Steiff’s 35-cm Lion on red wooden wheels from the late 1920s or early 1930s.
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.
You’ve heard of the Roaring ’20s, right? Well, this handsome vintage Steiff lion on wheels might just be one reason the decade received its name.
What we have here is Steiff’s Loewe or lion on wheels. Lion is about 24 centimeters tall and 35 cm long without his wheels. He is standing on all fours, unjointed, and made from short tan mohair. His mane is made from longer tipped mohair. This same tipped mohair covers his underbelly and—when he was new—the tip of his tail. Lion’s face is detailed with brown and black glass-pupil eyes, a pink hand-embroidered nose and a black hand-embroidered mouth. He has black hand-embroidered claws on each of his paws. He is mounted on a black metal carriage and he glides along on four red wooden wheels. He left the factory in Giengen, Germany, with a red and white twine pull cord that had a red wooden handle.
This lion on wheels was made in 28, 35, 43, 50, 60, 80 and 100 cm (measured lengthwise) from 1925 through 1943. This particular example has the 8-mm trailing “F” Steiff ear button and remains of his red ear tag, putting his production in the 1925 through 1934 timeframe.
A collection of Steiff’s vintage lions (left to right): 22-cm five-ways jointed Lion, circa 1910-1925; a 35-cm unjointed Lion on wheels, circa 1925-1934; and a 14-cm five-ways jointed Lion, circa 1951-1953.
His history and design legacy:
Rolling lions have always been a main line for Steiff. As a matter of fact, the first Steiff lion on wheels appeared in the catalog as early as 1894. Not bad, given the first Steiff catalog debuted in 1892. This first lion on wheels was made from felt, as mohair was not widely commercially available until 1902-03. In 1909, Steiff introduced a mohair version of its lion on wheels. This model appeared in 22, 28, 35, 43, and 50 cm through 1919. Depending on the size, it was either a pull toy or ride-on animal. In 1925, Steiff updated the design slightly and produced the larger versions of the lion with pull-cord voice. This model, which is the one under discussion here, appeared through 1943.
Fast-forward to the late 1940s. When the factory reopened following for business after the end of the Second World War, around 1948, wheeled lions were was one of the first items to be produced, probably due to their handsome good looks and proven sales success. In 2007, Steiff produced a replica of its 1909 version as a worldwide limited edition; it is no surprise it was a huge hit and sold out almost immediately.
Why he’s so special to me:
The most interesting finds are often the results of good timing and serendipity, and it is no different in the case of this lion. I had received an e-mail from a dealer-friend I had met at the Brimfield Antique Fair a few months back. She had received into her inventory a number of exceptional vintage Steiff treasures, mostly bears, from estates across New England. I was very happy to hear from her, and her items sounded intriguing, so we made a plan to meet at her home in Connecticut so I could view the goodies firsthand.
The Lion sports a very handsome face; notice his piercing black and brown glass-pupil eyes and hand-embroidered nose and mouth.
I made the cross-state trek to see her, and am I ever glad I did. Her bears were even more interesting than she described, and I made a few purchases. On my way out the door, she mentioned that she had a friend who had a vintage doll and toy store about 10 miles from her home. I asked for directions and headed out to the shop.When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the store and its vast expanse of fabulous merchandise. I was like a kid in a candy shop as I explored its remarkable selections and displays. And then I saw him—this marvelous lion—on a shelf across from the owner’s cash wrap station. He called to me like a bee to honey. After a little negotiation, I ended up adopting him (and a few other treasures) from the shop. What started out as a great day ended up being twice as nice with this unexpected stop and purchase!
There is something quite magical about Steiff’s animals on wheels, and many collectors are willing to pay a premium for special pieces. These items have universal appeal and are as popular in Europe and Asia as they are in North America. It is not terribly unusual to see early examples on the secondary market. What is unusual, though, is to see them in very good to excellent condition with at least one form of identification. This is most likely the case, as these items were made as toys and, as a result, experienced the effects of play and wear.
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 medium-sized Steiff lion pull toy in the United States today values in the $700 to $900 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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