Born in the ’50s: Steiff’s Zotty Teddy Bear

Classic Steiff Zotty style bears: a 50 cm woven fur Zotty (1979-1985), a 20 cm white dralon cosy Teddy (1968-1975), and an 18 cm mohair Zotty (1963-1975).

Classic Steiff Zotty style bears: a 50 cm woven fur Zotty (1979-1985), a 20 cm white dralon cosy Teddy (1968-1975), and an 18 cm mohair Zotty (1963-1975).

The Steiff Company is probably most famous for inventing the Teddy bear in 1902. In the 108 years since the first Steiff bruin made his debut at the Leipzig Toy Fair in Germany, Steiff has worked tirelessly to keep improving the quality, design, and construction of their world-famous Teds. Over time, Steiff has introduced countless bear patterns in more positions, sizes and fabrics than even a skilled accountant could track! And what does this mean for Steiff enthusiasts? There’s always a “new”—perhaps uncataloged—vintage bear to add to their ever-growing hugs.

Despite the huge Teddy bear family tree, there are certain Steiff bears that are truly in a class by themselves. And like some famous people—for example, Cher, Jewel and Oprah—they are recognizable by their first names only. One of the super-star Steiff Teddy bears is named Zotty, and even almost 60 years after his introduction, he remains a global fan favorite. It is interesting to note that the word “Zotty” is from the German word “zottel,” which means “shaggy.” But more about that in a bit.

Zotty was one of the first new bear designs introduced after the Second World War, in 1951. He has appeared in the line, in one form or another, almost continuously since then. The early 1950s were an amazingly busy time at Steiff, as the company looked to rebuild its pre-war reputation for quality, while at the same time introduce new, innovative, contemporary designs to an expanding global marketplace. Zotty’s debut was one of the most significant efforts towards those goals. The original, mid-century Zotty was primarily made from brown tipped mohair and was five-ways jointed. He was produced in nine sizes, ranging from 17 through 100 centimeters. To “qualify” as a Zotty, a Steiff Teddy bears needed these three things: an open felt lined mouth; a front insert bib made of a complementary colored mohair to his body; and of course, be made from very shaggy material.

Zotty was an overnight success, and became an extremely popular Teddy bear amongst European youngsters from the mid 1950s onward. His design and endearing facial expression proved irresistible and comforting; many European toy manufacturers introduced copycat Zotty-looking Teddy bears as a result of his sales success. As Zotty’s popularity grew, so did his range in the Steiff line. Steiff seized on his appeal and created him in many forms over the next 20 years. He has appeared as a small bedtime sleeping animal, called a Floppy Zotty; a playful floor friend, called a Racker Zotty Bear; a pajama bag, called a Zipper Animal; a hand puppet; and a long legged lulac animal, called Zolac, among other items. In 1960, a white mohair version in 28 and 35 cm was introduced, but only stayed in the line for one year. This Steiff rarity is quite desirable with collectors due to its short appearance; one of these coveted white Steiff Zotty bears sold for almost $850 recently at auction.

Interestingly, is not uncommon for collectors to find vintage Zottys in need of a little “oral hygiene”! Because of their open mouth feature, many children tried to “feed” their Zotty bears, often resulting in discoloration on the felt in the mouth area. To clean the felt on any vintage Steiff, first very gently rub the area with a soft brush to loosen up any dust or dried matter. Then vacuum the area on a low setting at a distance with a vacuum cleaner. Collectors can also very lightly sprinkle the felt area with talcum powder before rubbing it with the soft brush; the powder acts as an additional light and gentle dry detergent for the cleaning process.

Although Zotty didn’t make his “official” debut to the world until the early 1950s, his legacy and perhaps namesake goes back to almost the turn of the 20th century. In 1914, Steiff introduced their “Zottlebaer” or “Shaggy Bear.” He was in the line through 1927 and was best known for his exceptionally shaggy coat, sweet face and soft texture.

Zotty was produced in many novelty forms, including this 17 cm sleeping Floppy Zotty (1954-1969); 30 cm pajama bag (1970-1976); and long legged 40 cm Zolac (1964-1966).

Zotty was produced in many novelty forms, including this 17 cm sleeping Floppy Zotty (1954-1969); 30 cm pajama bag (1970-1976); and long legged 40 cm Zolac (1964-1966).

Since his introduction over a half-century ago, Zotty has been one of the most recognized and beloved Steiff Teddy bear models. Between his solid construction and durable mohair coverings, he was designed and manufactured to be a “friend for life” and companion, not a keepsake to be stored on a bedroom shelf. This helps to explain why many Zottys that appear on the market have a gently loved appearance to them. However, because of their popularity and longevity in the Steiff line, collectors at all levels should be able to find and afford a Zotty to add to their Steiff Teddy bear hugs.

Older brown mohair Zottys from the early 1950s through the late 1960s, depending on size and condition, usually value in the $75 to $400 range. The one exception here is Zotty Zolac, which can value north of $500. Zottys from the 1970s onward, which are sometimes made from dolan or woven fur, usually value in the $50 to $150 range.

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

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