The Steiff of dreams
The story of Steiff Teddy bears
"For children, only the best is good enough" declares Steiff, and they've been true to their word ever since 1880, when 33 year-old Margarete Steiff founded her own Felt Toy Company in the German village of Giengen, 50 miles east of Stuttgart.
The bear facts
In spite of being confined to a wheelchair since contracting polio as a child, Margarete Steiff opened a dressmaking shop in her home town, selling garments designed and sewn by her. After making a delightful felt elephant pin cushion to aid her in her dressmaking, her family encouraged her to branch out and make children's soft toys. So began Margarete Steiff GmbH.
In 1897 her nephew Richard Steiff (1877-1939) joined the company and, 5 years later in 1902, he created the world's first string-jointed bear: Bär 55 PB. It was presented at the Leipzig Toy Fair, where it was brought to the attention of an American toy buyer, who ordered 3,000 of them. Sales in the US were phenomenal, and it was there that these soft toys acquired their nickname 'Teddy Bear', named after the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919).
High demand meant the business grew rapidly. A state-of-the-art glass and metal factory was built nearby (it's still used today), while Richard went about improving his bear design. His introduction of disc joints for a smoother articulation resulted in a mechanism that's hardly changed since. And in 1908 the Steiff bear began to talk, with the introduction of the growler. Despite Margarete's death the following year, the company has gone from strength to strength. To celebrate its 125th birthday in 2005, a new museum, 'Die Welt von Steiff', was open; its prized object, a 125 Karat Bear edition.
A mark of quality
It's easy to spot an authentic Steiff bear: in 1904, to stop cheap imitations, Margarete's other nephew Franz Steiff came up with the idea of a 'Knopf in Ohr' (button in ear) as a trademark, which became legally protected. Along with a distinctive tag, it's been attached to every Steiff bear since.
No bear market
Not surprisingly, some of the rarest bears are highly prized. Occasionally they surface on BBC TV's Antiques Roadshow, to gasps from onlookers surprised by their high value. In 2000, a black 'mourning' bear, created after the tragic sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic in 1912 and made of black mohair, sold at Christie's for an impressive £91,750. In 1994 the famous Steiff bear 'Teddy Girl' sold for a staggering £110,000. However, the record for a modern Steiff was achieved in October 2000 when U Pitchoun, beautifully dressed and accessorised in Louis Vuitton, sold for £130,000.
The Steiff we sell
Steiff bears are utterly adorable and make great presents for newborn nieces, nephews, grandchildren or godchildren. Many teddies are suitable from birth, so they're perfect for christenings. Whichever one you choose you can be sure you've picked a soft toy that will be loved and cherished, as generations have done so before.