, bears.

This ballerina "Pieps" mouse (lot 1627) was produced for exclusively for FAO Schwarz. The EAN number on her tag dates production of this model to 1958.

image via:

Chest Tags:

Chest tags not only give a name to the stuffed animal, but they add value to the piece as many did not survive. If you think you may have an authentic Steiff but there is no tag, check for a string attached to the chest as this may be evidence that there once was a Steiff chest tag.

Note the chest tag on Lot 1609, a ride and pull along donkey named "Grissy". This tag dates him to be a 50's era toy.

Various Chest Tags used over the years. image via:


Other tell tale signs of a Steiff quality teddy bear or other stuffed toy include a swiveling head, felt or plush paws, glass eyes, as well as jointed arms and legs. All details on Steiff animals (like the nose, mouth and other small design elements) are hand sewn. In addition, post-war stuffed animals have hand-airbrushed details. Although this technique is not exclusive to the company, it is characteristic of many of Steiff's mohair toys from this period.

Lot 1581 features this adorable tiger with airbrushed stripes.

We hope you peruse these items. You might find a Steiff stuffie you have to hug!

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