Steiff teddies have been proving popular at auction for years now, with a rare collection of vintage bears selling for over £95,000 at Special Auction Services in Newbury a few years ago. With H&A’s quick guide, discover why these bears are quite so special…

Who are Steiff?

The German teddy bear manufacturer started life in 1879, when seamstress Margarete Steiff stitched a small felt elephant based on a design she found in a magazine. This was the world’s first soft toy.

How did the company start? And why bears and not elephants?

In 1880, Margarete founded Steiff with the motto ‘for children, only the best is good enough’ and expanded her range of animals to include monkeys, pigs, camels and giraffes. Her nephew Richard (below) joined the business in 1897 designing a set of animals on wheels including a donkey and a small grizzly bear, based on his drawings of bears in Frankfurt Zoo. In 1902 the bear was turned upright, the wheels were removed and the teddy bear as we know it was born.


When did the bears become so popular?

The bears were a success as soon as they hit the shelves. In 1907, Steiff made 974,000 bears and they were soon shipped to Edwardian London where they became a prominent feature of the earliest Christmas displays in department stores such as the newly opened Selfridges. One bear was sold to EH Shepard as a gift for his son and later provided the inspiration for his Winnie the Pooh illustrations.

What were the bears made of?

Soft mohair and alpaca wool – very much the same materials that are used today. In fact, they’re still manufactured in the same turn-of-the-century factory in Giengen an der Brenz.

And have the teddies changed?

This year Steiff has released a collection based on its early 1900s originals including a little drummer ‘Lukas’ bear (£125, below) and a bear that plays Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (£160).

Steiff’s ‘Nostalgic Collection’ is out now. 020 8097 3015;
Steiff’s ‘Nostalgic Collection’ is out now. 020 8097 3015;