Spring Forward with Steiff’s Vintage Velvet Field & Forest Friends

Steiff's very rare 10-centimeter velvet-and-mohair skunk from 1962-63.

Spring is definitely in the air, and nature is starting to reveal its majesty once again. Right across the street from my home is a rolling field, where more often than not, we find ourselves sharing the beautiful open space with a critter or two when we are walking our four-legged friends. Most recently, we have seen several species that have been strangers since the fall. It has been a welcome reunion for sure! In celebration of the return of these warmer weather seasonal neighbors, let’s take a look at several of Steiff’s “best dressed” field and forest friends—tiny velvet treasures that don’t take up much space . . . except in the hearts of Steiff collectors worldwide.

It doesn’t stink to start off this review in the most sensory way! Here we have Steiff’s classic Skunk. He is 10 centimeters, unjointed and standing. His lower body is made of elegant black velvet. The top of his body is white mohair that has been highlighted with black airbrushing. His robust tail is made from long, black and white mohair; it can be posed due to a metal wire insert. His tiny ears are made from round mohair circles. His face is detailed with tiny black and brown pupil eyes and a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. This smelly sweetheart was manufactured in 10 and 25 cm in1962 and 1963, and is considered highly collectible by Steiff enthusiasts due to his short time in the Steiff catalog.

It probably is no surprise that skunks are very uncommon in the Steiff line. As a matter of fact, the first skunk didn’t appear in the catalog until 1955, some 75 years after the company was founded in 1880. This debut skunk was a tiny, woolen miniature version with a tiny, adorable face detailed with bright green and black pupil eyes and an almost invisibly small black button nose. Wool-Skunk was featured in the Steiff catalog from 1955 through 1961. Since then, Steiff has commercially produced fewer than a dozen skunks.

Steiff’s 10-cm leggy velvet frog from 1953-69.

Let’s hop right to our next Steiff velvet varmint. Here, we have Steiff’s Frosch Froggy or Froggy Frog. Froggy is sitting, unjointed and made from green and yellow velvet. He is delicately and realistically detailed with black airbrushing all over his back and limbs. He has pert brown and black pupil eyes. His Steiff button is located on his right hand. Froggy was made in 8 and 10 cm (measured sitting) from 1952 through 1986. But looks and numbers can be deceiving; if he were to be measured with his legs extended he would triple his size to 30 cm!

Frogs are a legacy animal species for Steiff, and have practically been in the Steiff line from the debut of the first catalog in 1892. Just seven years later, in 1899, the first frog Steiff leaped onto the scene. This debut frog was made from felt in a very simple pattern. He was available in 5 and 8 cm and came on a bouncy elastic cord, probably designed as an early “action figure” for children! Other early frog patterns included a velvet frog on a felt leaf designed as a pincushion (which was later produced in 2004 as a limited edition replica Steiff club piece); a hanging pram toy; green, red and yellow velvet frogs; and a comically designed froggy oarsman. In 1935, Steiff produced a two-toned green frog woolen miniature made from Nomotta wool. Fast forward a few years after World War II, frogs again made their appearance in 1953 in velvet and 1959 in mohair. Playful, plush frogs have been a mainstay in the catalog since the 1960s.

Steiff's charming 10-cm velvet squirrel from 1950-56.

It’s nuts, but a lot of people think our next velvet treasure is a bit squirrely when it comes to good manners—especially around bird feeders! Here we have Steiff’s delightful velvet and mohair Eichorn or squirrel. This hungry honey appeared in the line from 1950 through 1956 in 10 cm in brown or gray. Her body is made from light brown velvet that has been highlighted with a mocha-color airbrushing on her sides and the top of her head. Her tail and ears are made from long brown mohair. She has little black bead eyes and a simple black, hand-stitched nose, mouth and toe-claws. Her nose is highlighted by a touch of red paint. She has clear monofilament whiskers. And perhaps her most endearing feature? Her hands are stitched together, almost like she is praying (perhaps for spring to finally arrive—prayers answered!)

Squirrels seem to be here, there, and everywhere—in nature as well as in Steiff’s history. Squirrels have been a part of the Steiff offering since 1897; the first one to appear was begging, unjointed, and made from brown felt. A few years later, this design was updated and made in velvet. These velvet squirrels were also repurposed as pincushions; a model with a basket on her back and a model on a leaf were produced in the 1902-through-1917 time frame. Starting in 1909, Steiff began producing squirrels in mohair; only a few new models appeared through 1942.

Following WWII, Steiff launched several beloved squirrel designs. These included Possy, a little begging mohair model made in 10, 14 and 22 cm from 1957 through 1976, and Perri, a pattern based on a squirrel featured in a Walt Disney film. Perri was made in mohair in 12, 17 and 22 cm from 1959 through 1983. The 17 and 22 cm versions came with a beautifully airbrushed velvet pinecone that was about an inch long. From the 1960s through today, Steiff squirrels have appeared as woolen miniatures, pom-pom animals, soft play animals, Christmas ornaments and even limited editions. It is clear that these bushy-tailed beauties have a special place in the hearts of many Steiff collectors.

An example of a Steiff 12-cm velvet fawn—with all ID tags—from the late 1960s /early 1970s.

Many fans fawn over this final species of Steiff animals under review here—and for good reason. Here we have a velvet Steiff fawn. She is 12 cm tall, unjointed, standing and made from soft tan velvet. Her back is gently airbrushed with light brown highlights, while her feet are highlighted with black to indicate her hooves. The insides of her ears are pink. She has black button eyes and a black airbrushed nose, which is highlighted with a pink stitch. Her mouth is a tiny red dot. This fancy fawn is Steiff’s jungreh or fawn. Overall, she was produced in 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm from 1949 through 1978. Given her “lentil” style button and early post chest tag, it is most likely that she was made between 1969 and 1971.

Clearly, Steiff believed that there was a lot of “doe” in deer, as they have been a mainstay in the Steiff line since before the turn of last century. The first Steiff deer appeared in the catalog in 1899 in 12, 14 and 17 cm. She was made from either simple brown plush or felt and was on wheels. Velvet versions debuted in 1901; these were available as standing, rolling or lying toys and even pincushions through 1909. After a 20-year break, fawns again graced the Steiff line in 1929. Their design was updated; they were now softer and graceful, with a delicate facial features and body detailing. These models were produced until 1943. Immediately post war, this pattern again was manufactured with a few modifications and updates through the mid-1970s. From the late ’70s onward, most Steiff deer have been made from soft plush and made as children’s playthings, making the vintage mohair or velvet versions most in demand for Steiff collectors.

Tiny, 50-plus-year-old Steiff animals are endearing for many reasons; those made from velvet have an especially regal appeal to them. It’s hard to imagine that they were originally produced as toys, given their incredibly high-end materials, craftsmanship, and detailing. But perhaps that explains why some are still around for us to collect and treasure today.

In terms of valuation of the abovementioned items, depending on condition and ID status, the 1960s velvet skunk may value in the $150 to $350 range. The velvet frog may value in the $70 to $140 range. The velvet squirrel may value in the $75 to $150 range, and the fawn may value in the $80 to $160 range.

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


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