Saturday, September 21, 2013

To Restore Or Not To Restore, That's The Steiff Question

To restore or not to restore, that is the question!  Steiffgal is frequently asked whether a vintage Steiff item should be restored or not.  Everyone has their own opinion, and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to repairing vintage Steiff treasures.  Check out this information from a reader in Connecticut, and see what you think about their family heirloom bear who may be a candidate for some expert TLC...

"Dear Steiffgal,

Thank you for looking at our family Teddy bear.  

We believe the bear came into the USA in 1910 when Uncle P. and his mother came here from Europe. We have always been told that the bear accompanied P. on the trip here.  

The bear is 15 1/2 inches long and still has the button that is stamped Steiff in his left ear.  

As you can see from the photographs, his right front paw  has some serious issues.  He is also quite faded and very well loved.

What can you tell us about this bear?

Thanks and best,

Let's get centered and take a good hard look at P.'s bear.  From what Steiffgal can tell from the photos, this is a very early turn of last century center-seamed Steiff bear.  Given his "Steiff" imprinted button in ear, he could be as early as 1906.  This would make perfect sense given the timeline provided by the family.  This Ted certainly has classic early Steiff proportions: his torso is twice as long as his head; he has long limbs with his arms extending to his "knees;" and his feet are long and narrow and are in a ratio of 1:5 to his height. His claw stitching is consistent with his age and his back hump is quite pronounced.  In addition, his facial features are representative of Steiff bears from the very early 1900's:  he has black wooden, or "shoe button" eyes which are set deeply on his face and his nose is 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.  
Let's not get ahead of ourselves here and forget to discuss this Ted's great noggin.  This bear has a somewhat unusual head construction.  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 were such that they could get six full heads from it, but there was some remaining material from this cutting process. Steiff's production team found a way to "patch" these remainders into another head and therefore not waste any fabric.  Because of their rarity, these "center seamed" bears have great appeal to collectors.

Now let's take a paws and consider the bear's condition.  Of course, it is impossible to evaluate any vintage Steiff collectible with absolute certainty without seeing it firsthand.  Photos cannot show subtle condition issues like if the mohair has dried out; if he has any weak/bad areas; if there are any excelsior or stuffing issues; any bad odors, etc.  Those things most definitely impact value and longevity. What is obvious with this bear is that there is a problem with the felt on one of his hand pads.  This is an issue for several important reasons:  it is bad to have this kind of damage as it invites further damage and insect infestation; it also makes the bear more fragile overall; and it is less attractive to a certain segment of potential future buyers, if the owners ever considering selling the bear in the future.  

There are two point of view when it comes to dealing with gaping, obvious condition issues like this on vintage Steiff items: 

1.  The first is to just let it be.  Some collectors like things in their original, authentic condition and shun any repairs at all.  They feel that restoration detracts from the appeal, and sometimes the value, of an item.  If they were to sell the item in the future, they figure that the next owner can make repairs if they are so inclined.  

2.  The second is to get the item professionally restored.  This will not be attractive to some collectors as mentioned above, but there are those that feel that such repairs can in a practical way add years to the life of the bear, as well as improve the bear's "curb appeal."  

Of course, if any repairs are done, it is critical to document them with the bear's history, and give full disclosure of these restorations in any future transaction concerning the bear.  

It is also important to note that both of these options are completely valid and are simply a matter of personal choice.   

Here are a few factors to think about from the collector's perspective when considering structural (i.e., repairs that deal with holes, rips, breaks, and stuffing) restorations:

  • The item's history:  If the item has a long family history with you - or you know the provenance of the item, which has personal or historical interest - and you want to insure that the item is around for the next several generations, consider structural renovation for its longevity.
  • The item's value:  If the item itself is quite valuable to start with, regardless of your personal connection to it, consider essential restorations to at least stabilize the item's condition.  This in turn should help retain, and in some cases grow, its value over time.
  • The item's rarity:  If the item is quite rare, and there is little or no chance of you finding another one in better condition, perhaps consider some structural restorations.  If the item is relatively common, and does not have personal history or great value, you may want to think about "upgrading" with another example instead of restoration.
So, given all of that, what should the family do in terms of restoration?  Of course, the choice is entirely up to them.  If this bear was Steiffgal's - because he has history, value, and rarity (the center seam and button really help in these last two categories) she would probably would invest in his professional restoration.

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on this lovely vintage Ted and restorations has helped to repair your day in a most positive way. 

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


  1. Dear Steiffgal !
    Always with pleasure I watch your blog!
    Very interesting information! Thanks for your knowledge and love!


The teddy bear search engine