What a difference two decades make! Think back to 1998. What where you driving, what did your hair look like, and how big was your “handheld” phone… if you even had one then!? One thing that has not changed for many of us over the past 20 years is our love of dolls and Teddy bears. Hopefully you still get that same rush of excitement when you find a wonderful rarity to add to your collection as you did “way back when.” Thankfully for all of us enthusiasts, Ruby Lane has made that far more possible on a regular basis.
Ruby Lane was “born” in 1998, making 2018 the company’s 20th anniversary. To celebrate, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the evolution of two universal factors – how we collect, and what it means to be a collector – over five year segments since 1998. Of course, this is just from one passionate Teddy bear collector’s perspective. But if you’ve also been collecting just about anything for awhile, and have read this far, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to relate, at least in part, to this personal history and timeline.
20 years ago, in 1998:
My collection of Steiff bears and animals easily fit on one-bedroom bookcase. Many of the items were passed on to me by my Grandmother, others were purchased new as gifts for birthdays and special occasions. When I had a few extra dollars, I’d head downtown to F.A.O. Schwarz and gaze lovingly at the store’s fine assortment of button-in-ear treasures, then chose something small and budget-friendly to take home with me. I was certain I was the only adult on the planet who collected these “toys” and did not share my passion with anyone outside my immediate family.
15 years ago, in 2003:
My bookcase collection started to overflow with an onslaught of newly purchased vintage items. Although eBay launched 1995, I didn’t discover this channel until the early 2000s. I was so excited to be able to view and purchase vintage Steiff from all over the world, even though sometimes the quality of the items did not live up to their descriptions. I was more focused on quantity and breath than quality in 2003, so that was ok at the time. Our local F.A.O. Schwarz closed in 2003, and fewer and fewer local toy stores carried Steiff, citing price and lack of customers. I started attending antique and vintage toy shows in the hope of finding vintage Steiff treasures. I had a few collector friends, and was the “crazy bear lady” of the family.
10 years ago, in 2008:
My collection grew to the point of filling my living room’s wall-to-wall, built-in shelves. A friend introduced me to Ruby Lane, and I spent hours exploring the beautiful, high end, curated merchandise on the site. I made a few Ruby Lane purchases and for the most part, the items received were even better than described. I used much more discretion when buying things from unvetted channels, and changed my focus to collection upgrades and additions, not duplicates. The number of regional antique and vintage toy shows fell significantly. The ones that managed to stay afloat had noticeably fewer dealers and booths. No area brick and mortar stores that I was aware of carried Steiff in their product mix anymore. My circle of collector friends continued to grow, and most people who knew me were aware of my bear passion.
5 years ago, in 2013:
Thanks to my husband’s patience and good humor, the collection took over the first floor of our home, with the help of a number of freestanding glass shelving units from IKEA. My collection included mostly vintage items, and the average price tag and quality per purchase was steadily ticking upwards. I also bought fewer items overall. A strong believer in Ruby Lane, I was both a buyer and dealer on the platform and started to meet many new like-minded customers and colleagues as a result; several have since turned into real “flesh and blood” friends! My digital collecting activities switched into fifth gear. Facebook’s ever growing scope of online collectors’ communities, Twitter’s urgency, and live bidding platforms like Liveauctioneers.com and Invaluable.com provided constant (and in some cases, too constant!) streams of information as well as buying opportunities. I joined several local and national doll clubs, almost all of my friends were collectors, and I shared my Steiff knowledge and passion with anyone who’d listen.
Today in 2018:
With the blessing of my husband, who deserves a halo, the collection has taken over the entire house. I sell more than I buy, and have developed a remarkable circle of international customer-friends through Ruby Lane. I purchase a few things at auction every now and again, but the items have to be “wah-hoo” good or rare to justify the associated premiums and extra costs. Antique and vintage toy shows, which are now few and far between, have morphed into social gatherings more than anything. I check out Pinterest and Instagram for interesting Steiff examples, and reach out directly to the posters to learn more. The majority of my collection additions now come from Ruby Lane, referrals, or working with families who are downsizing or deaccessioning. My closest friends all share a passion for collecting vintage playthings, my doll club colleagues have become “sisters,” and my travel and free time is unabashedly dedicated to collecting pursuits.
So, what will the next 20 years bring? Only time will tell. But like you, being a collector is a big part of who I am, and in many ways shapes my world, priorities, and lifestyle. The way people collect, and how they identify as collectors, is certain to look vastly different in 2038 than it does today in 2018. But the one thing certain to stay the same, no matter the year on the calendar, is the timeless and irreplaceable joy that collecting creates.
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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