It’s No Joke When it Comes to Steiff’s Vintage Teddy Clown Bears

Richard Steiff—who was living in New York at 1925 and was responsible for growing the brand in the United States, was unhappy with the “colorless, sober and insipid” look of the company’s offerings. The direct result was the development of Teddy Clown bear, who work a felt hat with two pom-poms and a matching colorful neck ruff.

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.

The Item:
It’s like the circus has come to town when one of these rare Steiff bears makes an appearance!

Here we have a very sweet Steiff “Teddy Clown” bear. He is 28 centimeters standing, five-ways jointed and made from brown tipped mohair. “Tipped” mohair means that just the ends of the woolen strands are dyed with a contrasting color, in this case “dark chocolate.” His paw pads are made from peach-colored felt. Teddy Clown has very large brown and black pupil eyes that are highlighted with a touch of black airbrushing. His nose, mouth and claws are hand-embroidered in black. And what makes him the life of the party? His original tan felt circus cap—adorned with two salmon colored pom-poms—and his matching colored silk neck ruff.

Teddy Clown debuted in the Steiff line in 1926 and was featured in the catalog through 1930. This model was produced in brown-tipped mohair in 15, 17, 20, 22, 25, 28, 32, 35, 43, 50 and 80 cm, and pink or gold mohair in 23, 26, 30, 33 and 36 cm. And, like the example featured here today, every Teddy Clown was detailed with a felt hat with two pom-poms and a colorful neck ruff.

His History and Design Legacy:
Steiff began designing, producing and distributing Teddy bears on a wide scale at the turn of last 20th century. These traditional, and somewhat lifelike bears, were known for their classic Steiff proportions, very long limbs, pronounced back humps, luxurious mohairs and exceptional craftsmanship. However, it was not until the mid- to late-1920s that the company really started broadly differentiating its bear product offering into truly distinct, and named, lines. Teddy Clown is one important design in the company’s Teddy bear product development evolution. Here’s how he fits into that story.

These traditional, and somewhat lifelike bears, were known for their classic Steiff proportions, very long limbs, pronounced back humps, luxurious mohairs and exceptional craftsmanship.

Nineteen-twenty-five was an important year in the Steiff line. That year, Richard Steiff—who was living in New York at the time and responsible for growing the brand in the United States—wrote to his colleagues in Germany:

“Our Teddies, in the showroom here in New York, appear colorless, sober and insipid. I feel inclined to decorate all the Teddies we have left with huge, colorful silk ribbons…”

In these communications, he also noted that the company’s product line was not matching the needs and tastes of the “modern buyer” of the time. He felt that feminine, fluffy, lightweight items in “happy” colors should be added immediately to the catalog to insure the continued sales success of the company.

Later that year, in response to market realities and Richard’s insights, Steiff debuted “Teddy Rose,” an adorable, toddler-esque, femininely proportioned Teddy bear made from either very long gold or light pink mohair. Both colors were produced in five sizes, ranging from 33 to 51 cm, standing. This bear had a playful, innocent look, accented by her oversized, glass-pupil eyes. She was very popular and truly reflected the “Roaring ’20s” culture of her time.

So what does this have to do with Teddy Clown? Everything! Steiff knew a good thing when they saw it in Teddy Rose, and according to Steiff records, “…this bear from 1926 is the basis of the Teddy Clown…” And, as a matter of fact, Teddy Clown’s body pattern was the identical pattern of his older sister, Teddy Rose!

Shortly after the very successful launch of Teddy Clown, Steiff went on to introduce “Petsy the Baby Bear” in 1928 and “Teddy Baby” in 1929. Both of these models, like Teddy Clown, had childlike and playful appearances and novel new features. For example, Petsy had posable, wire-lined ears, while Teddy Baby had flat feet—enabling him to stand upright on his own. In 1930, Steiff introduced its last “named” pre-war Teddy Bear, Dickie, who was was purposely designed and marketed as a “less expensive alternative” to the regular Steiff bear offering. Most Dickie models featured elaborately stenciled velvet paw pads. But, unlike his earlier cousins, Dickie had a more serious, even sternlike appearance… perhaps reflecting the changing political and social climate across Germany and Europe of the time.

Despite their popularity, Steiff’s original Teddy Rose, Teddy Clown, Petsy and Dickie bears were only produced for a handful of years before the Second World War. As such, they are extremely rare and universally cherished by Steiff collectors everywhere. Teddy Baby did have about a decade-long appearance in the line after the factory reopened for business in the late 1940s. Because they had more years in production, the Teddy Baby model is somewhat less rare, but still a top favorite with most enthusiasts nonetheless.

Teddy Clown bear was made with brown-tipped mohair. “Tipped” mohair means that just the ends of the woolen strands are dyed with a contrasting color, in this case “dark chocolate.”

Why He’s So Special to Me:
How this bear landed in my collection is best described by the famous lyrics to a Grateful Dead album… “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been.” And in some respects, the bear has a perfect, “made for TV” story about him.

Clearly, this Teddy Clown was “born” in Giengen, Germany, at the Steiff factory in about 1928 or so. Fast-forward eight-plus decades, he was found in a rental storage locker, his new owner having won the unit and its contents in an auction. How he travelled 6,000 miles from Europe and ended up wrapped in newspaper at the bottom of a rental locker on the west coast is a complete and total mystery for sure.

Upon discovering him amongst his winning loot, the owner contacted me about the bear, which was quite dirty but seemed otherwise to be in fair to good condition. His main structural issues were that he had mohair thinning and a few bald patches; unfortunately his ear button was lost to time. I worked with the owner to have him professionally cleaned and brought back to the best condition possible.

NOTE: It is not right, and even considered unethical, to replace the ear button; even Steiff will not make this repair to animals that were clearly made by the company itself.

After Teddy Clown returned from the restorer, I listed him for sale at a doll and toy auction house on behalf of his owner. I felt kind of sad as I dropped him off at the auctioneer; he really was starting to grow on me. Perhaps it was fate, or timing, or the Steiff Gods smiling upon me, but he received bids but did not meet his reserve at the sales event. So he was available for adoption again! After some thinking and very careful budgeting, I decided that I would not pass up this second chance to bring him home for good this time.

The main structural issues with the storage locker find was that he had mohair thinning and a few bald patches around the nose and forehead; he was also, unfortunately, missing his ear button.

His Value:
Despite a slightly declining or flat market for many vintage Steiff items, early, named “novelty” bears like this Teddy Clown have real long-range value. Their brief time in the Steiff catalog, combined with their charming good looks and clear and defined roles on the product evolution ladder, insure that these items will always be of interest to collectors, regardless of overall economic conditions. Most encouragingly, a 25-cm tipped Teddy Clown in near mint condition with multiple Steiff IDs sold for €4,500 at the 2013 Teddy Dorado auction, the annual Steiff-only sales event associated with the company’s Summer Collector’s festival.

As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it, and special, early Steiff bears will always generate interest and without a doubt appreciate over time. But it is essential to keep in mind condition plays a huge role in influencing value and the “final” price tag on any given item. In terms of the market, it is my best guestimate that Steiff Teddy clowns in the United States today, in very good to excellent condition with at least one ID, may sell at auction in the $2,500 to $4,000-plus range. In Europe, where demand and prices are a bit higher lately for these sorts of rarities, the same items may be 20- to 30-percent more.

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

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