The Source of Collector Pandemonium: Steiff’s Stuffed Pandas
Steiff’s 15- and 22-cm early post-war, five-ways jointed pandas. Note how different each one appears, despite originating from the same pattern!
With Steiff pandas, things are pretty black and white. Collectors just can’t get enough of these rare bears and, as a lifelong enthusiast, I have to admit, they are among my favorites as well.
This is mainly because each one has a look and facial expression all unto his own, despite originating from basically the same pattern Steiff is best known for its Teddy bears, so it is no surprise that its classic panda bears are designed and produced with the same understanding and respect for design, appeal, quality and scale as those of its traditional Teds. Let’s take a look at Steiff’s pandas from the 1930s through the early 1970s—Steiff’s “panda prime time”—and see what makes these black and white beauties so special from the collector’s perspective.
Steiff pandas made their debut in the Steiff line in 1938. By 1939, they were being produced in 15 and 30 centimeter sizes. This especially endearing design was five-ways jointed and made from black and white mohair plush. Their faces were detailed with brown and black pupil eyes, a black, hand-embroidered nose and an open, peach-colored mouth. The black circles around their eyes were created by hand airbrushing. It is interesting to note that unlike most other Steiff bear designs, Steiff pandas had flat, broad “toddler style” feet that allowed them to stand straight up on their own. They also had downward-curving paws. These design details very closely resemble those of “Teddy Baby,” another wildly popular design Steiff introduced in late 1920s. These first pandas were produced through 1942.
Steiff’s darling 15-cm, pre-World War Two panda bear.
The success of its first, early panda design inspired Steiff to produce more pandas in the line as soon as the factory reopened for business in the late 1940s following the Second World War. As they did with a core group of proven and popular products (such as Molly the Puppy), Fox the Fox Terrier, and Fluffy the Cat), Steiff produced the identical models that were in the line pre-war just to get products they knew would sell into the marketplace. In the case of the panda, Steiff started making the prewar design again, but only in the 30-cm size through 1950.
Then, in 1951, Steiff updated its original panda design slightly and started producing it in 15, 22, 28, 35, 43 and 50 cm. From 1951, the company used grey felt on the paws and soles; from 1956 onward a suede-like grey rubber material was used instead. The smaller pandas had velvet-lined mouths while the larger ones had felt-lined mouths. It is interesting to note that Steiff also updated the felt paws and soles of its somewhat similar Teddy Baby design to this same suede-like rubber material around the same time. This five-ways jointed panda pattern appeared in the line through 1961.
Steiff's super-sweet “cozy” or “floppy” sleeping panda, produced from 1954 to 1961.
In the early 1950s, Steiff introduced a new series of floppy or “cosy” style sleeping animals that remained in the line through the end of the 1960s. These animals were all prone, softly stuffed and designed as sleeping companions for children. Steiff took its most popular designs of the time—including Zotty the Bear, Cockie the Cocker Spaniel and other favorites including poodles, tigers, cats and elephants, and created resting versions from them. Of course, a panda was produced as part of this series. Fashioned in 17 and 28 cm, Floppy Panda was unjointed and made from black and white mohair. He had an open, felt-lined mouth and stitched, black “sleeping” style eyes. This precious and much-sought-after design appeared in the line from 1954 to 1961.
Steiff’s relatively rare panda standing on all fours is a collector’s favorite from the 1950s.
Our next Steiff panda deserves a standing ovation. In 1955, Steiff introduced its first standing-on-all fours panda. He was 12 cm, head-jointed and made from black and white mohair. Although clearly based on Steiff’s beloved pre- and post-war panda design, he has a closed mouth. His sweet baby face is detailed with black-and-brown-pupil eyes and a black, hand-embroidered nose and mouth. All standing pandas left the factory wearing a red leather collar with an original little brass bell. It is interesting to note that he has peach-colored felt feet, while his five-way jointed cousins produced at the same time had grey feet. This particular Steiff panda was remained in the line through 1958 only and is considered quite rare from the collector’s perspective.
Blink and you might have missed the smallest-sized panda Steiff ever created. For more than 100 years, Steiff has had a very special relationship with the high-end toy store F.A.O. Schwarz. As a product of that partnership, Steiff has created many exclusive designs for the retailer. One of the most beloved of these items was a palm-sized panda. This 11-cm panda was made from black and white mohair and had tiny black-bead eyes and a black embroidered nose and mouth. This petite prince was in the line from 1968 through 1972.
Steiff’s 11 cm “bendy” style panda, made exclusively for F.A.O. Schwarz in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The F.A.O. Schwarz panda is a classic example of Steiff’s “bendy” design. A Steiff “bendy” simply means that the arms and legs are flexible via internal wires—but not jointed—while the head is jointed. The “bendy” design debuted in 1965 as a less expensive way of manufacturing tiny bears. And why is this so? Disk jointing (the traditional way bears were assembled) is quite time and labor intensive, and even more challenging on bears of small scale.
It goes without saying that pre-1970 Steiff pandas have a tendency to create pandemonium among collectors. At the 2010 Steiff auction at Christie’s in London, only four lots out of more than 650 included pandas. Of these, two sold at the high end of their estimates, while one sold at about twice the estimate and the last at three times its estimates. Fortunately, not all pandas demand world-class prices, and with a little penny-pinching, most collectors can welcome a good example into their collection. Assuming very good to excellent condition, with at least one form of Steiff ID, the items pictured above value as follows:
• 1938-1942 era pandas can value in the $500 to $3,000 range;
• 1951-1961 era pandas can value in the $275 (15 cm) to $2,000-plus range (35 cm or larger);
• Cozy/Floppy pandas can value in the $125 to $200 range;
• Standing pandas can value in the $150 to $250 range; and
• F.A.O. Schwarz bendy pandas value in the $125 to $250 range.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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