Steiff Special Auction Sales Report

This beautiful Teddy Rose was estimated at $2,585 to $5,171 and sold for $22,228… nearly ten times its low estimate!

Football has the Superbowl and baseball has the World Series.  For vintage Steiff enthusiasts, the analogous celebration of excellence occurs every summer at the Steiff Company’s annual collector’s weekend where Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH of Ladenburg, Germany hosts its premier Steiff Special Auction. In 2018, this highly anticipated event was held on Saturday evening, June 30th in a community center just a stone’s throw from Steiff’s campus in Giengen, Germany.  The auction offered 183 lots of world-class button-in-ear collectibles.  Bids could be placed in person at the sale, on the company’s website, or in real time through the Liveauctioneers.com online platform.  The sale had a 100% sell through rate, and prices realized ranged from $50 to $22,228, including the company’s 22% buyer’s premium.  You can see the archived auction catalog here.

As with any auction, this sale was punctuated with surprises and thrilling moments.  It was great that no items were passed over, and all lots met or in some cases dramatically soared past their pre-auction estimates.  This reflects well on the state of the vintage Steiff collector’s market.  Here are a four highlights from the sale, and why they caught my eye.  All currencies reported are converted from euro to dollars.

  1. The Most Expensive Lot

The sale’s most expensive lot was #120, a lovely pink Steiff Teddy bear (see photo above).  It was estimated at $2,585 to $5,171 and sold for $22,228… nearly ten times its low estimate!  It had over 90 bids and was cataloged simply as:  “teddy Rose, 44 cm, mohair, pink dyed, caused of old age faded, c. 1928, felt was at 1 paw retouched, mohair is except of minimally places in good condition, rare.”

This lovely bear is named Teddy Rose.  This pattern was in production from 1925 through 1930 only. This distinctly feminine bear was produced in five sizes overall, in pink or gold colored mohair. There is no question that her color, age, and absolute rarity caught the eye of buyers worldwide. Fine examples with great coloration are seldom if ever seen on the secondary market. I am aware of only two other “relatively” recent Teddy Rose sales; in 2010, Christies in London sold a pink example for almost $12,000, and in 2014, James D. Julia Auctioneers sold a yellow version for over $13,000. 

  1. The Huh Lot

This particular Teddy Baby sold for $8,604 (way over its estimate), and for the most part, is not terribly unusual or rare.

By huh, I mean “what were the bidders thinking?”  This particular item sold incredibly over its estimate, and for the most part, is not terribly unusual or rare.  The winner here is lot #34, an early postwar Teddy baby bear.  It was estimated at $1,116 to $2,233 and sold for $8,604.  It had over 50 bids and was cataloged as “teddy baby, postwar era, with button, chest label and cloth tag label, No. 7328,2, blond, opened mouth, nice strong color at felt, felt paws in unused condition, 29 cm, very nice expression, original collar, with breast sign, red label, with US-zone cloth tag label, unused brand-new condition.”

This beloved design is indeed Steiff’s Teddy Baby, which has been produced in a number of varying designs over the years. However, all Steiff Teddy Baby bears have three things in common regardless of era of production: 1.  a distinctive, well defined muzzle; 2.  flat, broad, clawed feet made for standing; and 3.  sweet, toddler-like features. The Teddy Baby pattern debuted in 1929. Through the early 1940s, he was made in 13 sizes ranging from 9 to 65 cm.  Teddy Baby was one of the very first items Steiff started producing when the factory reopened after WWII. Due to limited supplies, he was made in artificial silk plush in 1948. Then, once operations were back in order, Steiff produced him in blond or brown mohair in five sizes ranging from 9 to 40 cm in the identical pattern made before the war.  

Many Teddy babies were made over a long period of time. So what accounts for his astronomical price?  As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it.  This bear is in tissue-new condition and has a very appealing face.  But does that translate to over $8,000? In this particular case, two bidders really, really wanted the bear.  Perhaps this cub exactly resembled a bidder’s childhood companion. Typically in auctions, if multiple examples of any given item are available at a sale, the first one that comes under the hammer gets the highest price.  That might be what happened here.  Just a few lots later, another slightly smaller Teddy baby in lovely condition sold for $2,868 (which still seems really high); towards the end of the sale an adorable and complete pre-war Teddy baby made $1,075 (which better reflects the overall market today).

  1. The Under the Radar Lot

This lot of bird skittles was one of the few on offer that sold for less than it probably should have. It went for $717.

By under the radar, I mean “what a bargain, sort of!”  This lot was one of the few on offer that sold for less than it probably should have.  The blue ribbon here goes to lot #13, a trio of early felt chicken skittles that are cataloged as: “bowling game on wood base, produced from 1895, 2 chickens, 13.5 cm, 1 cock, 16 cm, felt plumage partially with moth damage that is caused of old age, otherwise good condition.”

These bird skittles were estimated at $188 to $376, and sold for $717 over 13 bids.  Although this is over the high estimate, I believe the estimate was very conservative here, and that on any given day, any one of these three could have sold in the $500 to $1,000 range themselves.  In 2010, Christies sold a set of nine Steiff felt hen skittles for over $23,000!

These poultry pets were in production from 1894 through 1914 and are appealing in many ways.  They are both collectibles as well as decorative accessories. Steiff’s barnyard birds are often purchased by designers and decorators to add a charming country touch to a room or space. These skittles are fine examples of Steiff’s early cut felt work, and demonstrate the company’s century-plus long commitment to quality and design.  And skittles, given their legacy, small footprints, and big personalities, have long been collector’s favorites given how easy they are to display and appreciate.  

  1. The Lot That Got Away

This boy on the go had 82 bids and sold for $17,925!

Not that I really ever had a chance at this treasure… but this is the one from this sale that will always have a place in my heart. My dream item was lot #78, a marvelous Steiff doll on a three wheeled clockwork scooter. It was estimated at $2,938 to $5,877 and cataloged as….”Steiff Urboy, produced 1926, felt doll on a three-wheeled vehicle with clock mechanism drive, case is made of sheet metal, wheels are made of wood, maneuverable, 21 cm, button with long stretched F, good readable white cloth tag label, item No.: 9322… swivel head, black glass eyes, whole clothes and cap original, while driving the Boy is pedaling with the feet, clock mechanism is intact, because of the adjustable front wheel the Urboy can drive straight ahead or in a circle, extremely rare, perfect unused original condition.” This boy on the go had 82 bids and sold for $17,925!

There are so many outstanding things about crossover item which may help to explain its popularity on the auction block. It has enormous appeal to doll collectors, Steiff collectors, wind-up and tin toy collectors, as well as vehicle collectors. Steiff produced a series of extremely rare novelty clockwork vehicles – both three and four wheeled – in the 1926 through 1929 time frame. Their drivers included this boy, a white mohair chimp, a brown mohair chimp, and a Teddy. According to the Cieslik’s Button in Ear, only 724 only examples of this boy were produced.  The doll itself is complete with all IDs.  There’s no debating that he is utterly charming and has an irresistible appearance and personality.  And given his clockwork trike’s ephemeral, easy to break nature, finding an example like this in like new, working condition today is less likely than winning the lottery. No wonder he was a headliner at this elite sales event!


Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.  You can follow her blog, which focuses on vintage Steiff finds, Steiff antiquing and travel adventures, international Steiff happenings, and the legacy and history of the Steiff company at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com.  Sign up for her Steiff newsletter by contacting her directly at steifflife@gmail.com.

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