Steiff’s Belles of the Barnyard: Roosters & Hens

Steiff’s post-war mohair roosters in 10, 17 and 28 centimeters.

While the Trashmen may have coined the term, “the bird’s the word” definitely fits when it comes to Steiff and its gorgeously hand-crafted collectibles. Fine, feathered friends have graced the Steiff catalog from its first publication in 1892—first in felt, then in velvet, mohair, and other materials including, waterproof oilcloth, lamb’s wool plush and silk plush!

Perhaps the most prolific—as well as beloved—bird breeds in the Steiff world are roosters and hens. Why is that? Even a birdbrain could solve that puzzler! Remember that Steiff is, and always has been, located in Giengen, a relatively small, pastoral city in the south of Germany. The company designed and manufactured its products based on local inspirations, and there were plenty of farms and farm animals within eyeshot of the company! So let’s take a look at some Steiff’s classic roosters and hens and see what makes them so interesting.

Over the course of time, Steiff hens and roosters have appeared in many forms, including as freestanding items, pull toys on wheels, hanging toys for babies, woolen miniatures, pincushions, skittles, rattles and—ironically—egg cozies! The first rooster Steiff launched into the world was truly a work of art in every sense of the word. He was standing, stuffed with excelsior and made almost entirely from about a dozen hand-cut, hand-layered and hand-finished pieces of colored wool felt. He had an elaborate set of green felt tail feathers and a red felt comb and waddle. His feet, which were made from metal posable wires, were finished in yellow felt fabric or wrapped tightly with yellow string, giving them a very organic appearance.

Overall, this first felt rooster was produced in 12-, 22-, 28- and 35-centimeters from 1892 through 1929. A similarly designed Steiff felt hen was available during the same timeframe. Both this rooster and hen were made in mohair, as well when this fabric became readily available in the early 1910s; these mohair versions remained in the line until the early 1940s.

Many vintage Steiff collectors consider Steiff’s early felt roosters and hens an essential element of a top-tier collection. As a result, the Steiff Company has issued several limited-edition replicas of these items throughout the years. Additionally, this design is so coveted that a spectacular, almost “like new” set of 1903 felt hen and rooster skittles (shaped like bowling pins) sold for nearly $28,000 at a recent Steiff auction at Christies in London.

Steiff’s Kiki Rooster and Gacki Hen with egg cosy pockets.

I don’t want to ruffle your feathers here, but let’s fast-forward this review a few decades to the early 1950s. In Giengen, the factory reopened after the end of the Second World War, and management was anxious to regain—and grow—its prewar marketplace presence. One way they did this was to take a look at many of its legacy items, including their hens and roosters, as well as to modernize the line to reflect the tastes and styles of the new era.

As a result, Steiff updated both its pre-war mohair rooster and hen models and relaunched them in 1953. The legacy mohair rooster pattern was produced through 1978, while the legacy mohair hen was produced through 1974. Both were standing, unjointed, joyously colored and made from mohair. The main differences between the pre- and post-war rooster and hen models were subtle and included coloring, size and construction.

For coloring, the pre-war rooster had a green breast while the post war model had a black breast. The pre-war hen had a solid tan breast while the postwar model had a speckled breast.
For size, the pre-war rooster model was available in 8, 17, 22, and 28 cm, while the post war model was available in 10, 17, and 28 cm. The pre-war hen was produced in 17, 22, and 28 cm, while the post-war hen was only available in 10 and 17 cm.
For construction, for both the rooster and the hen, the pre-war models were made from patched mohair for their coloration, while the post-war models were made of one face of mohair that was elaborately airbrushed for coloration.

Steiff's mohair rooster and hen hand puppets, available from 1968 through 1974.

Steiff’s roosters and hens have been featured in many other ways following the war. Over time, but especially so in the 1950s and ’60s, it was common for Steiff to create hand puppets based on its most popular freestanding designs. Such was the case with its roosters and hens. In 1968, Steiff launched both a “Hand Hahn,” or rooster hand puppet, and “Hand Henne,” or hen hand puppet to collectors. The rooster was 18 cm, made from green, black and tan mohair and was based on Steiff’s traditional rooster design. The hen was 17 cm and made from white mohair. The rooster and the hen had identical yellow plastic beaks and red felt combs and waddles. Both birds were in the line through 1974, and despite their “relative” newness, are highly desirable from the collector’s standpoint today.

Steiff also created more “functional” rooster- and hen-themed products as well. Good examples of these would be their Kiki Hahn or Kiki Rooster and Gacki Huhn or Gacki Hen. Both were 20 cm, unjointed, and made from knitted fur. Their faces were detailed with black button eyes, beige felt beaks and red felt combs and waddles. Kiki had a large spray of green tail feathers, while Gacki had a simple rounded “tail end.” Both of these birds had a hidden secret. Despite their larger, plaything scale, each was designed as an egg cozy via a hollow pocket sewn into their backs. These “functional fowl” were in the Steiff line from 1978 through 1981.

Steiff’s 8-centimeter woolen miniature hen and rooster from the 1960s.

Hens and roosters also made their appearance as tiny, beloved “woolen miniatures” or “woolies.” Woolies debuted in the 1931 line. Just a few years later, in 1938, Steiff produced a 9-cm sitting woolie rooster and hen and an 8-cm standing woolie rooster and hen. All four of these playful models had black and white “google” style eyes. Both the standing versions were brought back into the line in 1949 and remained there through 1978 in practically the identical design as their pre-war relatives with one “footnote.” From 1971 onward, both the hen and rooster were manufactured with plastic, not metal legs.

It is easy to see why many collectors choose to feather their nests with Steiff’s ravishing roosters and happy hens. In many ways, these farm friends are more like decorative focal points . . . they are colorful, playful and don’t take up too much space given their sizes. Plus, they give any room just a little bit of a homey, provincial flavor.

Assuming very good to excellent condition, with at least one form of Steiff ID, roosters and hens value as follows:

• Early pre-war felt roosters and hens can value in the $500 to $1,200 range, while their mohair counterparts can value in the $400 to $1,000 range;
• Post-war mohair roosters and hens can value in the $150 to $350 range;
• Steiff’s mohair rooster and hen puppets can value in the $125 to $200 range each;
• Kiki Rooster and Gacki Hen can value in the $75 to $125 range each;
• Pre-war rooster and hen woolies can value in the $200 to $400 range each;
• Post-war rooster and hen woolies can value in the $50 to $125 range each.

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


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