A transitional design Steiff Teddy Bear found recently at the Brimfield Antique Show.
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 more than 700 vintage Steiff collectibles.
Most people know Steiff enjoys a century-long-plus reputation of excellence for its handsome, well-designed and high quality Teddy bears. And here’s a perfect example of why this distinction is so well deserved.
This sweet boy is known officially as “Teddybaer” or Teddy Bear in the Steiff historical records. He is 35 centimeters tall, five-ways jointed, made from soft white mohair, and has a press-squeaker in his portly belly. His limbs are classically “Steiff”—long, curvy and detailed with light peach-colored felt paw pads. Ted has brown and black-pupil eyes and a brown hand-embroidered nose, mouth and claws on his hands and feet. It is interesting to note that traditionally, Steiff used black embroidery stitching on its blonde, caramel and brown bears, while its used chocolate-brown embroidery stitching on its white bears.
This particular example does not have a Steiff button or any other identification for official dating, which somewhat complicates pinpointing his birthdate. He has characteristics of Steiff bears ranging from the very late 1930s through 1950, a period of upheaval and disruption at the company. His smaller eyes, stern, serious look, high-quality materials and proportions suggest that he may have been made for export during the latter part of that time frame, when other economies were stronger than the German currency. When he left the Steiff factory, his official identification included one of several distinctive Steiff ear buttons, a yellow ear tag and a colorful bear head shaped chest tag. He retains the loop of string on his chest that would have held this tag.
His history and design legacy:
The jointed Steiff bear design has been evolving since around 1902, when the “modern” five-ways-jointed Teddy Bear as we know it was introduced. This first version was somewhat heavy, clunky in design, and string jointed. A few years later, to make their bears lighter and more playful in nature, Steiff began experimenting with internal metal rod jointing. By 1905, Steiff began manufacturing its jointed bears with a cardboard disc system, a process still used today.
In terms of design, this white mohair Teddy bear is interesting from the collector’s perspective, as he has elements of both the older bear designs, plus foreshadowing of what the 1950s and 1960s would bring in terms of looks and proportions for newer bears. So in some ways, he can be considered a “transitional bear,” bridging the best of the old and new Teddy worlds. These design features are primarily centered on his face, limbs and back:
What’s old about him: This bear has a pronounced, distinct muzzle, an angular head profile, and brown and black-pupil glass eyes. Newer bears were more childlike, with a flatter, fuller muzzle, more fluid head profile, and eventually, plastic eyes.
What’s new about him: His nose stitching is vertical; in older bears of his size this stitching would have been horizontal.
What’s old about him: This bear has prominent, curved wrists, relatively flat hands and large felt paw pads. Newer bears had less curvy, more chunky style wrists and paws.
What’s new about him: His arms rest at the top of his thighs; earlier models had arms that extended practically to the knees.
What’s old about him: This bear—like the early bears—has a very distinct back hump. This feature got smaller and smaller, all but disappearing on Steiff’s newer bears from the 1950s onward.
Notice the distinctive angular shape of the head of this transitional design Steiff Teddy.
A white Ted, with another blonde Ted from the same production time frame.
Why he’s so special to me:
I recently found this bear at the world famous “Brimfield Antique Show,” which is held a few times a year in western Massachusetts. This nearly weeklong festival is one of the largest outdoor antique festivals in America. It is all but impossible to walk the miles and miles of booths in one day!
I attended the final day of the show with somewhat low expectations of striking Steiff gold, given the number of other enthusiasts who had days to hunt before I arrived. It was a perfect early summer day, sunny and warm in the 70s. I decided to explore an area of the show where I had not walked before, primarily because it was in a shady area and I was feeling a bit hot and dehydrated from the quest so far. And that proved to be a wise choice indeed!
I found a booth that featured vintage toys—usually a good sign about possible Steiff inventory, too. After looking around and finding a few interesting items, there he was, in the back of a glass showcase towards the rear of the booth. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I recognized his profile immediately as a 1930s transitional bear. And to make the discovery even sweeter, he was white, a somewhat rarer find. His squeaker worked perfectly, too. It just doesn’t get much better than that!
A close-up of the blonde Ted’s Steiff ear button—a short “trailing f” button from the mid-1930 through around 1950. The white one has the same button.
Classic pre-war Steiff Teddy bears in very good to excellent condition have a universal appeal and collector base. Although the most desirable Steiff bears remain those produced from 1904 through mid-1920s, these slightly “younger” 1930s and 1940s bears are gaining in popularity. This bear’s more unusual color and working squeaker add interest and value to the item. On the other side of the coin, he does not have any official Steiff identification, which may be a detriment to some enthusiasts.
As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it, and vintage Steiff bears such as this one will always generate interest and will without a doubt appreciate over time. It is my best guestimate that this white Steiff bear, in excellent condition sans ID, would value in the $400 to $600 range in the United States today. With ID, those estimates could increase by a third or even a half.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth