What’s black and white but red all over? In this case, it’s when a vintage Steiff panda is listed on Ruby Lane! Collectors simply can’t get enough of these rare bears. Steiff is best known for its Teddy bears, so it is no surprise that their classic panda bears are designed and produced with the same understanding and respect for design, appeal, quality, and scale as those of their traditional Teds. Let’s take a look at Steiff’s pandas from the 1930’s through the early 1970’s – Steiff’s “panda prime time” – and see what makes these black and white beauties so beary special from the collector’s perspective.
Pandas appeared “in the flesh” in several major zoos across the globe in the late 1930’s. They immediately rocketed to international superstar status. Piggybacking on the success of their real-life cousins, pandas made their debut in the Steiff line in 1938; by 1939, they were being produced in 15 and 30 cm on a commercial scale through 1942 overall. This especially precious design was five ways jointed and made from black and white mohair. Their faces were detailed with brown and black pupil eyes, a black hand embroidered nose, and an open, peach colored felt mouth. The black circles around their eyes were created by hand airbrushing. Because of wartime material shortages, some models were produced with linen or other alternative fabrics in the place of felt on their hand and foot paw pads.
The success of its first early panda inspired Steiff to produce more pandas in the line as soon as the factory reopened for business in the late 1940s. As they did with a core group of proven and popular products, Steiff produced the identical models that were in the line pre-war, just to get products they knew would sell into the marketplace as soon as possible. In the case of the panda, Steiff started making the prewar design again, but only in 30 cm through 1950. These early postwar production pandas often had inferior quality greyish-black felt on their pads as high quality felt materials were still only available in very limited quantities at that time.
Then, in 1951, Steiff updated its original panda design and started producing it in 6 sizes ranging from 15 to 50 cm. From 1951, the company used quality grey felt on the paws and soles; from around 1956 onward a suede-like grey rubber material was used instead. The smallest pandas had velvet lined mouths and black mohair upper backs while the larger ones had felt lined mouths and black airbrushed upper backs. This five ways jointed panda pattern appeared in the line through 1961.
In the early 1950’s, Steiff introduced a new series of floppy or “cosy” style sleeping animals that remained in the line through the end of the 1960’s. These animals were all prone, softly stuffed, and designed as sleeping companions for children. Steiff took its most popular designs of the time and created resting versions from them. Of course, a panda was produced as part of this series. Produced in 17 and 28 cm, Floppy Panda was unjointed and made from black and white mohair. He had an open felt lined mouth and stitched black “sleeping” style eyes. This precious and sought after design appeared in the line from 1954 to 1961.
This next Steiff panda deserves a standing ovation. In 1955, Steiff introduced its standing-on-all fours panda to the collecting community . He was 12 cm, head jointed, and made from black and white mohair. Although based in part on Steiff’s beloved pre- and post- war panda design, he had a closed mouth. His sweet baby face was detailed with black and brown pupil eyes and a black hand embroidered nose and mouth. All standing pandas left the factory wearing a red leather color with an original little brass bell. It is interesting to note that he had peach colored felt feet, while his five way jointed cousins produced at the same time had grey feet. This particular Steiff panda was remained in the line through 1958 only and is considered quite rare from the collector’s perspective.
It’s easy to go to extremes when it comes to Steiff’s pandas, and that’s exactly what the company did in terms of panda production in the 1960’s and 70’s.
First, let’s check out the smallest sized panda Steiff ever created. For over a century, Steiff had a very special relationship with the high-end toy store FAO Schwarz. As a product of that partnership, Steiff created many exclusive designs for the retailer. One of the most beloved of these items was a palm-sized panda. This 11 cm panda was head jointed, made from black and white mohair, and had “bendy” style limbs. His face came to life with tiny black bead eyes and a black and embroidered nose and mouth. This petite prince was in the line from 1968 through 1972.
And size defies with Steiff’s largest panda bear, which was a 190 cm tall standing version. This big boy was unjointed, and made entirely from long shaggy mohair – except for his ears, which were made from black dralon. His face, which was made from slightly shorter white mohair, was detailed with large brown and black pupil eyes and a hand embroidered black nose and mouth. His mouth had a little additional grey airbrushed highlights around his jaw. Panda’s foot pads were made from a heavy plastic material, while his paw pads were made from trivera velvet material. Steiff also produced a smaller, 80 cm standing studio baby panda, which was basically a “mini-me” version of the 190 cm one. Although they do not appear in any Steiff reference book, it is suspected that the 190 and the 80 cm standing pandas were produced in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.
So just why are Steiff’s pandas so appealing? All share the similar characteristics of endearing and adorable good looks; playful personalities; and just a touch of the exotic. And if you look closely at the company’s earliest panda designs, you can’t help but notice that they share many of the design characteristics of one of the company’s most beloved patterns ever – Teddy Baby.
Teddy Babies were introduced in 1929, and are famous for their distinctive smiles; downturned wrists; flat, broad feet made for standing; and sweet, chubby, toddler-like features. These traits translated beautifully into black and white – and explain the “panda-monium” created whenever one of these early bears appears on the secondary market today.
About the Author
Rebekah Kaufman is a third generation lifelong Steiff enthusiast. Her personal collection of vintage Steiff treasures numbers north of 1,200. Rebekah’s German grandmother kindled her love for the brand over four decades ago, and today Rebekah is the proud steward of many of her Oma’s Steiff treasures.
Rebekah’s passion became her vocation when she became the Steiff Club Manager for the North American division of Margarete Steiff GmbH in 2003. A few years later, in 2008, she changed jobs and was appointed to the position she holds today – that of Steiff’s North American archivist. In this role, she leads collector’s events around the country, authors most of the vintage related articles in the biannual Steiff Club Magazine, and authenticates and values vintage Steiff treasures on behalf of the company. In 2014, at James D. Julia Auctioneers in Fairfield, ME, she appraised and cataloged the largest and most important vintage Steiff collection to come to market ever in North America; the sale realized over half a million dollars. Since 2015, she has consulted with Morphy Auctions of Denver, PA as a Steiff and Fine Plush Expert where she identifies, values, and catalogs treasures for the company’s quarterly fine doll and Teddy bear auction events on an as needed basis. Rebekah owns and merchandises Steiffgal’s Vintage Museum Marketplace, the largest online vintage Steiff shop worldwide.
Rebekah’s blog, My Steiff Life, focuses on vintage Steiff finds, Steiff antiquing and travel adventures, international Steiff happenings, and the legacy and history of the Steiff company. It has been updated weekly since 2009 and can be found at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com. Her book, Sassafrass Jones and Her Forever Friends ABCs, features vintage Steiff as an integral part of the storyline. It was co-authored by Cathleen Smith-Bresciani, a fellow Steiff enthusiast. The book, ISBN #978-0-578-15002-4, is available for purchase on Amazon.com. Rebekah truly leads “The Steiff Life.”
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