Fabulous Find: Steiff’s Very Rare Standing Princeton Tiger With IDs

Steiff’s 25 cm tall mohair standing Princeton Tiger mascot, made in 1952 only as an exclusive for the USA.

What it is: Today’s fabulous find is an all-original Steiff “Princeton Tiger.” He measures approximately 40 cm long and 23 cm tall not including his tail – which is almost as long as his body! This Ivy League caliber example is standing, unjointed, and made from mohair that has been hand airbrushed with an orange base and elegant black stripes. He is solidly stuffed with excelsior. His face comes to life with a prominent, felt lined open mouth, white wooden teeth, long tan mohair “sideburns,” a short tan mohair chin, and green and black “squint” style glass eyes. These eyes are quite playful and can be rotated on his face to create different expressions and emotions. His ears are lined in tan mohair. And, of course, what makes him head of the class is his orange and black felt “P” blanket. This accessory closes with a snap on the belly side. He was made as an exclusive for the upscale US toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz in the c. 1951-1952 timeframe. This standing Princeton tiger retains his button, fully legible ear tag, and traces of his US Zone tag as his Steiff IDs.

This standing Princeton tiger retains his button, fully legible ear tag, and traces of his US Zone tag as his Steiff IDs.

Historical context: During the 1950’s and very early 1960’s, Steiff produced a number of University mascots especially for the United States market. These were sold at very high end toy and retail stores, including F.A.O. Schwarz in New York City. Mascots were produced for several of America’s “Ivy League” and top schools, including Princeton (tigers), Columbia (lions), and Yale (bulldogs), as well as the country’s military training institutes, including the Army (mules) and Navy (goats). Mascots were based on the organization’s animal or character, but were not strict interpretations of them.   Many Steiff mascots had cartoon-like slit or colorful eyes, to remind collectors that the items were both fierce and friendly at the same time.

Many Steiff mascots had cartoon-like slit or colorful eyes, to remind collectors that the items were both fierce and friendly at the same time.

 

In some cases, numerous mascots for the same institution were produced. Such is the case for Princeton. Princeton’s official “colors” of orange and black were confirmed in 1896. As a result, the school started to informally adopt the tiger as its mascot in the late 19th century. Today, Princeton and tigers are practically synonymous. In addition to their larger standing Princeton tiger, Steiff also produced a 25 cm tall sitting version and a much smaller 10 cm tall standing version.

An open mouth detailed four proportionally sized, embedded wooden teeth.

The sitting version is head jointed and has many of the same design features as the larger standing one – including green and black pupil eyes “cartoon” style eyes and a prominent, open mouth detailed four proportionally sized, embedded wooden teeth. Like his larger standing cousin, he appeared in the c. 1951-1952 timeframe. The 10 cm standing Princeton tiger is unjointed and made from tan mohair that has been airbrushed with a base of orange with black striped details. His face is detailed with fabulous, oversized green and black google-style eyes. He left the factory in Germany wearing an orange and black felt “P” blanket. The smallest Steiff Princeton tiger cub was produced in 10 cm from 1957-1958.

Here is Steiff’s 25 cm tall mohair sitting Princeton Tiger mascot, made in 1952 only as an exclusive for the USA. Unfortunately, his black and orange felt “P” blanket has been lost to time.

 

Why he’s fabulous: This terrific large standing tiger truly makes the grade in so many ways. His absolute rarity, fantastic condition and vibrant colors, and unusual presentation put it in a class all unto itself. It is only the second example of its type that I have seen or handled in 40 years. I have both the sitting and smaller versions in my collection so adding this larger standing version finally completes my Princeton tiger streak. And as most enthusiasts can confer, it is always an extraordinary feeling to add a “holy grail” item to your collection!

How I found him: Ok, I admit it. I was just “checking in” on eBay when I was supposed to be working on a real work project. Timing is everything; he had just been listed as a “buy it now” item and I was in the mood to add something marvelous to my collection. I knew immediately what he was, as he’d been on my wish list for a long time. I was so over the moon that I immediately purchased him without reading his condition report or studying his listing photos. That can be a huge mistake and I don’t recommend it at all. However, in this case, it worked out fine and he was in even better condition that I could have imagined. His coloring, which tends to fade over time, was as vibrant as the day he was made!

Value: As always, something is worth what someone will pay. Steiff’s 1950-era mascots are beloved rarities that always attract a lot of attention when they appear on the secondary market. In June, 2016, Morphy Auctions of Denver, PA sold a standing Steiff Yale bulldog complete with its original felt blanket as well as its Steiff button and yellow ear tag for $900; it was estimated at $600 to $1,200. Given that this Steiff Princeton tiger is also in very good to excellent condition with its original blanket and IDs, he most likely values in the $800-1,000 range.

 

Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.  You can follow her blog, which focuses on vintage Steiff finds, Steiff antiquing and travel adventures, international Steiff happenings, and the legacy and history of the Steiff company at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com.  Sign up for her Steiff newsletter by contacting her directly at steifflife@gmail.com.

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