Every hear of an awesome 'possum? Well, you're about to! Check out this inquiry about a most unusual Steiff rarity - a vintage Steiff opossum! Through a series of communications, MaryPat from New England writes...
I am hoping you can shed some light on... the history of an opossum that my Great Aunt Ruth gave to my brother when we were children. She was born in the late 1800's. ...the opossum looks like it is lying/squatting down on all four legs which are not jointed. Pictures are forthcoming.
Thank you for any help you can provide. I am cc'ing my sister and brother as well as I know they will be interested in any information you can provide.
I look forward to hearing from you.
O-my. What we have here is one of the most rare and elusive non-bear Steiff items from the turn of last century. Here is the story behind this incredibly special find.
When William Taft, whose nickname was “Billy Possum,” became president in 1909, many people thought that the opossum would take the place of the Teddy bear as a beloved plaything and become a nationwide mascot of good will. In response to the news from Washington, Steiff produced two mohair opossums. The first was a lying, unjointed version in 12, 14 and 17 cm; it was in the line from 1909 through 1913. The second was a jointed, begging version in 17, 22 and 28 cm; it was in the line from 1909 through 1914. Both had black bead eyes, a pink nose, felt ears and a long skinny tail. Steiffgal believes MaryPat's brother's opossum is the smaller unjointed version.
It should come as no shock to readers and collectors that an opossum just didn’t have the charm and appeal of the Teddy bear. In general, efforts to produce and distribute opossum-themed playthings failed miserably. As a result, these early, vintage Steiff opossums are extraordinarily rare and usually generate huge interest and hammer prices when they do come on the market - of course, assuming that the pieces themselves are in very good condition with no unpleasant aesthetic or structural issues.
Now the question that makes Steiffgal want to "play 'possum"... his value. As always, Steiffgal is not a formal appraiser and something is worth what someone will pay at any given time. It is really difficult to give a hard and fast value range on him, because Steiffgal has not seen him in person, and the only three comps she knows are of the larger, jointed models. The most recent larger jointed Steiff opossum sold in February, 2012 in a lot of otherwise uninteresting Steiff items for $6,000 - Steiffgal is certain that 99.9% of the interest in this lot was focused on the opossum. At the 2010 Steiff Auction at Christie's in London, a really nice larger jointed version sold for close to $15,000 - he is pictured right here on the left. And a third jointed version sold at auction in 2006 for a little over $5,000. Again, these are not exactly the same items as the one under discussion, but are certainly first cousins.
Given all of that, It would Steiffgal's best guesstimate, given he is in very good or better condition, that he probably could sell in the $5,000 to $6,000+ range, given the right buyer, seller, and situation.
Steiffgal hopes that this discussion on Steiff's "Billy Possum" wins your vote of approval.
Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more.