Calling all Teddy bear and fine plush enthusiasts! Where do you have the best luck finding new treasures for your collection? One thing that is so exciting about this hobby is that the next great discovery is always just around the corner. We’ve all had that extraordinary feeling of scoring and adding a delightful Ted or animal friend to our growing hugs… it’s a combination of a fist pumping “boo-yah” and the quiet satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a new best buddy for life.
Whether antique treasures by legacy manufacturers – including Steiff, Merrythought, or Hermann – or newer works designed by skilled artists call to you, there are many places to pursue Teddy bear and fine plush collecting activities. Here are my top five destinations for finding great scores and the stories behind some of the collection additions they have generated.
1. Ruby Lane:
Ruby Lane is probably my favorite place to purchase quality Teddy bears and fine plush collectibles. (In full disclosure, I am also a dealer on this platform, and selected it among others given its reputation as the finest online destination for buying and selling world-class dolls and bears.) From the buyer’s perspective, checking out the online offerings is like exploring a giant 24/7 antique store, except that everything posted has been carefully curated by knowledgeable dealers, and then double-vetted by the Ruby Lane team of experts for authenticity and quality. The dealers are eager to please, and usually can provide additional information beyond what is noted their listings. They are also responsive to special requests – so share your wish list items with them so they can be on the lookout for your dream pieces, too! I’ve had great success building my collection through Ruby Lane over the past decade or so.
Ruby Lane Score:
Unusually colored plush items from the 1920s and 1930s have always called to me. So, I was over-the-moon thrilled to see a large blue mohair Steiff rabbit listed on Ruby Lane a few months ago. These happy hoppers truly are few and far between and seldom appear on the secondary market, given their collector’s appeal. I purchased this big blue beauty from a lovely Ruby Lane dealer; she has since provided several other fantastic finds to my growing hug!
2. Friends and Fellow Collectors:
It’s totally true, I get by with a little help from my friends, especially when it comes to building my hug! And so can you. There’s nothing quite as delightful as spending time with another enthusiast, talking shop and exploring their collection firsthand. Here’s a little unspoken tip: If you see something in a friend’s collection that you would like to own someday – speak up and let them know! If someone asks the same of you about something in your collection, be flattered! We all want to know that our precious items will fall into loving hands when the time is right to move them along – whenever that might be.
Friends and Fellow Collectors Score:
I was visiting a friend on the West coast several years ago. Her Steiff and antique toy collection was mesmerizing, and I must have spent hours with mouth agape in front of her numerous display cases. But one item really tugged at my heart – an early Steiff monkey named Frank dressed in a felt harlequin suit. It really was love at first sight. I told her so, and asked that she let me know if or when he would ever be available for adoption. A few weeks later, much to my surprise, I received and email from her telling me of his availability. A few months later, after several installment payments, he joined my hug. He’s provided countless smiles since then.
3. Auction Houses and Galleries:
Auctions are a double-edged sword. You can do extremely well price and quality wise, or things can go completely the opposite way. An auction house has one primary, transactional goal: to sell as much as possible at the highest price possible. Those priorities don’t always align with those of buyers, so be careful. Read and study catalog descriptions and photos carefully, and be aware of what is said and pictured as well as what is NOT! In a perfect world, attend the auction preview session and inspect your prospective purchases in person – or send a friend who may live nearby the auction location if that is possible. And when you are planning your bidding strategy, don’t forget to take buyer’s premiums, shipping, transactional and currency conversion fees, and other expenses into consideration. Things can add up quickly. All that being said, auctions can open up enormous collecting potential, and I have sometimes done well at auctions over the years.
Auction Houses and Gallery Score:
I stumbled across an auction featuring the contents of an estate being liquidated in Louisiana. Just for fun, I clicked though the listings, which mostly consisted of turn-of-last century furniture and artwork. Smack dab in the middle of the catalog was a precious, pint-sized white Steiff cub with all IDs from around 1907. I could not believe my eyes, and prayed that no one else viewing this estate catalog would notice him. I signed up online to bid in the auction and waited patiently for my lot to come up. It did, and I was the only bidder. I won this petite prince for a song!
4. Online Listings:
There are numerous online destinations that often feature Teddy bears and plush items as listings. These include eBay, Etsy, Everything But the House, Craigslist, and many others. As always, keep your eyes wide open when viewing items on these sites, and contact the sellers directly with questions. Always ask for more photos or additional information if you have any doubts or concerns whatsoever. For example, if a bear is dressed, ask for a photo of it undressed so you can see the condition of the body. If seller does not get back to you, consider that a catastrophe averted! And, If the offering is too good to be true, it probably is (I unfortunately have experienced this firsthand!) Despite all of these cautions, there are great finds to be had on these platforms if you look long, hard, and carefully enough.
Online Listing Score:
I was reviewing toy listings on my local Craigslist a few years ago. Much to my surprise, a family had listed two turn-of-last century Steiff bears on this platform; they belonged to great Uncles that had recently passed away. The price seemed very low for what they were. I called for more information about the pair, and made an appointment to see them the following weekend. Once I had “the brothers” in hand, I realized that one was a fine example from 1905, and one was a fantastic Teddy bear tumbler from around 1909. I knew I had to have the pair, but also wanted to be honest with the sellers about the nature of their items.
I told them how rare and fine the bears were. However, they insisted that I pay the low price as advertised, as they wanted the pair to stay together and go to a Steiff loving forever home. Now that’s a win-win!
5. In Person Shows and Events:
One of the highlights of the year for me is attending the salesroom at the United Federation of Doll Clubs’ annual national convention. Imagine a room – like the size of a football field – filled with vintage toy dealers, many who also sell on Ruby Lane. Although Teddy bears and fine plush are second to the vast array of dolls on display, there are still countless offerings available and I always leave with many special finds. Local UFDC clubs across the country put on events, albeit on a smaller scale, over the course of the year. These often double as fund raisers for their operations and local charities. Several organizations, like Crossroads Doll and Teddy Bear Events on the west coast, Collins Gifts on the east coast, and Southeastern Doll Shows in the southeast, produce several events each annually. Other quality shows include The Toledo (OH) Doll, Bear, & Toy Show, The Wilmington (OH) Doll and Bear Show, and the Gaithersburg (MD) Eastern National Antique to Modern Dolls & Toy Show & Sale. More information on all of these events can be found on the Doll Show USA website, located at www.dollshowusa.com.
In Person Shows and Events Score:
A few years ago, I was walking the aisles of the UFDC salesroom floor. I was having the time of my life, talking with new and old friends, and seeing the most delightful temptations possible. I paused to look in a case belonging to a dealer I had purchased from before. I noticed on the bottom shelf a pair of brown mohair feet sticking up from a pile of plush items. My heart skipped a beat. Could this possibly be one of Steiff’s Teddy baby dolls from the early 1950’s? He opened the case, and I dove in. Yes, indeed – it was one of these rarities, poorly re-dressed in an ugly, ill-fitting suit. I purchased her immediately, tossed her bad clothes into a trash can, then headed off to the next booth to find a more attractive, comfortable, and appropriate outfit for her. I’ve named her Penelope and we’ve been inseparable since!
All photos from the author’s collection
About the Author
Rebekah Kaufman is a third generation lifelong Steiff enthusiast. Her personal collection of vintage Steiff treasures numbers north of 1,600. Rebekah’s German grandmother kindled her love for the brand over five 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 of Steiff’s North American archivist, a job she held through the end of 2017. In that role, she led collector’s events around the country, authored most of the vintage related articles in the biannual Steiff Club Magazine, and authenticated and valued 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 a number of well-known auction houses as a Steiff and Fine Plush Expert. She also runs her own full-service public relations and social media marketing agency for organizations in the antiques and auctions industries who wish to outsource these key communication functions.
Rebekah owns and merchandises on Ruby Lane, 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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