Skip to main content

Ten Things You Didn't Know: Steiff bears & toys

Did you know, although Steiff is frequently associated with bears, the first stuffed toy created by the company was an elephant? In this Ten Things You Didn't Know column, Antoinette Rahn shares nine more fascinating facts about Steiff.

By Antoinette Rahn

The history associated with Steiff bears and toys dates back to the late 19th century, and it shines the light on an innovative legacy of the company started by a woman who earned her seamstress certification at the age of 17. Learn more here....

1 The seldom-seen Steiff mourning bear pictured below, produced in commemoration of the victims

Steiff mourning bear

Steiff mourning bear, created to commemorate victims of the Titanic, circa 1912. (Photo courtesy Morphy Auctions)

of the Titanic, circa 1912, with black fur, shoe button eyes lined with red felt, black stitched nose and claws, and sans an official Steiff button, commanded $34,800 (with buyer’s premium) during an auction presented by Morphy Auctions in November 2011.

2 The mastermind behind Steiff stuffed toys and bears, Margarete Steiff, fought through a challenging childhood to achieve her goals. As a toddler she survived a high fever, but the illness left her legs paralyzed and she suffered chronic pain in her right arm. Despite this, she attended sewing school and earned her seamstress certification at the age of 17. After working in her sisters’ tailor shop, she opened her own felt clothing business, and ultimately founded Steiff Manufacture in 1880.

3 Although Steiff is largely synonymous with bears, Margarete’s first stuffed animal was actually an elephant. The first Steiff catalog, printed in 1892, not only included stuffed toy elephants, but also monkeys, horses, camels, mice, cats and rabbits, among others. It was Margarete’s nephew, Richard, who in 1902 designed the first stuffed toy bears that featured arms and legs that moved.

4 An early 20th century golden mohair Steiff bear with shoe button eyes, Steiff button and an intact leather muzzle, measuring 24 inches in height, realized $10,497 during a March 2014 auction presented by Bertoia Auctions.

5 Steiff collectors are an active community. The Official Steiff Club, established in 1992, has more than 30,000 members from around the world. According to the club’s events page, more than 15 events dedicated to Steiff plush toys have been held in 2015. Plus, the Official Steiff Fan page on Facebook has nearly 8,700 Likes, as of July 2015.

6 The Steiff Museum, located in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany, and established in 1980, features an exhibition representing various elements of the more than 130-year Steiff history, a tour of Margarete Steiff’s sewing center, demonstration of the traditional Steiff production process, the Steiff

Margarete Steiff

Margarete Steiff, founder of what became Margarete Steiff GmbH. (Photo courtesy

petting zoo and the largest Steiff store in the world.

7 In 2012, an animated advertising automaton, manufactured by “Margarete Steiff GmbH, Gingen, Germany,” circa 1970s, featuring 14 original Steiff animals in a workshop setting, sold for $2,995 through Auction Team Breker.

8 The recognizable brand tag “Steiff – Button in Ear” was developed by Franz Steiff in 1904, to confirm authentic Steiff bears, and to ward off imitations – of which there were many.

9 Inspired by the book “The Roosevelt Bears” by Seymour Eaton, Steiff and other companies began manufacturing clothing for teddy bears. In 1904, the Steiff Teddy B and Teddy G bears, inspired by those in “The Roosevelt Bears,” sold for 5 cents each, and in recent years have fetched more than $1,000 at auction.

10 Margarete Steiff and company displayed their stuffed toys during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World’s Fair) in 1904. Steiff was awarded a coveted Grand Prize during the Fair.
Sources:,, www.liveauctioneers,