Steiff “Kitty” faces are detailed with a short, white-mohair insert muzzle, green and black glass slit-pupil eyes, a pink hand-embroidered nose and mouth and clear, monofilament whiskers.
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.
It’s hard to disagree that this pair of fabulous felines are simply the cat’s meow!
What we have here are two early and lovely examples of Steiff’s beloved “Kitty” design. The larger cat measures 22 centimeters and the smaller one is 17 cm. Each cat is fully five-ways jointed, meaning that their heads and all of their limbs are movable. This flexibly allows for them to be posed in countless playful poses. Their upper bodies are made from very light grey mohair that is highlighted with black striping on their backs, legs, tails and heads. Their undercarriages, paws and ears are made from white mohair and they have press squeakers in their bellies. Their faces are detailed with a short, white mohair insert muzzle, green and black glass slit-pupil eyes, a pink hand-embroidered nose and mouth and clear, monofilament whiskers. “Kitty” has red hand embroidered claws on each of her four paws.
In terms of identification, when these cats left the factory around 1950 or 1951, each had a yellow ear tag, raised script-style Steiff button, named “bear faced” chest tag and white linen “Made in the US Zone” tag sewn into their front arm seam. Overall, this “Kitty” design was a line standard from 1949 through 1970 and was produced in 10, 17 and 22 cm. On the 10 -cm versions, the muzzle was made from white velvet—a treatment that Steiff often produced on the smallest versions of its early post-World War II cats and dogs to give them a dear, soft, baby look to them.
The three sizes of the post-war “US Zone” Kitty: 22, 17 and 10 centimeters.
Their History and Design Legacy:
Steiff is located in a small, pastoral town in Southern Germany called Giengen. From the very beginning, the company’s designs focused on animals that were within view and earshot of the factory. For that reason, patterns based on friendly pets—like cats and dogs—and farm animals, such as cows, pigs, rabbits and horses, go back as far as the company itself. Cats, as a product category, are also one of the top four for the company and they have their own distinct cataloging system in company records and reference books. Rounding out the top four are bears, dogs and rabbits (most likely because Easter, and the Easter Bunny, are a very big deal in Germany). Cats and kittens have been featured in the Steiff catalog since its first publication in 1892; at least six cat designs were featured in the charter edition. These were simple in pattern and made from felt.
As time went on, cats began to appear in wool plush, velvet and mohair around the turn of the 20th century. Starting in the 1920s, they started to be produced in playful, happy colors, including soft shades of blue and grey. These also had large eyes and a sweet, feminine look to them. In addition to traditional sitting and standing figures, they were also featured as hand puppets, pincushions, musical animals, cat-dolls and even pajama bags up through the early 1940s. As soon as the factory reopened for business following the Second World War, cats—of course—were among the very first items produced. And “Kitty,” the examples under discussion here, was among the most beloved of these designs through the early 1970s.
While it is a little frayed, the “Made in the US Zone Germany” tag is still legible.
One of the things that makes this “Kitty” set particularly interesting is their “Made in the US Zone” tags. So what exactly are these IDs and what do they mean? This tag was attached to all Steiff items from 1947 through 1953. This tag is made from thin white cotton or linen material and states: “Made in US – Zone Germany”. At the end of World War Two, the Allied powers divided Germany west of the Oder-Neisse line into four areas: American, British, French, and Soviet occupational zones. The Americans were responsible for the southern part of Germany, which is where Steiff is located. The forces were tasked at “demilitarizing” Germany, which included shutting down many factories that did, or had the potential, to produce items that could be used for combat or aggressive purposes. When Steiff’s very limited postwar production slowly started up again in 1945-46, items could only be sold to the American troops. These restrictions were gradually eased and by 1947 Steiff could sell domestically; by 1949 the company’s products were once again available internationally. The “US Zone Tag” insured to the outside world that items produced in Germany were done so in a civilian factory and met business and distribution standards set up by the American military government overseeing the occupational zone.
Why the set is so Special to Me:
I have to admit, I am not really a “cat person” and my Steiff and real-life pet menagerie focus on dogs. However, when I learned these “Kitty” cats were available, I jumped at the opportunity to adopt them. From a collector’s perspective, I am particularly interested in Steiff items that were produced in the early 1940s and in the early 1950—that period that bookends when the factory closed for the war and then reopened after the war ended. These products tend to be very traditional, authentic and have a “no frills” look and feel to them. German in the true sense of the word. And, since I already had the 10-cm baby “Kitty” in my collection, here was a chance to complete my set. And I am so glad I did!
A close-up of the 22-cm Kitty.
A close-up of the 17-cm Kitty.
Steiff’s traditional pets, including dogs and cats, are among collector’s favorites and many enthusiasts just focus their energies on these two lines alone. Although significant numbers these items were produced to keep up with demand from the late 1940’s through early 1970s in general, it is hard to find them in relatively good condition most were loved as toys and playthings. In addition, Steiff items from this period are gaining additional popularity and value, as they are still somewhat available and at reasonable price points for collectors, who may have had these actual items in their youth. This particular “Kitty” cat design is of special interest as it is five-ways jointed, beautifully detailed and has a precious, universally appealing and lifelike appearance.
As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it, and classic Steiff collectibles in the form of beloved house pets in very good to excellent condition will always generate interest and will without a doubt appreciate over time. It is my best guestimate that in the United States today, the 17-cm “Kitty” cat values in the $175-225 range, while the larger 22-cm version values in the $200-300 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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