Living Large with Steiff’s Life-Size Studio Animals
A 30-inch sitting Steiff Studio Basset hound, made as a window decoration for the Hush Puppies shoe company in 1960 and again in 1967. Steiff has an entire area in its production facility in Giengen, Germany, dedicated to manufacturing Studio, or life-sized (or oversized) items.
The Steiff Company is known throughout the world as the designer and producer of some of the most lifelike and realistic plush and mohair animals for children as well as collectors. One of its product lines takes full advantage of this core competency—literally.
Steiff has an entire area in its production facility in Giengen, Germany, dedicated to manufacturing Studio, or life-sized (or oversized) items. And I truly mean big here… 8-foot-tall giraffes, 4-foot-tall sitting lions, and 7-foot-tall bison, for example. These items have a large (no pun intended) following among Steiff collectors, and for good reason. Let’s take a look at what makes a Steiff Studio animal so unique, and the legacy behind this truly distinct product line:
First, what exactly does Steiff mean when an item is cataloged as Studio? In general, a Studio item is life-sized, or designed specifically for display purposes. So in the case of “life-sized” animals, if in nature a tiger is almost 6 feet long, then the Steiff Studio tiger would be almost 6 feet long. In the case of a display product, an item may be produced in exceptionally large proportions in order to make a statement in a window vignette. For example, Steiff has produced an almost 3-foot-tall standing Studio ladybug and a two-and-a-half-foot-tall sitting “Hush Puppies” Bassett hound. Steiff has been producing a wide range of extra large items since the turn of last century. Since the early 1900s, Studio items have been produced in a special, high-ceiling building on the Steiff campus. Having been there, it is simply amazing to see recently manufactured herds of life-sized reindeer, ranks of truly authentic grizzly bears and other incredibly lifelike zoo inhabitants all under one roof.
A tremendous amount of time, planning and craftsmanship go into producing all Steiff Studio items. Many of the larger Studio pieces have an interior metal-framed skeleton which are generally strong enough when new to support a regular-sized adult. Many Studio pieces are carefully hand stuffed with excelsior, a delicate and time-consuming process given that the tool used for the stuffing is a long metal or wooden “poker” stick that can easily pierce the mohair or plush fabric “skin” of the item. Depending on the size of any given Studio item, it may take a strong man up to two weeks or so to stuff and sculpt an item by hand. After an item is stuffed, it is then touched up with airbrushing, facial detailing, claw or body embroidery, and in some cases, fitted with clothing or accessories. Clearly, the production process is very labor intensive, and as a result, costly to make these Studio sized items.
An uncataloged 28-inch sitting Steiff Studio baboon from the 1960s takes a joy ride on a modern day 30-inch standing Steiff Studio baby elephant.
One of the largest series of Steiff Studio animals ever produced may have been a collection of “almost” life-sized dinosaurs in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These included a Studio Pterodactyl and Stegosaurus, each spanning more than 10 feet long from nose to tail. The Pterodactyl was made from tan and red mohair, had an open leatherette beak and claws, green glass eyes and was stuffed with excelsior. Stegosaurus was made from carefully airbrushed mohair, had an open felt lined mouth with a prominent red felt tongue and fangs, brown glass pupil eyes, was neck jointed, and had rubber claws. Today, both are as rare as a new dinosaur fossil discovery!
Steiff Studio animals are not limited editions in the traditional sense of the word, but because of their size, cost and production logistics, very few were, and are, made per year. As a result, sometimes a vintage Steiff Studio item that does not appear to be noted in the standard Steiff reference materials will surface on the collector’s market. How can that be? It is very possible that any given Studio piece was produced in a limited run (anywhere from maybe 1-25 pieces) as a special order for a store as a display piece or as part of a window decoration. Sometimes these custom pieces just didn’t get recorded as part of the general inventory, which makes them even more special to collectors. As an example, I have one of these uncataloged Studio display pieces in the form of a life-size Baboon, which was produced as part of a window display on the theme of “The Peaceable Kingdom” for a department store in the 1960s.
“Lora” and “Yuku” Steiff Studio parrots, 12-inches tall, were produced from 1979 through 1986. Note their beautiful coloring and authentic facial detailing.
Even collectors with very small spaces can welcome Steiff Studio animals into their homes without having to sacrifice too much square footage on their behalf. How can that be? Interestingly, some of the most authentic Steiff Studio items are birds. Over time, Steiff has created beautiful Studio storks, parrots, seagulls and geese, among many other feathered friends. Perhaps the smallest Steiff Studio item on record is Paddy Puffin, who is all of 26 centimeters (10 inches) tall!
An uncataloged 20-inch standing Steiff “Snobby” Studio poodle from the early 1950s; this was one of the earliest post-WWII Studio items produced.
Many highly collectible, lifelike mohair Steiff Studio pieces were manufactured in the 1960s. These include zebras, tigers, lions, elephants, camels, walruses and primates, among a virtual Noah’s Ark of other species. Depending on their condition, items in good to excellent condition from this time period can value north of four figures. Uncataloged items, and exceptionally rare collectibles (like the dinosaurs mentioned above) from this same time frame, can value more than $10,000. Smaller Steiff Studio animals and birds, depending on rarity and condition, can value in the $200- to $500-range. Cataloged Steiff Studio animals from the mid 1980s onward usually value from $300 to $1,200.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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