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How to Identify Steiff Bears

Updated on March 08, 2017
Can you tell which bears are Steiff and which are not?
Can you tell which bears are Steiff and which are not? | Source

Famous for their "Knopf im Ohr" or "Button in Ear," Steiff bears and animals have been collected around the world for over 130 years. Started in 1880, the Margarete Steiff Toy Company has prided itself on making high quality stuffed toys for children of all ages. Their collection is made up of every animal imaginable, cartoon characters, pull toys and a myriad of other collectibles. Older and rarer Steiffs frequently fetch thousands of dollars at auction, with one bear selling at Christie's Auction House for $74,000 in 2010. Not bad for a child's toy.

Most Steiff animals are fairly easy to identify; however, it gets harder as the pieces age since they tend to lose some of their identifiers. Many older pieces are missing the iconic "button in ear" because parents took them out as a safeguard for their children. The paper chest tags disappear quite easily too.

If you have some old stuffed animals or toys packed up and are not sure if they are Steiff or not, there are three different identifiers that can help you figure it out.

  1. Chest Tags
  2. Button in Ear
  3. Ear Tags

Even if the animal has none of the identifiers left, there are still ways to tell if it is a Steiff.

  • Check the ear (or another part of the body if the animal has no ear) for a small hole. That is an indication that there was a button in it at one time.
  • Check the chest to see if there is a piece of string which suggests that a chest tag was once attached.
  • Check online resources and auction houses. You may find something that resembles your toy.

These are all Steiff animals.  The reindeer has all of his tags, the monkey has the ear tag, but is missing the chest tag and the mountain goat is missing all of the tags. Look closely and you'll see the hole in his ear where the button used to be.
These are all Steiff animals. The reindeer has all of his tags, the monkey has the ear tag, but is missing the chest tag and the mountain goat is missing all of the tags. Look closely and you'll see the hole in his ear where the button used to be. | Source
Chest tag from a newer plush play toy.
Chest tag from a newer plush play toy. | Source

Chest Tags

Chest tags on Steiff toys are made of paper and are circular in shape. Unfortunately, this is the identifier that goes missing first. There have been numerous variations over the years. Currently, there are a number of variations which indicate what collection a piece is from. You can find tags with cute names on them and others that have the Steiff brand name on them. The chart below describes the Steiff chest tags over the years.

Steiff Chest Tags Over the Years

Years in Use
Description
Early years
White Paper Circle with Elephant
1926 - 1928
White Paper Circle with Black Lettering
1928 - 1950
Red and Yellow Paper with Bear Head at Bottom Extending Below the Circle
1950 - 1972
Same as above, but Bear Head is smaller
1972 - Present
Half Gold, Half Red, Paper Tag
1983 - Present for Replicas dated 1928 and before
White Paper Tag Circle
1983 - Present for Replicas from 1950s and 1960s
Red and Yellow Paper Tag Circle with Small Bear Head extending below circle
Current - Classic Mohair Replicas
White Paper Tag Circle with Red Inner Circle and Original Elephant
Table Data is from Steiff News.com - History of Steiff Button & Chest Tags
Famous "Button in Ear"
Famous "Button in Ear" | Source

Button in Ear

The most famous of the Steiff animal identifiers, and the company slogan, is the "Button in Ear". These have changed significantly over the years. In the beginning, there was an elephant on the button. Currently, the word Steiff is on a brass button, recessed and written in script. They are another indicator to help identify the toy. Unfortunately many are missing, but if you are lucky enough to have an older piece with the button, then the chart that follows can help you identify the age.

Steiff Ear Buttons over the Years

Years in Use
Description
Button Size
1904/1905
Silver toned button with elephant
6mm
1904/1905
Blank button
6mm
1908 - 1927
Nickel and Iron button with word Steiff on it
4mm
1925 - 1934/35
Iron and nickel plated button with word Steiff
8mm
1933/34 - 1943
Brass button with word Steiff
6mm
1948 - 1950
Grey-blue Lacquered Blank Button
7mm
1948 - 1950
Blank Nickel Button
5mm
1950 - 1952
Button with word Steiff
6mm
1952/53
Nickel Button with Steiff in Script
5mm
1960 - 1972
Nickel Button with Steiff in Script
5mm
1967 - 1977
Nickel Button in Form of Hollow Rivet with word Steiff in Script
 
1969 - 1977
Nickel Button with Small Steiff Lettering, inset instead of raised
5mm
1977 - 1982
Brass Button with Steiff in Script, Recessed Letters
8mm
1982 - 1999
Brass Button with Steiff in Script, Slightly Rounded
8mm
2000 - Present
Same as above but with more modern rivet fixture on the back
9mm
2004
Replica Pieces have a special gold-plated button with original elephant design
 
Table Data is from Steiff News.Com - History of Steiff Button & Chest Tags
Ear Tag
Ear Tag | Source

Ear Tags

The third identifier for Steiff toys is the ear tag. Made of durable fabric, it identifies a number of things about a Steiff piece. All tags feature an EAN number system which Steiff has used since 1905. Limited edition tags also include the edition number and the total number released overall.

On older Steiff pieces, the EAN number indicates a number of things about the animal. The first number represents the position of the animal, the second digit indicates what material the animal was made of, and the third and fourth numbers represent the size of the toy. The chart below can help determine the age of your Steiff toy.

Steiff Ear Tags Over the Years

Dates
Ear tag description
1891 - 1914
Yellow with red lettering "Germany"
1914 - End of World War II
Yellow with red lettering "Made in Germany" or "Importe de Allemagne"
Shortly after World War II
Yellow with red lettering "Made in U.S. Zone Germany"
Until 1970
Yellow with red lettering, All tags have style numbers as well as a numbering system to identify the animal
After 1970
Yellow with red lettering, Tags have same numbering system as above, but the comma was replaced by a slash
Current
White Tag with red lettering represents a Limited Edition
Current
White tag with black lettering represents limited editions based on vintage Steiff designs
Reference: Wilson, J. (1989). Steiff Toys Revisited. Pennsylvania: Wallace-Homestead Book Company

Different Steiff Animal Identifiers

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Limited edition ear tag.  This one is number 163 of 3,500 pieces. Chest tag from newer collectible collection.  It has the original elephant design.Chest tags that have fallen off.  Don't throw them away.  Newer ear tag - Note no slash or dot between numbers.Older ear tag - Note dot separating numbers.Old button in ear - Note silver tone with raised lettering.Older tag and button - Note slash between numbers and recessed lettering on button.Old chest tagRemnants of old chest tag and button.Replica Chest TagEar tag with a slash between numbers.
Limited edition ear tag.  This one is number 163 of 3,500 pieces.
Limited edition ear tag. This one is number 163 of 3,500 pieces. | Source
Chest tag from newer collectible collection.  It has the original elephant design.
Chest tag from newer collectible collection. It has the original elephant design. | Source
Chest tags that have fallen off.  Don't throw them away.
Chest tags that have fallen off. Don't throw them away. | Source
Newer ear tag - Note no slash or dot between numbers.
Newer ear tag - Note no slash or dot between numbers. | Source
Older ear tag - Note dot separating numbers.
Older ear tag - Note dot separating numbers. | Source
Old button in ear - Note silver tone with raised lettering.
Old button in ear - Note silver tone with raised lettering. | Source
Older tag and button - Note slash between numbers and recessed lettering on button.
Older tag and button - Note slash between numbers and recessed lettering on button. | Source
Old chest tag
Old chest tag | Source
Remnants of old chest tag and button.
Remnants of old chest tag and button. | Source
Replica Chest Tag
Replica Chest Tag | Source
Ear tag with a slash between numbers.
Ear tag with a slash between numbers. | Source

Look Out for Fakes!

Older Steiff animals can be worth quite a bit of money so there are fakes out there. A few things to look for if you see what you think might be a Steiff for sale include:

  • If the button in the ear is bright, shiny and silver toned with no lettering then chances are it is a fake. Blank buttons were used until 1905 and won't be shiny and new looking.
  • If you really know your Steiff animals then you will know that a bear, that was not produced until 1963 and has a tag that says "Made in U.S. Zone Germany", is a fake.
  • Older pieces have eyes that were made of glass and were bright and shiny. Additionally, take a look at the quality of the stitching and the materials used. Only the highest craftsmanship was used.
  • Finally, use your intuition. Chances are you'll be able to spot a fake and if the vendor tries to persuade you otherwise, walk away.

References

  • Goddu, Krystyna Poray, A Celebration of Steiff:Timeless Toys for Today, Portfolio Press, 1997
  • Wilson, Jean, Steiff Toys Revisited, Radnor, PA, Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1989
  • mysteifflife.blogspot.com

© 2012 Glimmer Twin Fan

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      I used to collect porcelain dolls, Barbie's and Teddy Bears (including Steiff) when I was younger. You article on how to identify them was truly spot on and very interesting for the true collector. Thank you for sharing this infortmation and have voted and shared too!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much Janine! I hope you still have your Steiff.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Looks like you have a nice collection of Steiff toys! Enjoyed the hub. Nice layout and well organized. Vote up!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much Jill! They are still fun even though I am now 47 years old. I appreciate the comments!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great hub, I collect many things and I would certainly latch onto one of these. Thanks for the info. Sharing.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I appreciate the share and comments Jackie! They can be addictive to collect.

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Very interesting read. I was ignoring one of those pawn shop reality shows one evening and a person had brought in a real one. Have no recollection of how much the value was judged to be, but do remember being shocked by it. Great Job!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much! Some of the really old ones of these can be worth a mint! It's sort of surprising. Makes me think twice about throwing any old toys away.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      I had just no idea about these. This is an well researched and a very informative write. Voted up and interesting.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I appreciate it rajan. There are thousands of these animals out there all over the world. I love my little collection and doubt I'd be able to part with many.

    • Toytasting profile image

      Toy Tasting 3 years ago from Mumbai

      Very Interesting! Thanks for sharing the information :)

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Thanks for reading Toytasting! I really love these stuffed animals.

    • profile image

      LisaKeating 2 years ago

      Interesting and useful. I love thrifting (see my hubs) and I have started looking for collectible plush animals. I'm currently on the lookout for the pre-Duffy Disney bear. I have never come across a Steiff in a thrift store; although, I have seen some in pricey antique shops. Hopefully I'll find one of these precious pieces someday.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      Hi Lisa - I'd love to come across a Steiff in a thrift store or yard sale. With the internet most places know how much these things are worth now so they are not as easy to find. Good luck and thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      Sara 2 years ago

      I have a very tiny steiff? with a tag that is yellow with green. FFSPN is on one side 1671/06 is on the other. I think it is a hedgehog. There is clip on the back. Can't find a thing about it.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      Try googling the number, you may be able to find out some more info. Steiff has done a lot of hedgehogs over the years. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Sara 2 years ago

      Tried that....... Nothing

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      Sorry you couldn't find it that way. Not sure what else you could do, maybe try emailing the Steiff company. Good Luck.

    • profile image

      Mariana 9 months ago

      Thanks for the information above.

      I have a collection of Steiff and I knew from that period are.

      I learned a lot from these articles.

      I'm from Romania and thank you so much again.

    • SakinaNasir53 profile image

      Sakina Nasir 6 months ago from Kuwait

      Awesome article...great job, God bless u

    • profile image

      Doreen 5 months ago

      My Steiff Edition 2001 Grizzley Bear has 2 different eyes and on his snot, it appears that marker of some kind has extended from the stitching, He has round ceramic disc around his neck that says "STEIFF CLUB" EDITION 2001 . I just fell in love with him and didn't pay an exorbitant amount for him but it still would be nice to know for sure what I already suspect.

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