17 December 2008
Advice on collecting Steiff's lesser known animals ...
Sometimes you just see something and it makes you laugh out loud – in public.
People look and stare, wondering what you’re laughing at and who the weirdo is. This happened to me last week at a fair, after I stumbled across a small soft toy cat with the most bizarre, quizzical expression that I have ever seen.
I didn’t feel bad though as I think we all need a good laugh right now, particularly as the financial world crashes down around us.
On that note, we also need something to collect that doesn’t cost a million pounds. Now, if I say the name Steiff to you, you’re all bound to gasp and think of teddy bears worth thousands. Well, I’d like you to leave the bears in their caves or woods for a moment…
After I had ‘steiffled’ my fit of giggles and suppressed my embarrassed blushes, I started to look properly at the hilarious stuffed cat.
The first thing I noticed was a yellow fabric tag held in place in his ear by a small metal button. The second thing I noticed was the fact that he (or she!) was very well made. Of course, the tag and button gave the game away – this was a moggie with pedigree.
Despite the illustrious maker, the price was £20. I was intrigued.
It’s a little known fact that Steiff actually started in business producing soft toy animals, rather than the teddy bears for which it is best known today.
In late 1879, German seamstress Margerete Steiff discovered a pattern for an elephant stuffed toy. Although she initially produced them as pincushions, she soon found that they were more popular with children.
Being more used to playing with wooden toys and ceramic dolls, they found her soft toys irresistible. Other animals soon followed. Her success was so swift and great that she was able to found her own company the following year to produce them and the rest, as they say, is history.
A 1930s Steiff fox with a £250-£350 guide price
It’s unlikely that you’ll come across any of these early toys, as survivors from that date are extremely rare.
After all, these were children’s toys made out of fabric. The teddy bear also dominated production from 1903 onwards. However, the 1920s-’30s, followed by the 1950s-’60s, saw an entire menagerie being produced and these are much more commonly found today.
What marked Steiff out from its competitors was its attention to detail, fine materials, and rigorous quality control. Without doubt, it produced the best stuffed toys in the world, perhaps only rivalled by our very own Merrythought.
What to look for
Cats and dogs tended to be the most popular animals at the time, as they had the widest appeal.
As such, they are the most commonly found animals today. However, as cats and dogs are highly popular collecting areas in their own right, values can vary widely.
Prices start from as little as £20-£30, but rise depending on the size and breed. Scottie dogs, which are widely collected, tend to be very popular and sought after, but also look out for Bully the bulldog. Steiff capitalised on the popularity of this breed in the 1920s, and examples can fetch in excess of £200 today.
The rabbits is another popular animal. A small plump baby’s rattle may fetch around £100 in very good condition, but look out for the company’s rare skittles.
Released around the turn of the century (and re-released more recently), a tall rabbit stands on a hemisphere.
Originals can fetch over £400 in excellent condition, with a full set costing thousands. Other wild animals are popular too, particularly if typically found in a zoo – a popular holiday visit for children, even today.
Mockie the hippo can fetch over £50, while a camel or elephant on wheels from the 1920s or earlier may fetch up to £800 in a large size.
Woodland animals are an interesting conundrum. While they are cute and charming, they weren’t very popular with buyers at the time, meaning they can be rare today. However, their relative unpopularity has continued and it’s very much a niche collecting area. However, this may change and this could be an area to watch.
A squirrel from the 1960s may cost around £30-£40, but watch out for the name as values can vary between the different characters – for instance, Possy can be worth different sums to Perri. This brings up another interesting, positive point. Steiff was meticulous at recording names, characters and dates, allowing a collector to research when their toy was made and what his or her name was.
Characters form another collecting area, which is one of the most popular and expensive due to cross-market interest from other collectors.
The best example is Mickey Mouse. Produced from 1931-’36, he was made in large 45cm (18in), and smaller sizes and with red or rare blue short trousers.
You’ll need to make sure he has his tail, whiskers, buttons and tags, but values range from around £500 to the low thousands of pounds.
This Eric the Steiff bat has a guide price of £100-£150
In 2004 a large in superb condition example sold for over £8,000! Other characters can be valuable too. Puss in Boots, from c1912, can fetch over £1,000 with his big felt hat, sword and felt and leather boots.
But the real tip is to look out for a range of creatures. Unpopular with children at the time, these are usually overlooked by many, who think that nobody could love them. Not so.
Today, these are among the rarest and most sought-after stuffed toys made, with many being made for comparatively short periods of time. Good examples from the 1960s include Eric the bat, who can fetch £100-£150, and Nelly the snail, who can fetch up to £200.
Date is an important consideration. A Molly seated dog from the 1920s-’30s can fetch up to £400 in near mint condition with its tags, while a similar brown and white example from the 1960s may only fetch up to £60 in similar condition.
Earlier toys, from the 1900s and 1910s will also fetch a premium over their younger siblings.
It’s a good idea to look at books and online so you can learn the different styles of button used, as well as find out how to recognise early shapes and styles.
Condition is another important factor to consider. Although Steiff animals were made to last, a child’s love can wreak havoc with values.
Bald patches or, worse, a total loss of hair, can reduce values by around 75 per cent. Tears, re-stitched areas and shifting stuffing, leaving floppy areas, will also reduce value.
Also make sure you become totally au fait with the appearance of the animals, as replaced eyes or re-stitched noses will affect value too. If a toy still retains its yellow fabric tag and button, this will increase desirability, which rises again if the small card chest tag is still present.
However, sometimes the loving and well-intended care and attention of previous owners can make an example uniquely appealing – many collectors’ hearts have been captured by a particularly sweet or cute look.
Despite this it’s always best to buy in the very best condition you can.