Steiff Teddy Bears & Stuffed Animals
Margarete Steiff, the eventual founder of Steiff, was born in Germany in 1847. She fell ill as an infant and lost the ability to move her legs as well as limited mobility in her right arm. These limitations did not stop her from becoming an incredible and innovative seamstress. She opened a business from home selling handmade felt clothing and used the earnings to buy her first sewing machine. She saw a pattern in Fashion World Magazine for a small stuffed elephant and from it, created a cute elephant pin cushion. Margarete’s brother helped her sell the elephant toys at a local market and they became a popular children’s toy. Eventually, Margarete was able to employ several seamstresses and together they made and sold over 5,000 elephants in just six years!
Margarete expanded Steiff by designing a variety of stuffed animal toys. The first Steiff catalog was printed in 1892 and included horses, monkeys, camels, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, and giraffes. Margarete Steiff’s stuffed animals were handcrafted with wool felt and cotton velvet. Steiff’s motto, “for children, only the best is good enough,” was clear in the great care put into making each toy safe and durable. There were many lesser quality imitations of the stuffed toys.
The popular Teddy Bear that Steiff is most well-known for was not created until 1902. Margarete’s other nephew, Richard Steiff, created the stuffed bear as the first stuffed toy with movable legs and arms. The stuffed bear was covered in soft mohair. An American toy buyer found the bears for sale at the 1906 toy fair in Germany and had the grand idea of selling them back in America as “Teddy Bears”, named after the current president Theodore Roosevelt.
As a distinguishing maker’s mark for the bears, Margarete and her brother Franz decided to brand the bears with a “Knopf im Ohr”, which is German for Button in Ear. To this day, the ear, or chest button on Steiff animals is an indicator of authenticity and date. One of the oldest Steiff bears to enter the market dates to 1904 and is distinguished by the metal rods and joints used to construct them, which make them sturdy.
The bears were a phenomenal hit and by 1907, Steiff had over 400 employees. Steiff began to produce bears to commemorate many events. The Titanic Mourning Bear was produced in 1912 in memory of those lost in the sinking of the Titanic. Only 82 of these bears were produced. The bear created for the 125th anniversary of Steiff is called the “Diamond Eyes Bear”, not only does this bear have actual diamond eyes, but the fur also contains golden threads and the nose is made of pure gold. Surprisingly, this is not the most expensive Steiff teddy bear. That title belongs to the Louis Vuitton Steiff Bear which sold for over 2 million euros in 2000.
Margarete Steiff died in 1909 at the age of 61. Her nephews took over the business which remains a premier international toy manufacturer. More than 16,000 designs of Steiff toys are now available. Vintage and antique Steiff stuffed toys are some of the most sought after collectibles and can sell for as much as $100,000 at auction! The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village features a large collection of antique dolls and teddy bears, including some Steiff Teddy Bears. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and collectibles.