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Fri Mar 9 2012 12:09:45

Steiff Bears and Toys: Q & A with Expert Rebekah Kaufman

By: Julia Wilkinson

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Steiff Bears have been loved and collected by generations of children and grownups both.  They also sell very well, and can command top prices. But how and where do you find them? I spoke with Consultant Archivist, Steiff North America  (and Steiff enthusiast in general) Rebekah RA Kaufman  (AKA "Steiffgal"), who writes at, to find out.

Q:  How did you first get interested in Steiff bears and toys? Did you own one as a child?

A: I have always had a really strong affinity for Teddy bears, and Steiff in particular.  I have a photo of me at four days old lying next to a sweet-looking Teddy bear, who is almost as big as I was.  So this passion has been around since just about the time that I have been around.  It must be in my DNA.  My aunt nicknamed me “Re-bear-ca” and my best friend through high school called me “Bear.”

I always had Steiff bears and animals around as a child, but they were more like playthings and friends, not things to be collected and admired on a shelf.  I was fascinated by their quality and the fact that they were made so far away -- in Germany.  I sensed even as a very young person that there was something really special about the brand.  And like many kids, I thought the ear buttons they all came with “hurt” the bear or animal, and tried to remove them.  

Q:  Tell us about the first one you owned, or bought (if you did not own one as a child, that is).

A:  I can’t recall the very first Steiff bear or animal I owned, but I would guess that it probably was a gift from my German grandparents, who were lifetime collectors.  I do recall as a very small girl going to FAO Schwarz - an upscale toy store - and being amazed by the selection and variety of Steiff items they had on display.  I especially loved the tiny 10 cm Teddies, which came in a variety of colors like blonde, caramel, and white.  My pediatrician was located right near the FAO Schwarz, so I would insist on a trip to the toy palace before any doctor’s appointment.  In my very young mind, the two went hand in hand.

Q:  What should people look for in order to find a genuine Steiff bear --  a certain label, mark(s) of construction, a kind of material?

A:  As for authenticity, today just about every Steiff item leaves the factory with three basic forms of identification:  a metal ear button, an ear tag, and a chest tag.  The actual design, size, and coloring of these items vary by product line, edition size, and other factors.  The metal ear button, introduced in 1904, is the most “permanent” form of Steiff identification. It has changed in design and size over time, and is just one way that collectors help date the production of a vintage or antique Steiff treasure.  The ear tags and chest tags also have changed over time, but since they are made from fabric and paper, often are lost to time or love.  A true prize is finding a vintage Steiff item in excellent condition with all of its identification in fully legible condition.  

In terms of construction and material, again, quality rules here.  Steiff produces both jointed and unjointed items; in general the more joints it has, the more collectible and expensive it will be.  And for materials, most enthusiasts prefer items made from mohair or other organic fabrics, although there are several vintage items from the 1950’s - 1970’s made from dralon, artificial plush, or trivera velvet which are quite collectible as well. 

Q: Is there a good guide to its marks somewhere, in a book or online?

A: For a quick reference, I would check out which gives a snapshot guide to dating an item based on its button in ear or chest tag.  

Q:  What does Steiff make besides teddy bears -- I know they are known for bears, but looking at your blogs, looks like they made all kinds of other toys?

A:  Steiff is best known for inventing the Teddy bear in 1902, and for producing thousands and thousands of bears even today to handle worldwide demand for their wonderful “friends for life.”  However, as you note, they also have made just about every other type of animal you can imagine - everything from alligators to zebras, and everything in between.  Kiwis? Yes!  Lobsters?  Yes!  Skunks?  Yes!  I think you get it!  

In addition to bears and animals, the company is lesser known for its design and production of gorgeously made and attired early felt dolls.  The heyday for Steiff dolls basically ran from the turn of last century to just after WW2.  Steiff launched its doll line in 1903 with a series of comical, cartoon-like figures including police and firemen, students, and farmers.  The line evolved to include darling boy - girl pairs of school children, teachers, dolls dressed in authentic outfits from foreign countries, gnomes, and popular fairy tale characters of the time. These dolls, which are famous for the seam that ran down their face top to bottom, remained in the line through around the early 1930’s.  A new style of doll - with a seamless, pressed felt face - appeared in the line through the very early 1950’s.  Like their predecessors, they were also beautifully dressed and designed with tremendous attention to detail.  

Over time, Steiff has also produced wooden toys, kites, life-sized or studio animals, puzzles, puppets, play balls, scooters, and a wide variety of “functional” household items including pillows, rugs, and small furniture items.

Q: What do you recommend as a good Steiff reference book or other references (online, e.g., including your blog, of course!).

A: The “gold standard” Steiff reference books are called the Steiff Sortiment books and they were authored by Gunther Pfeiffer.  The books are quite large, somewhat expensive, and hard to find.  They come in German and English, so be careful what you order if language is important to you. I would recommend searching for them on or

I personally love going through old Steiff and Teddy bear auction catalogs; the ones from Christie’s auction house a few years back are delightful and very educational.  For fun and a good read, I love the Steiff and Teddy bear books by Dee Hockenberry, she has a marvelous collection and a wonderful knowledge of the brand and its fun oddities.  I flip through her Steiff Bears and Other Playthings Past and Present every once in awhile when I could really use a smile.  And of course, I try to keep collectors and enthusiasts all over the world up to date and informed about wonderful Steiff finds on my blog, My Steiff Life, which is updated weekly and can be found at

Q: Where are some of the places people can find Steiff bears? Are certain venues better than others...e.g., estate sales, country auctions, or does it just vary?

A: Well, I don’t want to give away any trade secrets here… but if you know what you are looking for, eBay is still a great place to find some remarkable values and collectibles.  I love browsing through antique stores and malls, which very often have a few Steiff treasures among their shelves.   I have had great luck searching Craigslist as well. And there are auction houses that just specialize in collectibles and/or Steiff.  Morphy’s often list very interesting Steiff lots in their auctions. And Teddy Dorado holds several Steiff-only auctions per year, including a very special annual summer auction held in conjunction with the Steiff company’s annual public celebration event.   

Q:  Tell us a little about the history of the company. It was started in Giengen, Germany? Is that company still around, or are the current bears made by a company in a different form?

A:  The company is alive and thriving in Giengen, Germany, where it all truly began.  Steiff also has sales and marketing offices in the United States and the UK.  The vast majority of products are still made in Giengen. The company started producing products in the late 1880’s, and put out its first playthings catalog in 1892.  Since the very beginning, Steiff has prided itself on designing and producing items only of the highest quality and craftsmanship.  

The founder of the company, Margarete Steiff, said early on, “Only the best for our children” and that has been the driving goal of the company for way over 100 years.  

Margarete was a remarkable woman.  She was born in 1847. Despite contracting polio at age two and becoming paralyzed on one entire side of her body, she managed to lead a joyful and productive life.  She taught herself to sew, and eventually started her own felt clothing company.  Some of the earliest “Steiff” items were long felt underskirts, designed to be worn during the cold German winters. 

Margarete discovered a pattern for a felt elephant pincushion in one of her women’s magazines. She made the item, but soon discovered that it was more fun than functional - especially in the eyes of toddlers!  She went on to manufacture additional felt animals, and quickly realized that these were more marketable than felt underskirts! 

The focus of the company slowly shifted entirely towards toys for children.  More Steiff family members became involved in the business, helping in areas including design, distribution, business systems, and accounting.  Margarete’s creative nephew, Richard, designed and invented the first jointed Teddy bear which made its debut in 1902.  With a few design and material modifications the company sold close to a million Teddy bears by 1907.  The rest is pure history!

Q: Anything else you think is important for Steiff-searchers to know?

A: Yes!  You are not alone…far from it!  There is a huge, global community of Steiff collectors who are passionate about the brand and excited to share their knowledge with you.  A great place to dip your toe in the Steiff waters is Facebook.  There you can join the community of vintage ( or new ( collectors - or both!  Steiff also has a fantastic collector’s club, which offers the opportunity to attend live Steiff events, receive interesting Steiff publications, and purchase rare limited edition products.  Check them out at   

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Sat Nov 22 18:25:46 2014

I am trying to identify a steiff bear. I will add a picture if I knew how!!!!

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