The Steiff bear is the quintessential toy bear collected the world over. The first Steiff bears showed up in the marketplace in 1892 and were the precursor to the beloved teddy bear we know today. Antique Steiff bears are quite collectible, so if you think you have one or are thinking of buying one, it's a good idea to know some of the basic characteristics of authentic Steiffs before selling or buying one.
Look for the metal button that is pegged into the left ear of each Steiff bear. Steiff began inserting these buttons in 1904. Over the years, the buttons have been made from a few different metals—brass, iron, nickel-plated and, for special limited edition bears, gold-plated. A nickel plated button with no raised lettering on it denotes one of the earliest Steiff bears.
Look for either cloth ear tags or tags sewn into the seam in the chest area. Depending on the tag, look for printing that says such things as "Steiff original," "Made in Germany" and "Made in US-Zone Germany." Some tags will have model numbers. Over the years, the tags have been a variety of colors, such as white, red, beige and yellow.
Analyze the material used for the bear's body. The really old bears were made of mohair. Since 1947, synthetic fiber has been used to construct the bodies.
Check to see what the body is stuffed with. In 1904, they were stuffed with wood-wool, also known as excelsior, which is a kind of slivered wood shaving once used for packing boxes. These Steiff bears also had voice boxes. In 1960, foam rubber and artificial snow flakes started to be used for stuffing. Since 1970, soft synthetic stuffing has been used.
Look at what the eyes are made off. Very old Steiff bears have old shoe button eyes from the Victorian Era. Next came glass eyes around 1910, and since 1960 plastic eyes have been sewn on to the bears.
Examine the pads and claws of the bear. The 1904 bears had felt pads and five claws. In 1906, the five claws were reduced to four per paw. Since 1976, the pads of the bears have been made with jersey knit cloth. There have been no claws added since 1970.
Move the arms and legs of the bear. Steiff bears originally started out with immovable arms and legs, but later, moving joints were designed into the bears. Some of the most charming Steiff bears are those standing on all fours on iron wheels with spokes that allow them to be pulled around or ridden by very small children.
Familiarize yourself with contemporary lines of the Steiff bear. There are limited and unlimited editions, miniatures and plush Steiff bears. Brand new Steiff bears can range in price from $89 all the way up to $1,200 each.
If you already own a Steiff bear, don't display it in direct sunlight as this can fade the material and reduce the value of the bear as an antique.
Be on guard for counterfeit Steiff bears. If the bear looks too good to be true and the price seems too good of a bargain, be suspicious. Seek out a trusted professional for advice.
Check the bear for insect infestations from time to time. Look for pinholes in the bear's paw pads. If the bear is made out of mohair and starts losing hair for no reason, you might have insect trouble. If you think the bear is infested, put it in a plastic bag, seal the bag well and put it in the deep freeze for about a day. This should kill the bugs.