Steiff’s Earliest Rabbits–Happy Easter!
Rabbits have appeared in Steiff’s catalogs since their debut in 1892. At least seven examples were featured in their first issue alone! Shown here is Steiff Rabbiette: A long legged velvet and mohair Steiff rabbit “Charleston” Rabbiette doll from c. 1930. Photo from Christies.
Quick – like a bunny – what are the top four categories of animals Steiff has produced over time? Well, the first, Teddy bears, should be no surprise. The other leading three are dogs, cats, and rabbits. It’s interesting to note that our favorite “Easter Beasters” have always ranked so highly in terms of number of patterns and numbers produced because in Germany – where the Steiff Company is located – Easter is such an important holiday.
Rabbits have appeared in Steiff’s catalogs since their debut in 1892. At least seven examples were featured in this first issue alone! Since their introduction, Steiff’s rabbits have always been “officially” measured head to toe, sans ears. Through 1937, all of the company’s honey bunnies were called simply “Rabbit.” In 1938, Steiff introduced “Ossi,” the first named rabbit ever. This name most likely was derived from the German word for Easter, which is “Ostern.”
The good news for collectors is that Steiff’s rabbits have evolved significantly over time. They truly have distinctive characteristics that appeared over the decades. Rabbit on wheels: A fully jointed mohair rabbit on red wooden wheels from 1926-1943.
There’s nothing more exciting than finding a vintage Steiff treasure. And given their popularity and longevity in the Steiff line, it is not uncommon to find older Steiff rabbits at auction, at flea markets, antique shows, and other sales venues. So how do you know what you have, and when it was made?
The good news for collectors is that Steiff’s rabbits have evolved significantly over time. They truly have distinctive characteristics that appeared over the decades. These design elements are really helpful in dating Steiff’s pre-World War II rabbits within a decade or so. Here’s a summary of their key characteristics through the mid-1940’s when the company stopped production due to World War II.
Steiff’s earliest rabbits, 1892-1910
- They were made from very simple, “primitive” style patterns.
- They were unjointed or completely jointed – including their arms, legs, head, and ears.
- The earliest ones were made from felt or velvet; they started appearing in mohair in 1903, when this material became available on a commercial scale.
- The earliest ones had black button eyes which were sometimes backed in felt. Starting around 1908, some rabbits were made with brown and black or albino (red and pink) glass pupil eyes.
Steiff’s rabbits from the 19-teens – early 1920’s
- For the most part, the patterns were more sophisticated, graceful, and “gentler” in form.
- They were primarily unjointed.
- Most were made from mohair.
- Most had glass pupil eyes, sometimes backed in felt, or albino eyes.
Steiff’s rabbits from the mid-1920’s – early 1930’s
- These patterns tended to be more “toddler-esque” and playfully detailed with oversized, glass pupil eyes.
- Some patterns were made with fluffy, longer mohair.
- Several new styles produced in happy “Jellybean” (purple, pink, blue, yellow, orange, etc.) colors in both mohair and velvet.
- This period saw a great influx of rabbit novelties, including tail-moves-head models and long limbed “Charleston” style animal dolls.
Late 1920’s rabbits: A begging white mohair rabbit from 1927-1932 and a sitting head jointed pink mohair rabbit from 1926-1931.
Steiff’s rabbits from the mid-1930’s – mid 1940’s rabbits
- Given the period in history, many of the company’s traditional patterns had “lean and pensive” presentations and personalities.
- Models are produced in substitute fabrics including artificial silk plush and wool plush instead of mohair due to availability and war rationing.
- Rabbits were given simple, embroidered facial features and proportional sized eyes.
- For the most part, they were produced in realistic and earth-toned colors, not the playful colors from the previous decade.
Substitute fabric rabbits: Unjointed wool plush hopping rabbit from c. 1935 and head jointed artificial silk plush sitting rabbit from 1938-1943.
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