Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Location, Location, Location

In real estate, location is everything. And maybe with Steiff items, too? Take a look at this note from a reader who poses a very interesting question about the varying placements of Steiff's namesake "button in ear" trademark.

"Hi SteiffGal,

I have a general question about the attachment of the Steiff button. I've noticed on some online auctions that the Steiff button, specifically the text 'Steiff' appears on the back of the ear; whereas all of my Steiff animals old/new have the 'Steiff' text on t
he front of the ear (that is, the 'Steiff' text is facing the front of the animal/toy).

Are the buttons where the text '
Steiff' is on the back of the ear rarer and a factory mistake (or certain period of time when Steiff did this?) or is this likely someone tempering with the button and put it on backwards?

Thanks in advance for any help in clarifying this, Holly"

What an intriguing question! The button is clearly the Steiff mark of excellence, and has been for over a century. According to the Cieslik's marvelous book, Button in Ear: The History of The Teddy Bear and His Friends, Margarete Steiff, in a newsletter to customers in early 1904, writes: "Trademark - (Elephant with "S" shaped trunk). As of November 1, 1904, I shall identify each article without exception, with a small nickel-plated button in the left ear. Our logo is stamped on these buttons and is legally protected." Steiff actually owns the patent on the words "Button - in Ear", not the actual button itself.

This question inspired Steiffgal to do a little research on her own Steiff collection. Clearly, Steiff has made thousands of items and Steiffgal's limited collection only represents the "tip of the tip" of the Steiff "iceberg of products" ever made. But the goal here was to uncover some trends in button placement location over time. To that end, Steiffgal surveyed several hundred items in nine basic categories from 1910 - present to see:

  • Which in her collection had the button facing inward (i.e., if you looked at the item face on, the button would be facing you and located on the "inside" of the ear, as shown on the Teddy above), and...
  • Which in her collection had the button facing outward (i.e., if you looked at the item face on, the button would be located face out on the "outside" of the ear, as shown on the Jocko above), and...
  • Which in her collection had buttons in places other than the left ear in any orientation.

Here's what she found. First, the easy stuff:

  • Cats: all of Steiffgal's cats have inward buttons in their left ears.
  • Bears: all of Steiffgal's Teddys have inward buttons in their left ears.
  • Rabbits: all of Steiffgal's rabbits have inward buttons in their left ears.
  • "Jungle/Circus" (lions, camels, tigers, etc.) animals: all of Steiffgal's wild animals have inward buttons in their left ears.
  • Farm animals (pigs, goats, cows, etc.): all of Steiffgal's farm friends have inward buttons in their left ears.

Now the more complicated stuff:


Birds: Placement varies considerably. Smaller vintage pom-pom and mohair birds, as seen here on the left, generally have their yellow flag wrapped around their left leg; this flag is then held in place with a Steiff button. Some larger birds like penguins and owls have inward buttons attached to their wings while others like the kiwi have a yellow tag with a button sewn into a hind seam. Interestingly, a small mohair chick and a plush rooster have outward buttons on their wings. Very hard to see any pattern here!


Monkeys: Jockos produced before 1952 all seem to have outward facing buttons. Jockos with the raised script style buttons, which appeared from 1952 - 1969, can either have their buttons inward or outward, it was about a 50 - 50 split. All Jockos with the lentil button, (as shown on the monkey on the left) which appeared from 1969 - 1978, have inward facing buttons. Moving forward, all Jockos from 1978 onward have inward facing buttons. These findings are for Jocko puppets as well as toys ranging from pocket sized to 50 cm.


Dogs: The vast majority have inward facing buttons (as demonstrated on the Revue Susi on the left), even in cases where it would have been much easier to have them outward facing, as in the case of the Fox terrier with tiny, inward folded ears. However, there are a few exceptions of outward buttons, like the Dangling Dog with the gardening vest from 1981 - 1985; the 1983 Collector's edition Boxer (shown on the left), and both the beautiful and lifelike Hassan and Lumpi mohair Labradors from a handful of years back.


Studio and licensed items: Lifesized studio animals generally have their buttons in a place that does not detract from their looking "real", even if the item has ears. For example, on the studio gorilla pictured on the left, the button and yellow flag is located discretely on his fur collar, and on a studio biermonk (beer monk), the button is placed at the bottom of his long flowing robe. The same button "discretion" appears to be true for newer specialty "logo" characters, like the Danone Banana (pictured above) and the Pinga and Pingu Penguin set from 2000, perhaps for trademark and licensing reasons.

So what are the take home lessons here from this limited survey?

First, location does matter. Every product has the button in the left ear - or left-ish - hemisphere of their body. Be very suspect if you come across an item claiming to be a Steiff with a "right sided" button.

Second, button orientation matters less than location. Most items have inward facing buttons, but legitimate outward facing buttons do make an appearance every now and again. It's not a factory "mistake".

Finally, appearance ultimately counts alot. In studio, special orders, or licensed products, the button may be placed in a prominent location, albeit away from the face. This may be to keep the design as lifelike or true to brand as possible. If you come across one of these treasures and don't find an ear button, look a little harder on the left hand side of the item; the button may be "hiding" on a seam tag, design detail, item of clothing, or accessory.

Holly, Steiffgal is not certain she answered your question, but she had an awful lot of fun trying to map this all out for you!

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