Well, it is safe to say that this week's Steiff auction at Julia's was the main, or in this case the MAINE Steiff event of the early summer! On Friday, June 13th, James D. Julia, Inc. auctioned off over 120 treasures from the Chuck and late Cathy Steffes collection of magnificent Steiff rarities. The auction, held at Julia's headquarters in Fairfield, Maine, attracted attention, bids, and visits from collectors all over the globe! Here's a first-hand report of some of the highlights and fun associated with the event.
And we're off! Julia's official auction preview period started on Tuesday morning, June 10th. During preview, the auction facility was set up to display the lots on offer, and without a doubt the hall looked more like a museum of fine arts or treasures than anything else. In this case, all the Steiff bears were presented majestically on shelves in glass-doored display cabinets. Visitors were allowed to handle and examine any item - even the "crown jewel" treasures - which in this case were the Steffe's Titanic bear,
Teddy Clown bear, Petsy bear, and rod bear. Julia's set up inspection stations - which included draped tables, bright lights, and even high powered magnifiers - so potential buyers could literally examine each Steiff item on a stitch-by-stitch level! Julia's also provided snacks and meals throughout the entire four day preview event, as looking at the finest Steiff in the world can certainly build up one's appetite!
Preview lasted through Friday morning, just before the auction got started at 10am, and was a beehive of activity! Many visitors arrived on Thursday, June 12th, and it was so much fun to see old friends reunite, as well as see strangers immediately connect over this marvelous collection. People traveled from all across North America to attend the event in person, including collectors from New England, California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and even Canada. Several press and media professionals also attended preview, and it was clear they also were falling under the spell of this remarkable hug. Steiffgal had the once in a lifetime opportunity to receive a personal tour of the collection from Chuck Steffes, were she learned the back stories behind some of the bears. It was particularly moving to learn which were Cathy's favorites, and why.
The Steffes collection consisted mostly of spectacular bears, cats, and
rabbits. Chuck told Steiffgal that he and Cathy originally set out only
to collect bears when they began their hobby three decades ago. It was only within the last several years that they began adding cats and rabbits to their hug - in part to add a new focus and dimension to the collection.
By about 9:30am on Friday, many people had taken their seats in the auction hall, but it was clear that many more chairs would have to be added to accommodate the overflow crowd. Most folks, when asked why they came to the hall instead of watching the auction on the Internet, said that they wanted to see this sale in person as they felt it was an important moment in the Steiff collector's community. At 10am, auctioneer and company owner Jim Julia approached the podium and welcomed the crowd. He introduced the staff and explained the logistics of the auction. He then did something most unexpected - he gave a beautiful and gracious tribute to Cathy Steffes, and thanked Chuck and the family for the opportunity to share her passion and exquisite collection with the world. Then Jim began the exciting event!
Today in the auction world, a very small percentage of auction bidders are actually live in the audience, and that was no different for this auction. Many bidders placed pre-bids by phone, fax, or mail. Others watched and bid online through the e-platforms Proxibid and Invaluable. At this auction, there were a large bank of phone operators working with customers from all over the world. It was really entertaining to watch them juggle pens, phones, paperwork, and bid cards - while at the same time giving a play by play description of the auction proceedings and encouraging participation from their telephone bidders. Rumor has it that royalty from far away could have been on the other end of one of those phone lines!
It took about 90 minutes overall to auction the Steffes lots - but the time felt like the blink of an eye to Steiffgal. There were plenty of highlights throughout the auction - and like all events like this, some people even scored with some fine buys that escaped the radar of other collectors.
Lets button things up and take a look at notable Steiff Teddy bear sales! These included lot 3002, a gorgeous 70 cm early white mohair cub who sold for $14,220; lot 3008, a 38 cm rod bear who also sold for $14,220; lot 3009 a 50 cm yellow "Happy" bear who sold for $13,035; and lot 3025 a 31 cm black Titanic mourning bear who sold for $35,550. Perhaps the biggest surprise was lot 3010, an utterly charming circa 1910 60 cm gold mohair bear who came with a photo of his original owners and a letter explaining his history. Estimated at $8,000 to $12,000, he sold for $21,330.
Felines seemed to be the cat's meow with collectors during this sale. There was great interest in lot 3036, a very early velvet cat with an elephant button that sold for $7,703; lot 3035, an unusual mohair tail moves head cat from the early 1930's that sold for $3,851; lot 3013, an irresistible tiny "Fluffy" kitten on a cotton-candy pink mohair pincushion that sold for $7,110; and lot 3032, a simply marvelous, very early 15 cm six ways jointed cat with all IDs that sold for $10,665.
And finally, let's hop to it an check out the rabbit highlights. Collectors jumped at lot 3015, an extremely rare 33 cm fully dressed Jack Rabbit who sold for $7,703; lot 3017, a 34 cm lilac mohair colored begging rabbit who sold for $7,110; lot 3042, a bright orange begging mohair rabbit on olive green wheels who sold for $2,963; and lot 3100, a sweet and petite bright orange mohair begging rabbit rattle who sold for $2,015. All prices noted include the buyer's premium, which is 18.5%.
Overall, this was a magical event on many levels. This gathering allowed the Steiff community to come together and honor the Steffes for their remarkable commitment to the brand, as well as remember Cathy, who was a good friend to many in attendance. The event invigorated many dormant collectors - who learned about the sale through friends, the Internet, newspaper articles, or other industry channels - and it was wonderful to welcome them back to the world of Steiff. The sale also was like a calling to active collectors across North America to come together to share their love of Steiff, as there has not been such a Steiff-centric event in the USA in quite some time. And finally, this happening has brought much joy to many collectors who now have new Steiff memories, as well as treasures, to add to their hugs. When Steiffgal cataloged this collection many months ago - after writing up and examining each item - she gave each treasure a hug and small kiss, and promised each one it soon would have a new loving home. At last the circle is complete.
Steiffgal hopes you have enjoyed this report on the Steffes Steiff auction as much as she has relished preparing it for you!
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