Legendary German maker Steiff are best known for their loveable and desirable antique teddy bears, the best of which can fetch over £100,000 ($200,000). Few know that the company also produced an enormous and varied range of soft toys. Being much easier to find, they make a charming and interesting collection. With prices ranging from as little as £15 ($30), they’re also more affordable!
Another largely unknown fact is that Steiff actually began by making soft toys rather than teddy bears. In late 1879, seamstress Margerete Steiff discovered a pattern for an elephant stuffed toy. Although she initially produced them as pin-cushions, she soon found that they were more popular as children’s toys. Other animals soon followed. Her success was so great and swift that she founded her own company the following year to produce them and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s unlikely that you’ll come across any of these early toys, mainly as survivors from that date are extremely rare. The teddy bear also dominated production from 1903 onwards. The 1920s-30s, followed by the 1950s-60s, saw an entire menagerie being produced. Cats and dogs tended to be the most popular at the time, as they had the widest appeal. As such, they are the most commonly found animals today. Date is important. A ‘Molly’ seated dog from the earlier period can fetch up to £400 ($800), whilst a similar brown and white example from the 1960s may only make around £70 ($150).
Condition is also one of the most important factors to value. Although Steiff’s toys 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%. Always look for the famous ‘button’ in the ear, and consider that dedicated collectors prefer to buy examples that also have their fabric ear tags, and card chest tags which bear the animal’s cute name.
Also look out for animals that may not have appealed to a child, as they can be rare today. Many were produced during the 1950s-60s, so can often be found in good condition. ‘Nelly’ the snail is a good example, and can fetch up to £400.