Casting a Spotlight on Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion’s July Special Steiff Auction
Things are heating up in the vintage to antique Steiff button-in-ear collecting world this summer. On July 1, 2023, Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion of Ladenburg, Germany is presenting its annual, signature Special Steiff Auction in Giengen, Germany– the town where the Margarete Steiff GmbH toy making factory is located! Over 270 fine, mid-century-onward Steiff bears, dolls, and animals are on offer, including almost 100 examples from the outstanding Susan Kilgore Wiley Collection. In January, Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion sold the first half of this world-class collection; the temptations of offer realized just shy of half a million dollars. Here are some once-in-a-lifetime highlights from this upcoming, can’t-miss summer event.
This July Special Steiff Auction features several extraordinarily rare and museum-quality early-20th-century Steiff bears. The top lop lot in this sale is #82, a 50cm black mohair Titanic Mourning Bear. He is in practically as new condition, with a very rare center seam facial construction, a remarkable presentation, and full provenance. Steiff made a small series of black mohair bears with black shoe button eyes backed in red felt in 1912 to commemorate the Titanic disaster. They top the wish lists of practically every Steiff collector on the planet and very seldom come to public auction. This author has seen two or three trade hands in the circa USD 35,000 range in the last decade or so. However, given his rarity, outstanding condition, and center seam construction, there is talk in the collector’s community that this bear may realize close to six figures.
Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion traditionally saves its most unusual and jaw-dropping offerings for this highly anticipated summer event, and this year is no different. Of special note is a number of breathtaking and uncatalogued character dolls and animals. All eyes are certain to be on lot #200, a 43cm standing chimpanzee doll dressed from head to toe as a fireman. He has an opening bid of EUR 1,200. His head is made from mohair and is in the form of the company’s 19-teens era chimpanzee. His body design and outfit are extremely similar to Steiff’s German Fireman doll, which was in the line from circa 1912-19. This showstopper even retains his factory original belt, ax, and hat; these sorts of accessories often are lost to time.
This chimpanzee doll does not appear in any company cataloging that this author knows of and is only one of a small handful extant. He most likely was produced in the mid-19-teens. This example last came to auction in 2010 at Christie’s Steiff: An Important Private Collection auction, where it traded hands at GBP 10,000.
Prewar-era rabbits also make a strong showing in this exciting auction. Rabbits have always been a key category for Steiff, given how important Easter celebrations are in Germany. Steiff created a spectrum of rabbit-themed novelties and household items during the first half of the 20th century, and these are especially interesting to collectors given their cross category appeal. An amazing rabbit in this sale is lot #35, an early turn-of-last-century rabbit tea or coffee cozy. She has an opening bid of EUR 360. This cozy measures 43cm tall. Her hands and head are made from mohair and are in the form of a blonde rabbit with pert ears. Her hollow, tent-like body is made from red and green felt, is lined with thick felt as insulation, and is decorated with a factory original white cotton apron. This absolute rarity appeared in the line from 1906-09. This is the first time that this author has seen this rabbit beverage warmer design come to public auction. In 2022, Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion sold a similar but much more common antique felt coffee cozy for EUR 1,050.
The July Special Steiff Auction rounds out with premier examples of mid-century button-in-ear rarities. Steiff’s early postwar items are well loved for their innovative designs, unconventional materials, optimistic presentations, and remarkable attention to detail. Lot #252, the company’s Breuni bear, checks all of those boxes. This character is 13cm tall standing and is head jointed. He is made from blonde mohair. He has felt soled flat feet designed for standing and wears blue felt shorts, a red and white double breasted blazer with buttons, a blue bow tie, and fingered white gloves. He comes to life with black button eyes, a felt muzzle, distinctive black nose, and a simple brown hand-embroidered mouth. And what makes this quirky item so incredibly desirable from the collector’s perspective? This bear– the legacy logo mascot for Germany’s Breuninger department stores– was produced exclusively for the retailer in 1956 and 1957. However, he was not made as an item for sale but as a premium that the store distributed to customer contest winners and employees. As such, very few were produced, and he was not available to the general public. In 2021, Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion sold a comparable Breuninger Breuni bear with all IDs for over EUR 3,330.
For more information on Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion’s Special Steiff Auction on July 1, 2023, visit the company’s website.