Fine Toys and Steiff Ephemera Available With German Auction House Teddy Dorado
Subject-specific ephemera, including photographs, letters, memos, catalogs, sales sheets, and brochures, is a great complement to a collection of any sort. Steiff collectors have a particularly broad selection of ephemera to choose from. Margarete Steiff GmbH of Giengen, Germany has been a premier designer and manufacturer of soft plush dolls, bears, and animals since 1880.
Teddy Dorado of Wachtberg, Germany will present over 100 lots of century-spanning Steiff ephemera during its December 4th, 2021 early winter sales event. A strong selection of mid-century and earlier button-in-ear catalogs, price lists, and specialty sales materials will be available. These materials all provide great insights into one of the world’s most beloved and oldest toy companies. Here are three highlighted lots from that sale that caught our eye— and why.
The first lot of notable Steiff ephemera is #29-2900, a collection of five black and white photographs bridging the 1928 to 1960 time frame. Each photo measures about 30 cm by 20 cm and features transportation vehicles in and around the Steiff factory campus. This group of five images has an opening bid of EUR 20 (USD 22).
Photos are great for research, storytelling, and bringing history to life, and these images do just that. It is quite impressive that this small factory— located in a remote, pastoral area in the south of Germany— has supplied world-class playthings to royalty, department stores, and specialty retailers since the turn of the last century. These photos partly demonstrate how and why that is possible.
Of particular interest is an image dated September 15, 1949. It pictures a truck and loading dock overflowing with crated materials for export to the elite United States toy store FAO Schwarz in New York. World War II ended in September of 1945. As a result of the conflict, all that was left of the Steiff factory was its shell. It is astonishing that in only four years, the company was able to re-establish its supply chain, operations, manufacturing, and international distribution infrastructure to regain its role as a global leader and supplier in the toy industry.
Next, let’s take a look at lot #28-4013, an all original product catalog from 1938. This 16-page brochure is half in color and half in black and white. It is joyfully illustrated with playful vignettes of the products on offer. This catalog has an opening bid of EUR 20 (USD 22).
Catalogs are fascinating time capsules that offer keen insight into the business priorities of an organization at the time of publication. They also open the door to discovery. Steiff printed this catalog in September of 1938 for customers and dealers. The tranquil cover picture of a girl playing with items from Steiff’s core legacy lines contrasts dramatically with what was happening socially, militarily, and politically throughout Germany during its distribution. Perhaps Steiff was trying to project stability and a sense of normalcy with this image.
The catalog also better resembles a photo album of lovely toy groupings than an actionable sales tool. No prices, product names, or descriptions are included. This too reflects a period of great uncertainty. A little digging reveals that the store address stamped on the catalog, Allee Strasse in Remscheid, Germany, now is home to a Thalia store. Thalia is a chain of 200+ book shops in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It seems perfectly fitting in this case that today, Thalia sells Steiff toys and accessories as part of its product offerings.
Our third and final Steiff ephemera highlight is lot #28-2996, a most interesting specialty life-sized Steiff animal dealer’s catalog dated between 1967 and 1970. This ring-bound, full-color brochure includes information on 94 different display pieces with text in German, English, and French. It has an opening bid of EUR 75 (USD 84).
Although Steiff began its life-sized Studio line of display articles at the turn of the last century, this specialty area of production really took off in the 1960s. Pre-war, these true-to-life scaled animals were often special orders by European kings and queens for their children and grandchildren. They also graced venues at Steiff events, trade shows, and industry gatherings as focal points. Post-war, important international retailers like Harrods in London, FAO Schwarz in the United States, and KaDeWe in Germany began regularly featuring these gentle giants in their window displays as aspirational treasures among the plush toy offerings.
This catalog is literally a “who’s who” from Steiff’s heyday of display animal production, showing each of these creations in a playful vignette and providing basic measurements and product information. Jungle, farm, circus, field and forest, pets, and even human-scaled dolls are represented.
For more information on Teddy Dorado, Steiff ephemera, and the upcoming auction event on December 4th, 2021, please see www.teddydorado.de.
Interested in ephemera? Check out Auction Daily’s coverage of American historical ephemera and photography in a sale offered by Cowan’s Auctions earlier this year.