When Steiff first started in business they made soft toy animals rather than teddy bears and Margarete Steiff started with a pattern for a toy elephant in 1879. Initially they were produced as pin cushions but she soon discovered how popular they were with children, who preferred soft, cuddly toys to the usual wooden ones. Margarete Steiff was so successful that she was soon able to form her own company.
Not many of these early models have survived due to wear and tear of children playing with them. From 1903 onwards the teddy bears dominated the Steiff production, but during the 1920 and 30s and 1950s and 60s many toy animals were produced and many of them can be found nowadays. Steiff animals are superior to any others produced because of their attention to detail, fine materials and very tight quality control. Really only the English company Merrythought could rival it.
The most common animals were cats and dogs and they are the most likely to be found. As there are also many collectors of cats and dogs valuation can vary. Although prices start from as little as £20 – £30, they rise according to size and breed. Scotty dogs are among the most popular, but you should also look out for Bully the Bulldog – examples can fetch above £200. Scottie dogs and rabbits are also very popular as are wild animals, especially if they are the kind that can be found in a zoo. Mockie the hippo can fetch over £50 while 1920s versions of a camel or elephant on wheels can cost up to £800 for a large version.
Strangely woodland animals were not very popular and not that many were made, they are therefore quite rare, but have never really caught on and are very much a niche collecting area. This could change in the future and they might be worth looking out for. A 1960s squirrel could cost between £30-£40, but look out for the name – Possy the squirrel may be worth more than Perri or vice versa. Steiff meticulously recorded names, characters and dates and it is therefore easy for collectors to date their toy and find out its name.
Steiff also made characters from other collecting areas, such as Mickey Mouse. Produced from 1931-36, he was made in large and small sizes and with red and blue short trousers. You should check that he has a tail, whiskers, buttons and tags. Values can range from around £500 to the low thousands. A large example in superb condition was sold in 2004 for over £8,000. Puss in Boots from 1912 can fetch £1,000 with his big felt hat, sword and leather boots.
You might also want to look for a range of animals that were not very popular with children at the time such as Eric the bat, who can fetch £100-£150 and Nelly the snail who can cost up to £200.
When collecting Steiff animals you need to take note of dates. A Molly seated dog from the 1920s or 1930s can fetch up to £400 in very good condition, whereas a similar example from the 1960s would only fetch up to £60. There are books and sites on the internet that will help you date your Steiff animals, by recognizing different styles of buttons or early shapes and styles.
The condition of the animals is most important as those were toys and a child’s love can seriously lower the value of the toy. Bald patches or total loss of hair can reduce value by 75 per cent. Repairs can also affect value so you should always examine the Steiff animal very closely and always try to buy a piece in very good condition.