Googly Eyes Help Place Mid-Century Steiff U.S. Military Academy Mascot Mule
This Steiff “mascot” stuffed animal represents the U.S. Army mule, the mascot of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was produced in 1952 and has a rough value of—don’t roll your eyes—about $700 to $1,000.
Every enthusiast has extra-special items in their collections—certain items that just take a gold medal for their rarity, design or the story behind them. Here is one of those treasures from my hug of more than 800 vintage Steiff collectibles.
Don’t go rolling your eyes over this silly Steiff Army mule!
What we have here is what is known as a Steiff “mascot”—the logo or character that represents a school, business or institution. This is Steiff’s most unusual take on the U.S. Army mule from 1952.
This unjointed, excelsior-stuffed mule measures 34 centimeters long and 22 cm high. He is made from grey mohair that has been highlighted with darker grey airbrushing on his back and neck. The lining of his ears and his tail are designed from dark grey felt. His mane and the tip of his tail are made from long black mohair. Mule’s facial mask is made from slightly shorter mohair. He has an open, smiling, peach-colored felt mouth. And of course, you cannot help but notice his amazing light blue and black eyes, which are made from turquoise and black glass and can be tilted to the left and right to create funny and varying facial expressions! The Army mule is detailed with a red cord harness and two long, thin orange wool pom-poms—one on either side of his face. From an identification perspective, Army mule has his raised script Steiff button, traces of his yellow ear tag, and a frayed “made in the US zone tag.”
The Army mule is detailed with a red cord harness and two long, thin orange wool pom-poms—one on either side of his face.
His history and design legacy:
The 1950s and very early 1960s were Steiff’s heyday of producing university and military mascots, especially for market in the United States. Mascots were based on the organization’s animal or character, but were not strict interpretations of them. From the period of 1951 through 1963, Steiff made standard-line mascots for institutions, including the U.S. military academies at West Point—the Army (mules)—and Annapolis—the Navy (goats) —Columbia University of New York (lions), Princeton University (tigers), Yale University (bulldogs), and Duke (doll devils). Most of these—with the notable exception of the Duke Devil—were based on existing animal designs in the Steiff portfolio that were somehow modified via different eyes, a change of proportions, or given a lettered felt blanket. The Duke Devil was a completely new design. He was jointed, with a felt body and a rubber head with horns. He was detailed with a blue felt suit, long blue felt tail and white felt shoes. Devil carried a metal pitchfork or pronged spear.
These standard line mascots are of great interest to collectors, given their minimal time in production and limited distribution. They are well known and always generate much interest when they come onto the secondary market, especially when they present in very good to excellent condition. For example, a Duke University Devil doll in excellent condition sold at the 2012 Steiff Summer Festival auction, hosted by Teddy Dorado, for a hammer price of almost $1,000.
Over time, it appears that Steiff produced three versions of the Army mule mascot. The company’s standard line Army mule mascot was produced in two sizes, 12 and 14 cm. The 12-cm size was based on Steiff’s classic and beloved standard line baby donkey pattern that was introduced in 1950. Small Army donkey was standing, made from velvet and had a little black mane. His details included a red-leather bridle and reins and a blue and white felt blanket with an “A” on the side. The 14-cm Army donkey was standing, made from mohair, had a red yarn brindle, and a rather playful facial expression—including large, round, white and black googly glass eyes. And like his little brother, he also had a blue and white, or yellow and white, felt blanket with an “A” on the side.
The third Army mule mascot—today’s item of discussion—is much more of a mystery. I cannot find any reference to the design in any print or online Steiff reference, yet clearly he was made by Steiff given his identification, materials and general design. However, it is interesting to note that this piece, along with its other larger scaled mascots from 1952, share one thing in common—large, adjustable and comical squint-style eyes. This eye style appears extremely infrequently on Steiff items, but when it does, it is the company’s way of saying, “don’t take this piece too seriously!” This eye style debuted in the 1920s on Steiff’s comical dog Cheerio and baby bear Petsy. Interestingly, these silly eyes were again featured on Steiff’s 1950s era Lulac rabbit models, as well as the larger 1952 university and institution mascots.
From an identification perspective, Army mule has his raised script Steiff button, traces of his yellow ear tag, and a frayed “made in the US zone tag.”
Why he is so special to me:
As a lifelong student and collector of Steiff, I can say firsthand that there is nothing more exciting than coming across a very special item that you didn’t even know existed! This mule was brought to my attention by a fellow collector colleague from Canada who found him listed for sale online at a store in Switzerland, of all places. She sent me the photo and link, and asked me to confirm that the listing was indeed made by Steiff. When I saw the mule, my jaw dropped to the ground. Yes, indeed, he was made by Steiff. And to add to the serendipity, it turns out that the seller was a colleague of mine; we had done business in the past, and even met in Basel, Switzerland, to tour the Spielzeug Welten (the world-famous toy museum featuring perhaps the best collections of Steiff, dolls and dollhouses on the planet) last summer! After confirming with my Canadian friend that she did not want to purchase the Army mule, I immediately placed my order for him! And my Swiss friend was delighted to know that this very special treasure was off not only to a friend, but also to America, where he truly belongs.
Items like this, although considered relatively “recent” by vintage standards, are somewhat hard to value because comps—or comparable items—are difficult or impossible to find. However, it is encouraging to note that items from the late 1940s and early 1950s are becoming the darlings of the Steiff world. This is so because they are becoming harder and harder to find in very good to excellent condition, their designs incorporate both pre- and post-war design elements, and today’s collectors really want to touch back to the items of their childhoods.
Larger-scale mascots from 1952 with similar eye styles do not appear on the secondary market very often—a Yale bulldog sold for $350 on eBay in 2011—while a lot consisting of Steiff’s squint-eyed Navy goat and Princeton tiger sold for about $600 at the 2010 Steiff auction at Christie’s in London.
All that being said, things are worth what someone will pay for them. It is my best guestimate that here in the United States, this uncataloged and extremely rare Steiff Army mule in good or better condition with at least one form of ID may value in the $700 to $1,000 range. These values most likely would double for uncataloged 1950s-era mascots in excellent to pristine condition with all IDs.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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