Steiff’s early 1950s very sweet “Young Elephant,” based on a similar pre-war pattern.
Steiff’s “Democratic Donkey”—a special U.S. edition from 1956 through 1959.
Although politics can be divisive, collectors of all types can agree that Steiff “Democratic” donkeys and “Republican” elephants are worthy of an election-day victory celebration.
Both donkeys and elephants are considered legacy Steiff designs, as each was featured in several styles in the debut Steiff catalog of 1892. The earliest donkeys were made from grey felt, sported a red saddlecloth, and were available with and without wheels. The first cataloged elephants were made from white or grey felt and were designed as pincushions, penholders, ink wipes, free standing toys and pram toys on an elastic cord. However, it is easily argued that an elephant is THE original Steiff design, as it was the first felt toy animal Margarete Steiff created by repurposing a pattern for a pincushion that she found in a woman’s magazine in 1880.
Let’s take a look at some of the more beloved post-World War Two donkeys and elephants and debate the “politics” behind why they are so interesting.
Some people say they are stubborn; others say resourceful. However you view them, Steiff donkeys are prolific in the company’s product line. Over time, they have appeared as puppets, pull toys, rocking animals, sleeping animals, life-sized studio animals, long legged lulac-style characters and—no surprise—the logo of the Democratic party here in the U.S. Made from 1956 through 1959 as an early special edition for the U.S. market, this “political animal” is 12 centimeters tall, standing, unjointed and made from grey velvet. He has airbrushed details on his snout, eyes and feet. His tail is made from grey cord. He is dolled up with a red leather harness and a blue felt blanket with the letters “DEM” (for Democratic) on each side.
Steiff’s lovely early postwar donkey “Esel” in 12 and 22 cm.
Steiff’s Democratic donkey is actually a modification of a traditional Steiff donkey pattern that had its debut in the 1920s. In 1950, right after the factory reopened for business after the war, Steiff started to produce donkeys again, based on this prewar pattern. Called Esel, or Donkey, they were manufactured in 12, 14, 22 and 28 cm; the smallest size was made in velvet from 1950 through 1969 while the larger sizes were made in mohair from 1950 through 1961. Collector’s love Esel for his hard-working personality and sweet looks.
In addition to the Democratic donkey, it is interesting to note that Steiff’s designers also converted the 12-cm. Esel velvet donkey into the mascot of the U.S. Army by giving him a blue and white velvet saddle blanket with a very large capital A (for Army) on it. This mascot appeared in the line for one year only, in 1957. Due to its very brief production time, he is quite rare and seldom seen on the secondary market.
A 50-cm version of Steiff’s dralon “Grissy” donkey. Note the happy, felt-lined mouth and leather-like hooves.
“Grissy” the donkey followed on the heels (or hooves) of Esel. Grissy is standing, unjointed and made from short grey dralon. Her muzzle and facial mask is made from shorter dralon, which is airbrushed in black, tan and grey to give this area more texture. Grissy has an open, reddish-orange felt lined smiling mouth. Her mane and the tip of her tail are made from longer black fur. Her ear tips are highlighted with black airbrushing; the largest sizes have ears trimmed in stiff, straight black fur. Smaller Grissys have black airbrushed feet while the larger ones have leather-like hooves. Grissy was manufactured from 1960 through 1976 in 14, 22, 35 and 50 cm. Her design was also made in larger rocking and riding sizes.
Steiff’s soft plush “Assy” donkey from 1977 through 1985.
The tail end of our donkey discussion has without doubt the most colorful name for sure. Called “Assy,” this tiny beast of burden is 14 cm, standing, unjointed and made from brown synthetic woven fur. Her face and ears are made from trivera velvet; her muzzle and mask details are quite similar to Grissy. This sweet foal made from 1977 through 1985.
Let’s call a recess now to cross the aisle and take a look at some of Steiff’s beloved elephant designs!
This first post-war elephant hides his age quite well! “Jung-elefant” or Young Elephant is 22 cm, standing, unjointed, and made from mohair. He has a very sweet, innocent looking youthful face, with black buttons backed with felt for eyes; his smiling, open mouth is lined in peach felt and he wears a red felt saddlecloth that is decorated with a green half moon and yellow oval. This precious pachyderm was in the line from 1950 through 1951 only and is quite rare. His pattern is based on Steiff’s “Play Elephant” design, which was in the line from 1938 through 1943 and produced in 17, 22 and 28 cm; Play Elephant also appeared very briefly post-war in artificial silk plush in 22 cm from 1948 through 1949. Collectors love Young Elephant for his baby looks and the way his design bridges pre- and post- war production.
Steiff’s postwar “Elephant” in 7 and 10 cm.
The next elephant in our political parade is one that belongs in every Steiff collector’s menagery. Simply called Elephant, this classic style Steiff elephant was manufactured in 7, 10, 17, 22 and 35 cm from 1950 through 1978. He is standing, unjointed and made from grey mohair. This design changes a bit with size and scale. Core commonalities between the sizes include black and white “googly” eyes and a red felt saddlecloth. The larger sizes have tusks and mohair ears and tails; the smaller versions have felt ears and cord tails.
It is interesting to note that Steiff produced just a handful of the 10-cm size Elephant design with a blue felt GOP (Grand Old Party) saddle blanket, probably as a special request from a customer. This rarity does not appear in Pfeiffer’s “Steiff Sortiment Book,” the “grand-daddy” of Steiff references.
Steiff’s “Floppy Ele.” Note his dramatically embroidered sleeping eyes.
Hopefully, this review is not putting you to sleep; if that is the case then this super sweet snoozing Steiff elephant is just the wake-up call you need! Floppy Ele was manufactured in 17 and 28 cm from 1967 through 1977. He is very softly stuffed with foam, made from mohair, unjointed and in a lying down position. He is detailed with peach felt paws, tiny white felt tusks and a red felt jacket. His eyes are stitched so he appears to be sleeping.
Steiff produced a great number of these “sleeping” animals during the 1950s through the ’70s. Patterns included a Zotty Teddy and panda bear, fox, Cocker Spaniel, Siamese cat, tabby cat and seal, among others. They were all in a sleeping position and referred to as “floppy” or “cosy” animals. Most were made in two standard sizes, 17 and 28 cm; all were stuffed with soft foam and had dramatically closed eyes. These delightful bedtime companions were simplified versions of well-known Steiff animal designs.
Steiff’s alway comforting “Trotty” giant soft plush elephant.
This final elephant under discussion just may get your vote as the biggest hearted one of all. This gentle giant is Trotty, who is 90 cm and made from grey and white woven fur. He is lying, unjointed and very softly stuffed. He has a tuft of black fur on the tip of his tail and airbrushed details on his face and paws. He was produced from 2001 through 2003, and also came in a “smaller” 60-cm size. His proportions, texture and relaxed attitude make him a great sleeping-on-the-couch companion!
There’s no debate that Steiff’s donkeys and elephants—although made in Germany—are all-American favorites. And due to their popularity, most are relatively budget friendly, something we can all agree about. Assuming very good to excellent condition, with at least one form of Steiff ID, the items pictured above value as follows:
• The Democratic donkey can value in the $200-400 to range;
• Esel, depending on size, can value in the $100 to $300 range;
• Grissy, depending on size, can value in the $75 to $150 range;
• Assy can value in the $50 to $80 range;
• Young elephant can value in the $200 to $300 range;
• Elephant, depending on size, can value in the $50 to $150 range;
• Floppy Ele can value in the $75 to $150 range; and
• Trotty can value in the $200 to $400 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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