How to Collect Steiff Animals
The Margarete Steiff Toy Company has been in existence since 1880 and has always prided itself on making exceptionally high quality stuffed animals and toys. From its humble beginnings in a small southeastern village in Germany, Steiff now sells its toys worldwide, with many of their pieces being highly sought after collectibles.
Steiff collectors go to great lengths to find that one piece they still need for their collection. Some only collect Steiff bears while others, like me, collect all of their animals. Still, other collectors search for cartoon character toys or the limited edition series. Whatever the case may be, there are many things to know when collecting these animals.
From a Collector's Point of View
In a sense, I have been collecting Steiff animals since I was born, over 47 years ago. I never intended to become a Steiff collector, it just evolved. My mother was born in Germany, so I had German grandparents, and from my birth, I was always sent Steiff animals as gifts. When my grandparents were still alive, we would visit in the summers, and I would purchase one or two.
These animals have always been very precious to me. They were never purchased with the intent to sell them later. Growing up, they were "friends" that I played with, spending hours making grand animal parades around the house.
It was not until I was in my early thirties that I realized I had a true collection. Before that, they were the stuffed animals that sat on shelves in my bedroom. It was not until I came across an article mentioning that a Steiff bear had sold for some exorbitant sum, that I realized I should probably take a closer look at my "friends." It was also at this point that I knew I was a collector.
How Do I Know if I Have a Steiff?
There are three things to help you identify an authentic Steiff:
- Look for a button in the ear, or on another part of the animal if it does not have an ear.
- Look for the ear tag with identifying numbers on it.
- Look for a chest tag.
For more detailed information on identifying Steiff animals check out: How to Identify Steiff Bears.
Where to Find Steiff Animals
There are many places to find both old and new Steiff. Always make sure that you are purchasing from a reputable dealer.
For new Steiff toys:
- In Germany - Practically every toy store sells Steiff animals. In addition, there is the factory store in the town of Giengen an der Brenz, the home of the Steiff company.
- In other countries - Higher end toy stores, as well as finer specialized stores, usually carry them.
- Television Shopping - Television shopping networks sell Steiffs. This line of animals is usually mass-produced so you may not always find those special collectibles.
- Online - Steiffusa.com is a good source for new products.
- eBay - While mostly older Steiffs are found on eBay, there are online stores that sell new products as well.
For old Steiff toys:
- Yard Sales - You never know when you will stumble across a lucky find. Just make sure you know how to identify a Steiff animal before you spend a lot of money.
- Flea Markets - Flea Markets are a good source for Steiff toys if you know what you are looking for and have an idea of prices. But look out, they tend to charge high prices for toys that are not in good shape.
- Ebay - I have purchased a few pieces on eBay and have been happy with their condition and quality. Ebay is a good tool if you know exactly which animal you want, and how much you are willing to spend on it. Make sure to always purchase from a reputable seller. I always look for the listings with lots of photos which can help me identify the piece.
- Auctions - Auctions are for serious collectors. Some of these pieces can sell for thousands of dollars.
- Antique Stores - I have often found Steiff at antique stores, but the prices tend to run high.
- Online Stores - There are many online stores that sell older animals and have a wonderful selection. Just be sure to know what you are looking for.
As with any collection, it is up to you as the collector to decide when, and what, to purchase. Always be well-informed and set your limits. Know how to identify the Steiff animal you are looking at and make sure it is in good condition. Attempt to ensure that the seller is trustworthy. This will help you get that perfect addition to your collection.
Look Out for Fakes!
Because older Steiff animals can be worth a fair amount of money, there are fakes out on the market. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you think you have found a treasure.
- If the button in the ear is bright, shiny and silver-toned with no lettering, then it is a fake.
- If you really know your Steiff animals, then you'll know that a horse that was not produced until 1963 and that has a dull pewter blank button only used until 1953 is a fake.
- Look at the eyes. Older ones were made of shiny glass. Look at the quality of the stitching and the materials used. Steiff has always used the highest quality craftsmanship.
- Finally, use your intuition. If it does not feel right, then walk away.
How to Take Care of Your Collection
While they are made as toys, Steiff animals, especially older ones, should be handled with care. There are product lines that are made for younger children in mind, but these animals are an investment and should be treated as such.
- Keep animals away from your Steiff. The plight of one of my oldest Steiff bunnies "Manni" (pictured at the right) still saddens me. Our dog was a year old and was always quite curious about my collection. One day, I left the door to the room where I display them open. When I came back in, Max was happily chewing away on Manni. I have kept the arm in hopes of finding someone to restore him. As you can see, this bunny was still made with the old wood shavings. I learned my lesson, and Max is never allowed anywhere near my Steiff.
- Store them away from sunlight. These animals fade easily and sunlight is really damaging.
- Keep an excel spreadsheet with pertinent information on each of your Steiff toys. For example, on my list, I have the following information: animal type, materials used, posture, name on chest tag, number on ear tag, and limited edition number if applicable. This is especially useful for insurance purposes.
- Take photos and store them in a safe deposit box. This is very important. If your collection were to be lost in a fire, these photos would be useful to your insurance company.
- Cleaning should be kept to a minimum, if at all. I would never use anything to clean Steiff animals, not even water. If the piece is from one of the children's toy lines, check out the manufacturer's suggestions and follow them. For older pieces or newer collectible line pieces, the most I do is carefully blow the dust off of them.
If You Are Interested in Collecting Steiff
There are many Steiff clubs around the world. Quite frequently there are conventions where collectors can meet and get to know each other. If you ever have a chance, go to the factory in Germany and take a tour. The pieces displayed are amazing.
Collecting Steiff toys is a wonderful hobby. Whether you were fortunate to obtain them as gifts or whether you have just started your collection, Steiff collecting is a wondrous thing. The toys are created with such care and detail and there is such a wide variety. Be careful though, it can become addicting!
© 2012 Claudia Mitchell