Steiff Teddy Bears: Pin Cushions to Cuddly Companions

Tuesday 11th June 2024 - Sharna Bennett


Steiff Teddy Bears: Pin Cushions to Cuddly Companions

When you think of the Steiff company, you’re likely thinking of high-quality teddy bears, rare and plentiful alike. You may also know Steiff as the company who coined the phrase “teddy bear” in the first place.

While as a nation we have long found comfort in toys, (prehistoric dolls depicting animals and infants are often found at archaeological sites) few toys have been quite as iconic as the teddy bear.

The Birth of Steiff

The story of Steiff begins with the inspiring life of Margarete Steiff, born in 1847 in Giengen, Germany. Despite being paralysed from the waist down by polio at a young age, Margarete pursued her passion for sewing. In 1877, she started her own business producing felt clothing and household items. Among her creations was a small felt elephant, originally intended as a pincushion, which quickly became popular as a children’s toy.


The Founding of the Steiff Company

In 1880, Margarete officially registered the Steiff Company. Her little elephant, affectionately known as "Elefäntle," marked the beginning of a toy business that would soon thrive. As demand grew, Margarete expanded her range of plush animals into mice and rabbits, and soon thereafter other toy animals followed. 

Production and turnover increased each year as did the variety of toys on offer and, ultimately, the company's early success was a clear testament to Margarete's keen eye and her unequivocal passion.

The Introduction of the Teddy Bear

The early 1900s marked a significant turning point for Steiff with the creation of the teddy bear. Margarete's nephew, Richard Steiff, joined the company in 1897 and brought with him his creativity and his inventive knack. Inspired by his visits to the zoo, Richard designed a soft, jointed bear in 1902, which became known as "Bear 55 PB." This bear was unique for its moveable limbs and a lifelike appearance.

In 1903, the "Bear 55 PB" was showcased at the Leipzig Toy Fair, where it caught the eye of an American buyer who ordered 3,000 bears – which was an amazing feat for a small German company. Around the same time, U.S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt’s famous refusal to shoot a bear cub during a hunting trip inspired the name "teddy bear." The combination of these events catapulted Steiff bears to international fame.

The "Button in Ear" Trademark

In 1904, Steiff introduced its hallmark "Button in Ear" trademark. This small metal button, inserted into the ear of each bear, became a symbol of authenticity. The "Button in Ear" continues to be a distinguishing feature of Steiff products, assuring customers of the bear’s quality and craftsmanship. This innovation set Steiff apart from other toy manufacturers and helped build a loyal customer base.

The Golden Age of Steiff

The early 20th century is often referred to as Steiff’s "Golden Age". During this period, the company expanded its range to include a variety of plush animals and dolls, each made with meticulous attention to detail. Steiff’s promise of quality helped the brand maintain its reputation as a premier toy manufacturer. The introduction of new designs and the continuous improvement of existing ones ensured Steiff's dominance in the market.

Challenges and Innovations

The mid-20th century brought along with it several challenges, including material shortages during World War II. Despite these obstacles, Steiff adapted by using alternative materials and continuing to innovate. Post-war, the company resumed full production and regained its global presence. In the 1950s, Steiff celebrated its 50th anniversary with special edition bears and solidified its legacy as a beloved brand. The introduction of synthetic materials like nylon and polyester in the 1960s made bears more affordable and easier to maintain, which broadened their appeal. These innovations allowed Steiff to reach a wider audience and secure its position in the toy industry.

The Collector’s Market and Modern Era

The latter half of the 20th century saw a growing market for collectable teddy bears. Steiff responded by producing more limited edition bears and replicas of vintage Steiff Company designs, appealing to collectors worldwide. The 1980s and 1990s introduced the concept of individual artists creating one-of-a-kind bears and this further fuelled the collector’s market. In 2005, Steiff celebrated its 125th anniversary with the release of exclusive, limited edition bears featuring luxurious materials like golden silk mohair and diamond eyes. This era also saw the company embrace digital transformation, expanding its online presence and e-commerce capabilities. The ability to reach customers globally through the internet further boosted Steiff's popularity.

Today, Steiff toys can be found popping up at auction houses around the world, with thousands having sold via Easy Live Auction, including this 1910 Steiff Bear, which fetched £5,800 at auction back in 2015.


Limited edition Steiff teddy bears prove to be very popular at auction too, with this Limited Edition Sooty and Sweep going under the gavel at £460.


Steiff Today and Beyond

Today, Steiff continues to lead its industry; the company remains committed to its founding principles of quality and craftsmanship. Steiff’s modern collections include traditional teddy bears as well as innovative designs and custom creations that cater to more contemporary tastes. Steiff has also adopted modern sustainability measures, using eco-conscious materials and ethical production practices to ensure a positive impact on the environment. 

As the company looks to the future, it remains dedicated to preserving Margarete Steiff’s legacy while continuing to inspire and give comfort to generations to come. Their ongoing commitments ensure that Steiff will remain a beloved brand for years to come and therefore an excellent investment as a collectable and cherished item that can be passed down through generations.

— — —

There are plenty of Steiff teddy bears, eagerly awaiting their new home, including this limited edition boxed Steiff ‘Captain Mach the Concorde Bear’, estimated at £80 - £160; auction to commence July 11th.

Are you a Steiff collector? If so we’d love to see photos of your collections, please email these to If you have Steiff bears to sell, visit our Auctioneers search page to find an auction house near you who can value your items and list on our website on your behalf.