The Bird’s the Word: A Look at Steiff’s Thanksgiving Turkeys
While the first turkeys produced by Steiff are the now rarely seen felt coffee cozies, circa 1912-1920, the first true turkey its line was the 1950-era Tucky.
Of course, the bird’s the word when it comes to turkey at Thanksgiving! No matter how your family prepares the ceremonial bird—roasted in the oven, deep fried in boiling oil or barbequed on the backyard grill—the turkey platter is usually the pièce de résistance on America’s Thanksgiving holiday table. Steiff’s turkeys—although clearly not made for carving or enjoyment with cranberry sauce—also tend to become focal points for collectors during this season of thanks.
Let’s take a look at the history of Steiff’s turkeys and see what makes them so special from the design, historical and collector’s perspectives.
It’s feast or famine when it comes to turkeys in the Steiff line. The very first big bird was a 43-centimeter felt turkey coffee cozy, which was manufactured from 1912 through 1920. He was standing and made from various shades of brown and tan felt, with glorious hand-painted detailing on his body, wings and tail feathers. The catalogs describe him as having “very magnificent colors.”
At the turn of last century, Steiff produced a significant number of “functional” and decorative household items. These things included egg cozies (to keep your boiled eggs warm), coffee cozies (to decorate and insulate a coffee pot), and potholders for the kitchen. Most were made from colorful wool felt, as the Steiff Company had its origins in the felt industry. It was not until the early 1900s that mohair as a fabric became readily available on a commercial scale for manufacturers. So it is not surprising at all that the Steiff Company would use felt for as many products as possible. And, when you think about it, felt is perfect fabric for rendering a turkey’s details such as their feathers and their snood (the red dangling portion of their face).
These early Steiff felt items are extremely rare and seldom seen on the secondary market, especially examples of the coffee cozies. I have never actually seen a Steiff turkey coffee cozy in person, despite having studied the brand for over 40 years! It is my best estimate that if one did come up for auction in good or better condition, with Steiff ID, that it may sell in the $2,500 to $5,000 range.
It is interesting to note, that despite the company’s decades-long tradition of creating exquisite woolen miniature birds of all sorts and types, starting in the early 1930s, Steiff never created a woolen miniature turkey.
The next turkey in the Steiff line debuted in 1952. This fine-feathered friend was named Tucky. He was standing and made from long, brown-tipped mohair that was highlighted with a touch of green airbrushing. He had a very large felt tail and wings; both were detailed with brown and tan stenciling resembling feathers. His eyes were black buttons and he had brown painted metal oversized bird feet. His head, neck and snood were made from velvet that was airbrushed with red, blue, black and green, giving them a lifelike pattern. It is very fair to say he has a face that only a mother—or a Steiff collector—could love. Tucky was produced in 10 and 14 cm through 1961. For a relatively small, sort of strange animal, he had amazing detail and the work on him was quite remarkable.
Seen from the front, there is no doubt that Tucky is a turkey.
From behind, it may take a moment to realize what you’re looking at.
From the timeline and historical perspective, Tucky’s introduction was most likely no accident. The early 1950s were one of the most creative and prolific product design and development periods for the company. The Second World War had ended, and Steiff was extremely interested in regaining, and advancing, the foothold it had in the high-quality plush industry it had before the war. Steiff was also very committed in growing its global appeal, and producing items for larger markets, including the United States. In the early 1950s, the company began making a large number of smaller, collectible items that were highly transportable and easily displayed; for example, it is at this time that Steiff introduced many new 10-cm and larger dog and cat designs. And, due to the large number of U.S. soldiers in the country at the time, the company was becoming more aware of American traditions and interests, like turkeys at Thanksgiving! This could explain why Tucky launched—and proved so successful—during this important time in the company’s history.
Today, most vintage Steiff enthusiasts love Tucky and strive to have an example of the larger and smaller versions in their collections. I have even heard of collectors who have up to a dozen of these funny mohair birds and line them up on their fireplace mantle during the fall holiday season! The 14-cm ones are somewhat rarer than the 10-cm versions. A larger Tucky with all IDs, vibrant colors and in very good to excellent condition may value in the $175-$275 range, while the smaller version under the same circumstances may value in the $150-$250 range.
Following in Tucky’s funny metal footsteps was Putty, a 14-cm bird manufactured from 1979 through 1983.
Following in Tucky’s funny metal footsteps was Putty, a 14-cm bird manufactured from 1979 through 1983. He was made from various brightly colored plush materials, had nicely stenciled thick brown felt tail and wings, and big yellow plastic bird feet. His head and neck were made from trivera velvet, complemented with a thin red felt waddle and a thick tan felt beak. Like Tucky, Putty’s manufacturing was quite extraordinary given his size and relative importance in the Steiff line.
Putty’s design evolution from Tucky is quite typical for the company, and also reflects the style preferences of the time. Given its interest in controlling costs and adding efficiencies in material selection, the company chose a simpler pattern for Putty than Tucky, as well as less expensive materials overall. For example, Putty was plush while Tucky was mohair; Putty had plastic molded feet while Tucky has painted-hand, formed metal feet; and Putty’s head and neck were made from trivera velvet, while Tucky’s were made from real old fashioned velvet.
Despite his silly name, many Steiff enthusiasts take Putty quite seriously as an important part of their collection. Today, a Putty with all IDs in like new condition may value in the $100-$200 range.
Finally, and most recently, in 2005 Steiff debuted Tommy the Turkey, a mohair and felt bird as a North American exclusive. This 18-cm gobbler was produced in an edition size of 1,500 pieces.
Finally, and most recently, in 2005 Steiff debuted Tommy the Turkey, a mohair and felt bird as a North American exclusive. This 18-cm gobbler was produced in an edition size of 1,500 pieces. Tommy had a mohair body, huge oversized felt feet and stenciled felt wings and tail feathers. His impressive head and snood were made from felt that was airbrushed in various shades of red, blue, and teal. A little-known fact about Tommy is that he was named after a beloved and longtime Steiff salesman from the Midwest in the United States.
Tommy is also becoming a holiday favorite with Steiff enthusiasts. However, he is still too “young” to have appreciated much collector’s or financial value from his original introduction. A Tommy in pristine, like new condition with all IDs and paperwork may value in the $125-$200 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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