This black and white silk plush rabbit would have most Steiff enthusiasts seeing spots over her beauty—and cryptic set of identification markers. It was probably made in the late 1930s or early 1940s and was stored away until after the Second World War, when it received its odd ID button and tag.
Every enthusiast has extra-special items in their collections—certain items that just take a gold medal for their rarity, design or the story behind them. Here is one of those treasures from my hug of over 700 vintage Steiff collectibles.
This black and white silk plush rabbit would have most Steiff enthusiasts seeing spots over her beauty—and cryptic set of identification markers.
What we have here is Steiff’s Hase or Rabbit. This springtime hare-binger is 15 cm., sitting and head jointed. She is made from white “silk plush,” a lower-quality substitute material that Steiff tended to use during periods of hardship or shortage. Her back, face and ears are lovingly hand-airbrushed with black spots and the rabbit’s ears are lined in tan felt with pink-painted highlights. Her face is detailed with brown and black glass pupil eyes, a simple red hand-embroidered nose and mouth, and clear, mono-filament whiskers. According to Steiff records, this particular model was produced in 15, 18, and 23 cm from 1938 through 1943.
Her History and Design Legacy:
Readers will not be surprised to learn that rabbits are legacy items for Steiff. Many different varieties appeared in the Steiff debut catalog of 1892—and the species continues to be one of the most popular designs for the company even to this day. And why might this be? In Germany, Easter is a huge national celebration and with that comes the Easter Bunny and all the fine treats and surprises that usually accompany her!
This particular black and white rabbit example has a few features that are exceptionally interesting to collectors.
1. The first is her material, silk plush. Silk plush items generally appeared in the line just before and just after the Second World War, so in the late 1930s-early 1940s and then again from around 1948 through 1950 or so, you’ll find silk plush Steiff animals. The material itself is low quality and generally does not wear very well. When new, it has a shiny, silky look and texture, but quickly loses its sheen and softness. Items made from silk plush are becoming more popular with collectors, as they are relatively rare, were made for a short time period and are now considered “vintage enough” to be interesting.
2. The second interesting feature is her ear button. It is 6 millimeters in diameter, and has the word “Steiff” stamped on it in raised, block capital letters. This button was used on items that left the factory in the approximately 1947 thorough 1950 time frame. I have only a handful of items in my collection with this button, as it is extremely rare.
3. The third feature is her ear tag. It is the style used from 1934 through 1943 and reads “Steiff Original geschutz Made in Germany” with the item’s product number, 3616, hand-written in black ink. (It is an additional mystery that the actual product number of this example is 3615, indicating a mistake on the tag.)
The mysterious rabbit and it’s odd-sized 6-mm ID button.
This bunny is probably pre-war, but has a post-war button
The hand-written tag ha the wrong product number.
So what does this all mean in terms of her actual production timeframe? According to her button, she is from the late 1940s to early 1950s. But, her design, ear tag and the Steiff records point to a manufacturing period between the late 1930s to early 1940s.
Here’s a viable explanation of this apparent discrepancy. It is highly probable that this particular rabbit was manufactured in the late 1930s or early 1940s, stored away in inventory during the war and unearthed after the factory reopened for business in the very late 1940s. The rabbit was then detailed with the button of the early 1950s as the last step in the Steiff manufacturing and branding process.
Why She’s so Special to Me:
I love Steiff items with a bit of a mystery, and also those patterns that were manufactured both before and after World War II, as they truly reflect Steiff’s classic design legacy. So when I spotted this rabbit for sale on an online auction recently, I knew she’d foot the bill in both cases!
She is made from white “silk plush,” a lower-quality substitute material that Steiff tended to use during periods of hardship or shortage.
I had been eyeing this beautiful bunny for about a week before I pulled the trigger and placed a bid on her. Although her description did not mention it, I was all but certain that she was made from silk plush and was a lovely example of an item that was manufactured many years before she finally left the factory in Giengen, Germany.
I was fortunate enough to win her, and of course did the happy dance to celebrate her joining my hug. When she arrived, she was exactly as I suspected. And, to make the introduction even sweeter, it turned out that she was from the collection of a colleague who lives in the western part of the United States. I was not aware of this until I saw the return address on the package. My colleague included a sweet note, which read in part… “Hi Rebekah, I think my bunny is going to feel right at home with you…” which made me feel really great!
As noted above, Steiff silk plush items are gaining in popularity with enthusiasts, which in turn increase the value of these somewhat unusual treasures. The unconventional set of ID and records related to this rabbit also add to its collectability. And, for comparative pricing, recent sales of Steiff transition-period silk plush items in very good to excellent condition have been in the approximately $300 to $1,000 range.
As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it, and Steiff rarities will always generate interest and will without a doubt appreciate over time. It is my best guestimate that this Steiff silk plush rabbit in the United States today, in very good to excellent condition with at least one form of ID, values in the $325 to $525 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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