Sunday, January 16, 2011

Building an Old-Fashioned Steiff Collection in a New Fashioned Way

Almost all collectors would agree that the legacy of Steiff is without boundaries.  And with the onset of computer technologies and social media channels, it now transcends most geographical locations as well!  Please meet a Steiff enthusiast from Southeast Asia who has built a spectacular collection of Steiff treasures in a "long distance" sort of way. 

Steiffgal:  Loon, thank you so much for speaking with us today about your Steiff collection and sharing your remarkable new addition to your hug. To start, can you first tell us a little bit about yourself?

Loon:  Absolutely.  I am from Singapore and have been a high school teacher in music and mathematics for the past 5 1/2 years. I am a trained pianist, and will leave my current job for the Royal Academy of Music in London this fall to pursue my dreams of being a professional performing musician. I can't have pets because I can be rather allergic to their fur, so my interest in Steiff animals is a good substitute I suppose!  Some of my favorite "nonshedding" vintage friends are pictured here on the left. 

Steiffgal:  Yes, the Steiff - pet connection makes perfect sense! So how long have you been collecting Steiff, and what got you first interested in the brand? 

Loon:  I have been collecting Steiff for about 2 1/2 years and currently own about 20 new and vintage Steiff items, amongst bears and animals from other German brands as well as a few rare artist bears. I have always known about Steiff, but as a student it was too expensive for me. In the summer of 2008 I visited Germany, during which I spent a lovely day in Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber with lots of friendly people and wonderful teddy bears, and that was how my collection started - I bought my first limited-edition bear. On subsequent visits to Germany I also went to various toy museums around the country as well as the birthplace of Steiff in Giengen, to learn more about the history of these exquisite toys. To me, every handmade toy is a work of art with its own individuality and expression - something you don't get nowadays in this age of mass-produced plush items.

Steiffgal:  You recently added an exceptional, antique Steiff treasure to your collection.  Can you tell us about the piece?

Loon:  Yes, the item is a 30 cm Steiff wool plush young fox terrier from 1906, and I purchased it at the October 13th Steiff auction held at Christie's in London.  The dog itself is detailed with brown patches, brown and black glass eyes, brown facial and claw stitching, a squeaker, a ribbon with a bell, and an elusive blank button!  

Steiffgal:  What was your auction strategy to win this collection showstopper?

Loon:  I did not attend the auction personally because I have a day job which I can't leave (it was term time), but thanks to the time difference between the two countries, I was able to follow the entire auction via video conferencing - I made sure I was home and in front of the computer when it started!

As for why I decided to bid on that item, well, I was looking through the Christie's catalogue (which I had ordered well in advance) for something nice AND affordable, and Lot 19 caught my eye within the first few pages. I have a weakness for Steiff dogs and cats with a sweet and vulnerable 'take-me-home' expression. Considering what a picky collector I am when it comes to the condition of an item, and that Lot 19 is over 100 years old, I was also amazed by its pristine quality (the wool plush cover is near perfect!). The thought of owning an all-original Steiff item with blank button for under 1,000 pounds was simply too tantalizing to resist.  

Overall, I did not have any particular bid strategy for it - after looking through the Pfeiffer book I thought that Christie's estimate was very reasonable and that I would buy it as long as the actual bid price did not go beyond the maximum amount.

Steiffgal:  Congratulations on winning this wonderful find! Did you purchase anything else at this auction?

Loon:  This was the only item I got from the auction - there were other animals such as a pre-button 1904 velvet Dachshund and a 1908 velvet Ox (with a white tag) which I would have loved to get due to their rarity, but unfortunately I was outbid. I would also have loved a really old and decent-sized teddy bear, but most of the estimates were already way beyond my budget, and I could only drool with envy as I saw their prices hit the roof.

Steiffgal:  You have many other lovely vintage Steiff treasures in your collection.  How do you display them around your home?

Loon:  I live in a rather small apartment and I have just one glass display case for all my items (both Steiff and non-Steiff) in a dehumidified room away from the heat and light of the tropical sun. The items are grouped on different shelves according to whether they are teddy bears or animals, and new and vintage items are also separated. As you can probably guess, I am already running out of space! I hope to have glass exhibition cases custom-made in the near future for my more valuable items, as this current display case is not dust-proof and I have to clean my items very carefully now and then.  A few more of my favorites are shown here on the left. 

Steiffgal:  Is it challenging to build a Steiff collection in Singapore?

Loon:  Steiff is way overpriced in Singapore and you can't get any vintage items anyway, so I buy mainly from online dealers and shops that I trust (in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK), and occasionally from eBay (especially the German site) from sellers with a good reputation - being able to speak and write German is a huge plus when it comes to locating the best Steiff items from private collections. Admittedly, I am a very picky collector and will only buy mint condition items within a reasonable budget, and these do not appear very often, in Singapore or elsewhere!  The best (and rarest) item in my collection, at least today, has got to be my 1906 terrier from Christie's; I don't think I'll ever see anything so old yet so pristine for quite awhile!

Steiffgal:  Loon, danke and enjoy your new old friend - and good luck at the Royal Academy!  

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