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All Abuzz about Steiff’s Line of Insects

by Rebekah Kaufman (07/19/10).

Steiff’s 12-centimeter Spidy Spider, from 1960-61, in fair condition. His legs have partially snapped off, which is quite common in this item. Note his remarkable airbrushing and three black glass eyes.

Steiff’s 12-centimeter Spidy Spider, from 1960-61, in fair condition. His legs have partially snapped off, which is quite common in this item. Note his remarkable airbrushing and three black glass eyes.

I don’t mean to bug you, but given all the outdoor activities associated with this wonderful season of the year, isn’t it the perfect time to take a closer look at some of Steiff’s insects? Yes, the company that is best known for inventing the Teddy bear in 1902, and subsequently manufacturing practically every animal from anteaters to zebras since then, has also a century-long history of producing creepy-crawlers as well.

Insects first appeared in the Steiff catalog in 1902. In that year alone, the line featured a felt butterfly baby rattle, a velvet beetle baby rattle and a velvet beetle pincushion. Fast forward a few years, Steiff introduced its first ladybug in 1915; she was made from red and grey felt and was produced in 8 and 10 centimeters. Around the same time, Steiff debuted riding and rolling bugs; many of these designs proved so popular that they remained a part of the line for nearly 60 years. Steiff introduced their woolen miniatures to the world in the early 1930s; soon after enthusiasts were welcoming Nomotta wool ladybugs, cockroaches, beetles and bumble bees into their collections. These remarkable and unusual bugs ranged from 6 to 7 cm in size and featured a swivel head and tiny metal legs and feet; each wore matching tiny felt slippers. All of these pre-WWII insects are very rare and, as a result, highly prized by collectors.

Steiff continues to produce insects in its line, even to this day. But unlike the very early felt and velvet models—which were quite lifelike and realistic—and the woolen miniatures—which were designed for display—Steiff bugs manufactured after WWII seem to have two things in common: The first is a “goofy” design (there is nothing scary or annoying about these comical critters). The second is that they were all designed to be used as everyday playthings for children.

Now, let’s take a look at three of the more “unusual” insects Steiff has produced over the past 50 years.

The 1960s brought Steiff fans Spidy Spinne or Spidy Spider. Spidy is standing on eight legs and is made from mohair. His body is gloriously hand airbrushed in brown, red and green. He came in 12- and 22-cm sizes. The 12-cm size featured thin, pipe-cleaner-style legs that tended to snap in half or fall off completely from wear. The larger size had more robust mohair covered wire legs. Small Spidy had three black glass eyes; large Spidy had seven. Spidy was produced in 1960 and 1961 only, making him quite collectible. In 1991 and 1992, Steiff created the “Spidy Replica 1960” set; this collector’s edition included a pair of 13- and 23-cm spiders that closely resembled their original namesakes.

Steiff’s 43-centimeter woven, plush caterpillar on eccentric wheels from 1980-83, accompanied by a modern, 10-cm “Cappy” red-and-black, plush ladybug.

Steiff’s 43-centimeter woven, plush caterpillar on eccentric wheels from 1980-83, accompanied by a modern, 10-cm “Cappy” red-and-black, plush ladybug.

One of the most distinct of all Steiff insects crawled on the scene in the 1980s. Steiff calls her Nachziehraupe or Pull Toy Caterpillar; let’s refer to her as “Pilla” for convenience. Pilla is 43-cm long and made from black-, green- and gold-colored knitted fur. Her face is very simple and consists of two side patches of tan nylon material, each with a hand-painted black and white eye on it. She doesn’t have a mouth or a nose. She has two black “antenna” on the top of her head that are made from long black acrylic fibers. She doesn’t have a Steiff button in ear, but she does have a yellow ear flag stitched in one of her head seams. This colorful caterpillar rocks and rolls (literally) on four pairs of large off-center red wooden rollers; each wheel is about the size of a golf ball. This “waddling” movement design is called “eccentric wheels” and first appeared on Steiff products in 1912. She had a pull string attached to her front roller when she left the factory in Giengen. Pilla was produced from 1980 through 1983.

Steiff’s 20-cm soft plush Flappy Fly from 1994, only the only year it was made. Note his bizarre eyes made of cobalt blue fabric printed with black hexagons.

Steiff’s 20-cm soft plush Flappy Fly from 1994, only the only year it was made. Note his bizarre eyes made of cobalt blue fabric printed with black hexagons.

Did you know that our last insect under discussion is the subject of a poem penned by a famous American poet? Ogden Nash, in his poem “The Fly,” wrote: “God in His wisdom made the fly, And then forgot to tell us why.” Well, Steiff made a fly in 1994, and many collectors may be questioning that decision in a tongue-and-check sort of way too. Steiff’s Flappy Fly is an unjointed, 20-cm bug primarily made of mottled green woven plush. He has simple black plush feet, long grey plush wings, and really bizarre eyes made of cobalt blue fabric printed with black hexagons. He has black rope feelers. In addition to green, he was also produced in red, yellow, blue and brown.

Love them or hate them, Steiff’s insects are certainly a distinctive specialty in the product line, and they do create a buzz among some collectors. Early 20th-century Steiff bug-themed felt and velvet rattles and pincushions, depending on condition, can value north of $1,000. Pre-war woolen miniature insects in very good to excellent condition can value in the $250 to $500 range. Original 1960s-era Spidy spiders, with all their legs and eyes, can value in the $150 to $300 range. Steiff’s vintage Pull Toy Caterpillar values in the $75 to $150 range, while the more recent Flappy Fly values in the $30 to $60 range.

Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.

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