A 10-centimeter Steiff Teddy bear and chick play on a red and green metal jungle gym made by Steiff exclusively for the high-end toy retailer FAO Schwarz in 1966 and 1967.
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 750 vintage Steiff collectibles.
This is the ultimate Steiff “play date,” regardless of how old you are!
What we have here is a red and green metal Steiff jungle gym made exclusively for the high-end toy retailer FAO Schwarz in 1966 and 1967. This item is so rare it does not even appear in the Steiff Sortiments, the gold standard reference books for Steiff collectors worldwide. It is, however, pictured in the FAO Schwarz catalog. There, it is described as…
“Big as a minute, but mighty adorable are these little Steiff bears with an excellent confirmation that is covered with a shortcut mohair plush. They have arms, legs, and a head that are movable. Small bears are noted for their frolics. And here is play equipment for them to enjoy to their heart’s content. This well-made equipment is of metal and is finished in gleaming red and green enamel.”
The set itself is made from sheet metal that has been cut and formed to form the play structure. The wooden frame and flagstone base are not original; more about that below. Overall, the play center measures a little less than two feet long by about a foot tall and wide The set consists of a long red slide, a red metal swing, a teeter-totter sawhorse, a wooden trapeze bar, a small green climbing ladder and a green hanging “climbing tree.” The swing and trapeze bar are suspended from fine-gauge metal wire chains, while the teeter-totter and climbing tree connect to the structure with hooks. FAO Schwarz originally sold the set with four, five-ways jointed 10-cm bears (one white, two blondes and one caramel) and one five-ways jointed 10-cm Jocko monkey.
The jumgle gym as seen in full is about two feet long, a foot wide and a foot high. The flagstone base was added to increase the stability of the structure.
Its History and Design Legacy:
Steiff and FAO Schwarz have a business relationship that spans more than 150 years, which continues to this day. Although FAO Schwarz has always sold the standard line Steiff items, the retailer is best known among Steiff collectors for its six decades of delightful store-only exclusives. FAO Schwarz exclusives basically fall into two camps: those which were completely original to the store and those which were modification of standard line items. Items completely original to the store included a life-sized standing fox, a Texas Longhorn and an English bulldog. This play set is a good example of a modified item; others included dressed, 8-cm mice, walrus puppets and pajama bags, and dressed bear families. In the case of the play set, FAO Schwarz designed and fabricated the metal structure here in the USA. It then added Steiff’s standard line Teddy bears and monkeys to the set, probably right at the store.
Today, this set is extremely hard to find in good or better condition, given that it was designed for fun and play, has lots of pieces and parts, and the metal itself was prone to chips, bends and dings. However, if collectors are able to find one, the set is the ideal way to display small (i.e., about 10 cm) bears, monkeys, woolen miniatures or other animals. It does make an amazing and whimsical focal point for a room; this particular set is used as the centerpiece in my formal dining room.
A 10-cm Jocko monkey hangs upside down on the structure.
Another Jocko hangs from the rings at the end of chains.
Why this Set is so Special to Me:
I received an e-mail out of the blue about two years ago. It was from a collector here in New England who had a few childhood Steiff treasures she wanted to rehome. She had several unusual 1950s-era items—including dogs, cats and rabbits—and of course, I was delighted to learn about them and eventually add them to my collection.
A few months later, I heard from her again. She had come across a box “full of red and green metal pieces, along with some tiny Steiff bears and a Jocko” in a draw of an old chest in her basement. She wanted to know if I had any idea what these pieces could be and if I would be interested in the find. I immediately thought of the Steiff play set and e-mailed her back with a photo of the set as it appeared in the FAO Schwarz catalog.
Bears playing on the swing and teeter-totter.
It turned out I was right! I purchased the box of pieces and am very lucky that my father is a retired metallurgist with expert tinkering and repair talents. He not only skillfully “unbended” the metal supports, but reassembled the structure and even added the flagstone base and wooden frame to add stability to the piece.
It is most challenging to value items that have limited comps or are rarely seen on the collector’s marketplace. So many things go into the actual “value” of a vintage Steiff item—general global economic conditions, the number of people vying for the item at any given time, the condition of the item relative to others like it, what else is on the market at the same time, where it is being offered for sale, etc. Given all that, FAO Schwarz and Steiff exclusives of this nature always generate collectors’ interest, if not collector’s value.
On the other side of the coin, its large footprint, somewhat complicated set up and maintenance, and spacial demands in some way limit its appeal. That all being said, something is worth what someone will pay for it. Steiff rarities like this will always generate interest and will without a doubt appreciate over time. It is my best guestimate that this play set today, in very good to excellent condition with the four original Steiff animals also in very good to excellent condition, values in the $800 to $1,600 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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