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Steiff’s Endearing Creepy Crawlers From the 1950s & ’60s

by Rebekah Kaufman (11/30/10).

A stack of Steiff”s Slo turtles from the late 1950s.

Not every one of nature’s creations can be considered “endearing” . . . unless they just happen to be replicated in mohair, velvet or felt by the talented hands of Steiff’s craftsmen.

Steiff has been the leader in the creation of high-quality, realistic toys and collectibles since the late 1800s. In the century and a quarter since the company has been in business, it has produced practically every animal represented on Noah’s ark—even those considered a little unpleasant, or even unattractive! The late 1950s and ’60s were a time of great creativity at Steiff, fueled by the growing interest in the brand following the Second World War. During this period, the Steiff designers must have had “creepy crawly” as a product development priority, as many of the company’s most “unexpected” creations were brought to market during this time. Let’s take a look at a few of these slippery specimens and see why they are so interesting to collectors today.

We’ll start off this discussion at a pace everyone can relate to and take a look at Slo Schildkroete, or Slo Turtle. This popular reptile was introduced in the line in 1955 and produced through 1975. Slo was made from tan mohair that was gloriously airbrushed with green, tan, brown and black accents. He came in 10-, 14-, and 22-centimeter sizes. The 10- and 14-cm versions had a rubber or plastic shell and a closed mouth, while the 22-cm version was made entirely from mohair and had an open felt lined mouth. All versions had felt claws. This design proved so popular that Slo was also produced as a sit-on turtle for children, as well as a 35-cm riding turtle on wheels from 1959 through 1975. Slow received a “makeover” in 1976, appearing in velvet with a PVC shell in 14 and 22 cm. Overall, this design remained in the catalog until 1984.

Steiff’s lovely Lizzy Lizard from 1960.

Soon after Slo made the scene, Steiff launched a series of smaller, beautifully made “forest friends” to the world. The first was Lizzy Eidechse, or Lizzy Lizard, who, despite her name and breed, was a beautiful work of fine art. Lizzy was made from yellow plush velvet that was carefully and intricately airbrushed with green, back, brown and white details by hand. She had little black eyes and thick felt hands and feet. Her fingers and toes were also detailed with a vibrant green blush. She was stuffed with excelsior, which is a remarkable feat given her size, shape, and delicate skin material. Lizzy was produced in 4-cm (about 8 inches long) and 6-cm (about 12 inches long) and was in the line from 1959 through 1961.

Following on the tiny felt heels of Lizzy, Steiff continued down its “natural path” with the introduction of Eric Fledermaus, or Eric the Bat. Despite his diminutive size—he was produced in 10 and 17 centimeters—Eric’s body composition was amongst the most varied and intricate of any Steiff creation I can think of. His tiny, mouse-like body was constructed from gray-brown mohair. His thin wings were made from plastic-like sheeting. His arms and legs were gray pipe cleaners, while his ears were felt. Needless to say, he was very labor intensive to manufacturer, which may explain why he only appeared in the catalog from 1960 through 1962. That, in conjunction with his relative fragility, is one of the reasons that an Eric in good condition is considered such a treasure for most vintage Steiff collectors.

A rare and lovely 28-cm Steiff Crabby Lobster from 1964.

In 1961, Steiff decided to slow things down a bit—literally—with the launch of Nelly Schnecke, or Nelly Snail. Like Eric, Nelly was made from a variety of materials not usually seen on Steiff animals. Nelly had a velvet body; the bottom was tan and the top was either brown or green. She had tall, plastic antennae (which had a tendency to snap off during normal play), black bead eyes, and a large, swirled plastic shell to match her body color. She was only produced for a limited time, from 1961 through 1963. Like Eric, a Nelly in good condition is a fantastic find for Steiff collectors interested in these half-century old unusual rarities.

Perhaps by now in the discussion you need a little buttering up to stick with it to the end. In that light, please feast your eyes on Steiff’s Crabby Hummer or Crabby Lobster. Crabby was produced overall from 1963 through 1966. The 28-cm (practically life-sized) model was manufactured in mohair and stuffed with excelsior. He gloriously hand-painted and airbrushed in all shades of rust, red and pink. He had black eyes, eight bright, orange bendable pipe-cleaner legs, and bright orange string antenna. This same model was also produced in orange felt from 1963 through 1966 in 10 and 17 cm.

Steiff’s unusual and highly collectible Snaky hand puppet from 1965.

Finally, here’s hoping that our last Steiff “creepy crawler” just slithers right into your heart. Here we have Steiff’s Hand-Snaky Schlange or Hand Snake puppet. He only appeared in the line in 1965 and1966. This puppet was quite unusual for Steiff, given its relatively simple construction and attention to detail. Snaky was 20 cm and made from mohair; his very large snap-mouth was lined in red felt. He also came with a long, thin, red felt tongue. He had pert green and black pupil eyes. What made Snaky so outstanding was his amazing airbrush detailing. He was simply covered in every possible shade of green, brown, yellow and black you can imagine! This snake, in all senses of the word, was truly a work of art.

Like many things in life and the collectibles industries, “size can defy” in terms of value. In general, these petite beasts do generate much interest when they come up for sale, which is reflected in their marketplace value. Given that the items are in very good to excellent condition, with no off-putting smells or other issues, and at least one form of Steiff ID, an early Slo turtle may value in the $75-150 range; a Lizzy Lizard may value in the $150-300 range; an Eric the Bat may value in the $200-500 range; a Nelly the Snail may value in the $200-500 range; a Crabby Lobster may value in the $150-500 range (relative to size); and a Snaky hand puppet may value in the $300-500 range.

Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.

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