Better Than Valentine’s Candy or Roses: Steiff’s Limited Edition Bling Bears

Steiff's Whitey and Rosey, limited edition Festival bears from 1998 and 1999 based on the company's classic "Teddy Baby" pattern.

Everyone loves a little bling, Steiff collectors and enthusiasts included. And there is no better time for a little delightful indulgence than Valentine’s Day, even if your sweetie is yourself!

Most people know Steiff for its authentic and high-quality Teddy bears, animals and dolls. However, the company also has a playful side that can sometimes really border on glamorous! Let’s take a look at some of the company’s more recent and exclusive “collectible cupids” and see why limited special editions are so popular and desired by collectors.

Steiff has always recognized the appeal of exclusive items and has a century-long history of creating special products that extend beyond their core product line. In general, these editions fall into two types: the first being those produced for companies to distribute directly to its employees (called “customer specials”); and the second being those made especially for collectors (called “limited editions”) and sold through standard sales channels. One of the earliest examples of a customer special was produced in 1913, when Steiff was asked to create “Bibendum” out of felt in two sizes for a company in France. “Bibendum,” or “Bib,” is the Michelin Tire Man!

Limited editions really didn’t gain momentum here in the USA until the 1980s. It was at this time that Steiff launched its “Collector’s Editions” series, which included unicorns, a laying tiger, a boxer dog and a lamb. Unlike the limited editions of today, these were not actually numbered per piece and did not come with a certificate. Now, all Steiff limited editions come specially packaged with distinctive identification and documentation attesting to their production sequence, composition and special features.

One reason that Steiff may create a limited edition is to commemorate a special event. Since 1997, Steiff has held an annual summer festival on its Giengen, Germany campus, and every year, a unique limited-edition Teddy bear is created as a souvenir. And given the nature of the event, this Ted is usually over the top . . . and incredibly sought after by collectors globally!

For the first four years of the event, Steiff created updated versions of their beloved “Teddy Baby” pattern as these commemorative bears. Two of the most “cupid-like” editions from these early years have to be “Whitey” from 1998 and “Rosey” from 1999. Whitey is 28 centimeters and Rosey is 29 cm. Both are five-ways jointed, made from very thick mohair and have felt paw pads. Their faces are detailed with piercing blue and black pupil eyes, open felt-lined mouths, and red hand-embroidered noses and claws. Each also wears a studded, red leather collar, complete with a jingle bell. In terms of identification, each has a golden Steiff button in ear, red and white numbered eartag, name chest tag, and a hangtag brochure detailing the edition. Whitey’s footpad embroidery reads “2. Steiff Festival Giengen 1998,” while Rosey’s has “3. Steiff Festival Giengen 1999.” Both were made in limited-edition lots of 3,000 pieces and were immediate sellouts. Gifting either one of these funny Valentines to you sweetheart on February 14 would put you in very good stead for the foreseeable future!

Steiff took the idea of limited, exclusive editions to the highest level with the introduction of a new series in 2004 that ran through 2008. In anticipation of the company’s 125th anniversary, Steiff created the “Margarete Steiff Edition.” These annual editions were produced in extremely limited numbers (no more than 500 worldwide), made from unconventional materials in unusual designs, hand-stuffed with excelsior and shipped in elaborate packaging, complete with extensive documentation about the bear and its production. The identification for this series included a special ear button (it was stainless steel with the script initials MS over the word “edition” in all capitals) and a black-woven tag sewn into a limb seam. The front of the tag had Margarete’s signature over the words “MARGARETE STEIFF EDITION”; the back had “Made in Germany by Steiff” and the edition number of the piece. These pieces were only available to Steiff club members; interested buyers had to win a lottery drawing in order to have the opportunity to purchase one.

Steiff's Flowers Teddy Bear from 2004: the most sought after limited edition in recent memory.

The debut bear in the Margarete Steiff Edition was called “Flowers” and she remains one of the most elusive and desirable Steiff bears in recent memory. Flowers is five-ways jointed and 12 inches tall. She has black glass eyes, a red hand-embroidered nose and mouth, blue claws and white felt paw pads. What makes her so spectacular, however, is her mohair, which is carefully embroidered with alpine roses, gentian and edelweiss. Although the mohair was manufactured in Germany, it was sent to a special factory in St. Gallen, Switzerland, to be embroidered on a machine dating from 1890. The embroidery process is so slow and labor-intensive that only three bear’s worth of fabric could be created in an eight-hour workday! Since her debut, Steiff has produced several other bears using similarly embroidered mohair, but none of these collectibles comes close to the excitement generated by the launch of the original Flowers bear.

Steiff's Haute Couture Teddy Bear from 2005: Her distinctive fabric with holograms makes her one of the most dramatic limited editions ever.

The second Margarete Steiff Edition is probably the most “blingy” bear Steiff has ever produced. Named the “Haute Couture Teddy Bear”, this ultra-feminine bear looks more like something off a catwalk in Paris than a collectible from a pastoral hamlet in Germany! Like Flowers, Haute Couture is five-ways jointed and 12 inches tall. She has very striking pink and black glass eyes, a pink hand-embroidered nose and mouth, and beige Indian Bhagalpur wild silk claws. And what’s her very unique feature? She is made from a fabric that truly looks out of this world. Her material is a nubby, hand woven tweed made from light pink-, beige-, blue-, white- and cream-colored threads, and is detailed with silver holographic sequins. Really. This fabric was designed in the Jakob Schlaepfer studio in Switzerland and was woven in Northern Italy. Also produced in a limited edition size of 500, Haute Couture would make a 14-karat statement to your sweetheart at Valentine’s Day . . . if you can find one for sale!

Even though these Steiff bears are “relatively” modern, they still demand somewhat breathtaking prices . . . much like roses around Valentine’s Day! Early Festival Bears in like new condition, including Whitey and Rosey, may value from $400 to $800 each. Teddy Haute Couture may value in the $650 to $1,300 range, and Flowers can value north of $3,000. But who can put a price on love?

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

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