Collecting FAO Schwarz-Exclusive Steiff Stuffed Animals
This precious pony was produced exclusively for FAO Schwarz by Steiff. When she left the factory, she was adorned with a matching brindle, saddle, and saddle blanket.
The wonderful Teddy bears and animals produced by Steiff are certainly well known for their quality and charming good looks all around the world today. But how did a small company making stuffed animals in a tiny town in southern Germany and end up a smashing success in the United States more than a century ago?
As the Beatles famous lyrics suggest, “I get by with a little help from my friends,” and in this case, the friendship is referring to the one between the Steiff Company and Frederick August Otto Schwarz—better known as FAO Schwarz—the namesake behind the famous FAO Schwarz toy retailer.
The histories and timelines of Steiff and FAO Schwarz have many similarities. The Steiff Company had its beginnings around 1880 and started to grow its international expansion and business development efforts at the turn of last century. A German immigrant family started FAO Schwarz in Baltimore in 1862 under the name “Toy Bazaar.” Toy Bazaar, also located in Philadelphia and Boston at the time, expanded to New York City in 1870. By 1889, the store was known as FAO Schwarz; in 1897, the New York Times described the operation as “the largest dealer in toys in this city.” The store was famous for its remarkable selection of high-end dolls and toys, clever merchandising, playful interiors and crowd-stopping window displays.
FAO Schwarz the man once said, “I have made toys my life study. There is more solid satisfaction in dealing with children’s playthings, and in knowing of the job one is sending out into the hearts of the little ones, than in selling any other commodity in the world.” So it is no surprise that this passionate and business savvy entrepreneur would be interested in introducing a whole new line of top-tier imported toys to his customers, many who visited the store as a form of entertainment and education. Thus, the very first Steiff bears made their debut at FAO Schwarz in 1906.
Although the FAO Schwarz Company has changed hands a few times over the last half century due to economic conditions, the company’s relationship with Steiff has always been a priority. And, in many ways, the two companies are synonymous, with many collectors getting their first taste of Steiff while visiting a FAO Schwarz store.
One factor that highlights the special relationship between FAO Schwarz and Steiff is the series of collectible limited editions Steiff has produced for FAO Schwarz over the past 60 years. Although Steiff has been merchandizing FAO Schwarz with items from its line since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that Steiff started producing store exclusives for its long-time American retail partner. These treasures included mice dressed as “Miss America,” families of dogs and cats in pillow-lined baskets, unique Studio (life-sized) pieces, and even a Jocko monkey dressed as a football player, among numerous other items. Despite their “relative newness” to the marketplace, these items are all among the most sought-after Steiff collectibles. And just what makes these items so fabulous and universally desired by enthusiasts? Exceptional attention to detail, unique designs and, of course, the fact that so few were manufactured to begin with!
A wonderful mohair walrus pajama bag produced exclusively by Steiff for FAO Schwarz. Note his fantastic, elaborate “beard” and playful eyes.
Let’s take a quick peek at three Steiff FAO Schwarz limited edition items from 1960 through 1972 and see what makes them so special.
First, it’s off to the races with this precious little filly. This pony was produced from 1963 through 1972, according to Gunther Pfeiffer’s “1947–2003 Steiff Sortiment” book. She is standing, unjointed and attired for a full day of “horsing around,” FAO Schwarz-style. According to the original FAO Schwarz catalog, she is described as “… a handsome 8.5 inch steed covered in tan and white mohair plush with flowing white mane and tail. Complete with brindle, saddle, and saddle blanket. An FAO Schwarz exclusive. A toy to excite your child’s imagination, to give fun-filled hours, and provide fond memories that happily can last a lifetime.”
Next we have the exclusive FAO Schwarz Steiff Walrus pajama bag which was available from 1962 through 1972. This piece has the most remarkably detailed face, realistic airbrushed details over his entire body and flippers, and a zipper up his belly to safely store a toddler’s sleeping togs within his satin lined torso. According to the original FAO Schwarz catalog, he is described as “…this lazy walrus by Steiff flops contentedly on any bed. His zippered body keeps pajamas or nighties safely hidden from site. 29 inches from zipper to tusk, his soft body is of true-to-life brown and tan plush with realistic marking, bushy cheeks, and playful eyes.”
One of the rarest Steiff FAO Schwarz exclusives is the Texas longhorn from 1960. His real leather horns and velvet dewlap are an unusual material combination for Steiff.
And lastly, it’s a long shot that you’d ever see this FAO Schwarz Steiff treasure in person, so it is my pleasure to bring him to you here. This Texas longhorn is 25 centimeters, standing, unjointed and made from mohair. His detailing is quite distinctive and includes genuine leather horns, a velvet dewlap extending from his neck to his lower chest, googly black-and-white eyes, and an open, peach felt lined mouth. Only a handful was made, and only in 1960. He is considered to be one of the most valuable and desirable FAO Schwarz exclusives sought by collectors.
New and older Steiff editions produced exclusively for FAO Schwarz are always in demand by collectors and generate much interest when they appear for sale or at auction. Many Steiff FAO Schwarz exclusives came with a red, wooden hangtag; presence of this tag adds considerable value and interest to an item. Depending on size and condition, a dressed 1960s-70s era FAO Schwarz mouse may value in the $150 to $250 range, while many of the somewhat physically larger FAO Schwarz editions from the 1950s through 1970s can value in the $250 to $1,500 range. Specifically from this article, the pony may value in the $250 to $350 range, the walrus pajama bag may value in the $300 to $500 range, and the Texas longhorn may value in the $900 to $1,200 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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