Steiff teddy bear

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Some toy teddy bears command $10,000 to $100,000 from collectors. Do you have one of the valuable ones? 

Steiff Teddy BearMargarete Steiff established the toy company that bears (pardon the pun!) her name in 1880. Plush toys, stuffed animals, and teddy bears were the company’s best sellers and quickly became a household name. The German company used mohair, alpaca, felt, and woven plush to make their famous toys. First produced to be used in pin cushions, Steiff stuffed animals were popular worldwide yet their teddy bears were among the most popular of their toy line.

What to Look For

The well-known metal button has been found in the ear of most Steiff toys since 1904. Note: the button was not used during World War II when metal was in short supply. Early on, the button had an image of an elephant on them. More recently, most buttons were marked “Steiff” and accompanied by a yellow ribbon. Remember, the button is not the only clue to authenticating a Steiff toy or teddy bear. Remember that you could certainly have a valuable Steiff toy that does not have the Steiff button. I have saved many people from making the big mistake of tossing an old teddy bear because the thought all Steiffs had to have a button to be authentic. Not true!

When it comes to teddy bears, look for these tell tale signs of quality: swiveling head, plush and felt paws, eyes made of glass, joined legs and arms. Details on Steiff teddy bears–like the nose, mouth, and other small elements–are hand stitched with thread with care.

State of the Market

Steiff teddy bearSome big bucks have been spent for Steiff teddy bears like the 1903 Steiff teddy bear that sold for $17,250 and the blue glass-eyed bear that sold for $16,590. A rare circa 1920s teddy bear called the Steiff harlequin bear sold for nearly $75,000 some time ago. Unbelievable! And, even the more common Steiff bears have regularly commanded several hundreds to several thousands of dollars on the resale market. There are many changes in the Steiff market currently so collectors need to be aware of the Steiff fakes and those people who are marketing them. Collectors are enjoying their Steiff stuffed teddy bears as they are and not investing in costly conservation or restoration services for such bears. Many stuffed toy teddy bears are desirable in “loved” and unrestored condition to recall the joy of childhood play. The emotional aspect of one’s early toy or a parent’s or grandparent’s toy is why there are so many early 20th Century Steiff bears still in the market and many are still in private collections.

Tell Tale Signs

For instance, many people do not realize that various Steiff bears are made of mohair, have a characteristic yellow ribbon and metal ear tag (but some do not  have that all important ear tag as they were not used during the war when metal was rationed), are jointed at the limbs and neck/head, have shoe button or glass eyes, and embroidered faces. Paw pads are another common attribute for Steiff bears. Many other stuffed toy bears made by other manufacturers of the same time period resemble Steiff bears in an effort to capitalize on the characteristic teddy bear form made famous by Steiff.

Get an online appraisal of your Steiff teddy bear from Dr. Lori