Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Keeping Things Centered With Steiff

It's important to keep a centered perspective in life. The same holds true for vintage Steiff collectibles! Take a look at this note from a reader in California, who asks for some more information about a rare and dear center-seamed bear. Adi writes:

"Today I send you 3 pictures of a bear from 1905/1906. He has the button in ear, no tag, some mohair loss especially on the back, and a couple of moth holes in his paws.

The Teddy has wooden eyes, a center seam, 4 claws per limb, and is 60cm or 24’
’ in size. Can you tell me more about this century-old bear?

Best regards, Adi"

This bear is a wonderful example of very early Steiff Teddies. And being a center seamed model, he is especially desirable to collectors. Let's go over him bit by bit and talk about what makes him so special, and why.

His color: As for his mohair
, he is blond which is quite nice. All things being equal, the bears that get the highest prices from the early 1900's tend to be cinnamon and white because fewer were made at the time and therefore they are less common today. This Ted has lost maybe 30% of his mohair but it doesn't detract from his appeal. Steiff introduced mohair into their line in 1903 so he really is an early example of a mohair item.

His Steiff ID: It is impossible to see the details of his button, so given his age, it could go one of two ways. His button is either stamped with an elephant or is blank; both were being used at the approximate time of his manufacture. Steiff has a legacy of using whatever materials are on hand during production; this can be confusing at times when trying to date items precisely today.

His Body: This bear is typically shaped and proportioned to Steiff turn-of-the century Teddies. His torso is twice as long as his head. He has long limbs with his arms extending to his "knees". His feet are long and narrow and they are in a ration of 1:5 to his height. His paw pads are felt and look original; they might be backed with cardboard. Steiffgal would need to examine his feet to confirm their construction. His claw stitching is consistent with his age and his back hump is quite pronounced.

His face: Teddy's faci
al features are consistent with a bear from 1905/1906. He has black wooden, or "shoebutton" eyes which are set deeply on his face. His nose is black and vertically stitched on a relatively long pointed snout. For bears his size, the typical nose from 1905 and 1906 is stitched like a bar, with a few stitches in the middle reaching down to join his simple "V" shaped mouth. Because he is blond, his stitching is black; if he were white his stitching would be brown.

His unusual head construction: As for the center seam, in the early 1900's, every 7th bear that Steiff made had a seam down the center of his face to make the most efficient use of the fabric. The dimensions of the fabric from the factory (almost certainly Shulte, who has been supplying Steiff with mohair and fabrics since 1901) were such that they could get six full heads from it, but there was some remaining material from this cutting process. The Germans being all about efficiency (Steiffgal is German herself and only means this in a good way) found a way to "patch" these remainders into another head and therefore not waste any fabric. The dimension of the fabric was a huge irritant to Margarete Steiff. According to the wonderful Cieslik book, Steiff Teddy Bears Love For A Lifetime, she wrote a letter to Shulte in 1094 which reads in part...

"...I must also point out to you something of great importance. Your materials are certainly woven to the right width but here is often only 120 to 122 cm of length available, whereas other suppliers provide 15 to 126 cm of usable cloth. This shortage does not allow me to produce the full number of articles calculated. I trust that you will correct this for me in the future..."

As for his relative value, that is really hard to determine. Steiffgal is not a formal appraiser and strongly believes that something is "worth" what someone else will pay for it. These poor economic times seem now more than ever to favor buyers over sellers and prices for Steiff collectibles at all price points seem unusually low. On the other hand, center seamed Steiff bears from the turn of the century are universally loved by collectors and will only become more desirable and valuable over time. His size is marvelous and for a 100 year old guy, he is in really nice shape. Based on other relatively recent sales, Steiffgal's best estimate right now is that this bear would sell in the $2,500 - 3,000 range or so.

Circling back to t
oday, when Steiffgal first saw this Teddy, his design reminded her of a relatively recent Steiff Limited Edition. Steiffgal feels this bear has a striking resemblance to Gabriele, the Button Bear (EAN 668562), pictured here to the left. This bear was a North American Limited Edition from 2006. If you look at the old bear's face and longer limb style, and compare them to Gabriele, they are remarkably similar. Gabriele has long mohair, but that is just part of the contemporary design. The "Button Bear" is based on a 1905 pattern, so these similarities between the old and new make perfect sense.

Adi, Steiffgal hopes this in-depth look at this early Steiff Teddy bear gives you a balanced viewpoint on his delightful features and legacy.

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more.

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