Adorable Woolen Miniatures by Steiff
These woolen miniatures are universally beloved by Steiff, doll, and toy enthusiasts worldwide. Here we have some postwar Steiff woolies: a cat from 1954-1978, a mouse from 1949-1984, and a rabbit from 1949-1984.
What they are: These woolen miniatures are universally beloved by Steiff, doll, and toy enthusiasts worldwide. Perhaps that is because they are so appealing and take little space to exhibit. However, because of their small scale, they are easy to miss at antique shows, garage sales, or specialty event sales. It’s worth keeping your eyes open for these petite treats and adding a few to your toy, holiday, or “shabby chic” collections! On their own or as a delightful focal point to just about any antique or vintage vignette, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with them! Here’s why.
Historical context: Steiff debuted their “woolies” in the early 1930’s. They were designed for small spaces and small budgets – the first ones costing the equivalent of about $0.30 each today! Woolies were originally made from Nomotta wool. Many Steiff enthusiasts caught the “collecting bug” from the woolie line as their low price points made them more accessible than their higher priced Teddy and animal cousins. From the very beginning, collectors arranged their woolies in holiday tabletop and fireplace mantle vignettes – especially around family-centric holidays like Easter and Christmas.
The very first woolies, introduced in 1931, were a series of six basic birds. Each was a different color and made in 4 or 8 cm. They had metal legs and feet and felt beaks and tails. They wore their buttons and earflags as tiny “ankle bracelets” around their sturdy legs. Soon after, Steiff added rabbits, cats, mice, monkeys, ducks and other animals to their line. Most were in the 5 to 15 cm size range. Despite their proportions, most had jointed heads and, where appropriate, charming details that included tiny metal legs; felt beaks, wings and ears; colorful slippers; and headwear, including bonnets, top hats and lacy veils.
The very first woolies, introduced in 1931, were a series of six basic birds. Each was a different color and made in 4 or 8 cm. Steiff’s earliest prewar woolie birds: chick from 1931-1935, Finch from 1933-1943, and Golden Bunting from 1934-1943.
Steiff began producing woolies again in 1949, after the factory opened for toy making after World War II. They resumed the manufacture of some of their earlier bird models and introduced some new designs, too. Metal legs, most often seen on woolie birds, began to be replaced with plastic legs starting in the 1950’s; by 1971 all the legs on Steiff’s woolie items were made from plastic. Steiff made mobiles from woolies in the late 1960s through the mid ’70s; these were constructed from woolies suspended from clear monofilament wires. These mobiles are especially collectible as they are quite fragile and very few have survived to this day. Around the same time as the mobiles, Steiff also experimented with woolies by combining them with mohair features; these include a woolie skunk and a woolie squirrel; both feature a wire reinforced posable mohair tail.
Here are 2 extremely rare prewar Steiff woolies: a mouse in slippers from 1936-1942 and a duck from 1931-1941.
Steiff’s woolies appeared in their catalog though the early 1980s. At that time, demand for them decreased because it was difficult to source their materials, and their labor costs made them very expensive and inefficient to manufacture. As such, they were entirely discontinued in 1984.
Why they are fantastic: Steiff’s woolies – especially those produced before the 1960’s – have a distinctly ephemeral, old fashioned presentation to them. It is simply amazing how Steiff managed to squeeze so many details and lifelike features into items which in some cases measured just over an inch tall! Nomotta wool tends to hold its color well, so it is not unusual for even the earliest examples to feature exciting and vibrant hues. And even though they have been out of production for over three decades, collectors today can’t get enough of them, and are willing to pay big money for rare and special versions of these tiny treats.
Nomotta wool tends to hold its color well, so it is not unusual for even the earliest examples to feature exciting and vibrant hues. Shown here are Steiff postwar hen and rooster woolies: a hen from 1949-1982 and a rooster from 1949-1982.
Their value: As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it. One of the most expensive woolies sold in recent memory was a 1938-39 vignette of a mother bird and three hatchlings in straw nest; it hammered for about $2,015 in 2016 and was sold by Teddy Dorado Auctioneers in Germany. Teddy Dorado hosted another sale in April 2017 which featured many lots of pre- and post- war woolies. A very rare 8 cm woolie owl with his Steiff button and ankle style red tag from 1934-36 hammered for about $750, and a lovely, but more common 8 cm green bird with his Steiff button and ankle style yellow tag from 1937-49 hammered for about $150.
It is simply amazing how Steiff managed to squeeze so many details and lifelike features into items which in some cases measured just over an inch tall! Shown above are several a few postwar Steiff woolies: penguins from 1964-1981, a stork from 1970-1977, and a duck from 1963-1967.
From the 1950’s onward, Steiff’s woolies have most commonly appeared in the forms of standing birds or lying rabbits. In excellent condition with all IDs, they may value in the $25-75 range each, with metal legged birds taking the top dollar range. Other post World War II woolie rarities, including penguins, storks, and skunks, may value in the $50-75+ range each, given they are in excellent condition with all IDs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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