Our antiques expert takes a look at a cuddly toy with real bite....
The school holidays are upon us, perfect timing for the release of Disney’s latest live action blockbuster, “The Lion King”. Hotly anticipated after the successes of the Jungle Book and Aladdin, who says these are just for kids?
Soft toys aren’t just for kids, either, as I was reminded by our own King of the Jungle padding around the centre. He’s a magnificent giant Steiff lion, nearly a metre long. In immaculate condition, he is on sale for £550.
Famous for its iconic teddy bears, German seamstress Margerete Steiff actually began making stuffed animals, starting with elephant pincushions from a magazine pattern. Finding them more popular with children, other animals soon followed, and she was able to found Steiff the following year, 1880. It has maintained a reputation for quality and collectability ever since.
Cats and dogs were popular early designs, and made in high numbers. A Bully the Bulldog from the 1920's can fetch over £300.
Because some people don’t realise Steiff make animals, it is possible (and fun) to find the occasional hidden treasure, overlooked by teddy hunters. Also sought after are rare creatures which didn’t sell well, so weren’t made in large numbers. Eric the bat and Nelly the snail, both from the 1960s, can fetch up to £200.
Steiff are meticulous at recording names, characters and dates, a great resource for collectors. The iconic metal ‘ear button’ introduced in 1904 to prevent counterfeiting is still used today.
The tag originally had the symbol of an elephant, later replaced by the name Steiff. Look for special toys, which have both.
Wild animals were popular too, particularly if typically found in a zoo, a popular holiday visit for children. A camel or elephant on wheels from the 1920s or earlier can fetch up to £800.
Steiff continue to make quality and collectable animals to this day. As the market (and price tags) leaned towards collecting over playing, larger, extremely lifelike, versions proved enduringly popular, including hippos and giraffes.
Our ‘Leo’ isn’t even the largest lion that Steiff make, beaten by one measuring well over a metre. Made to order, taking 12-14 weeks and costing £3,750, I’m afraid you’re unlikely to bag one before your summer holidays (and pocket money) run out!