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A Brief History of Steiff and The Steiff Company

Margarete Steiff
Margarete Steiff

The Steiff name stands for quality and has done so for more than 120 years. When Margarete Steiff created her little elephant 'Elefantle' in 1880 and watched the felt elephant that was originally intended as a pin-cushion advance to become the children's favorite toy, she discovered how important good- quality, lovingly designed toys are for children. Her motto "Only the best is good enough for children" still characterizes the work of Steiff today. And does so in terms of the design to the same extent as the materials, the workmanship and safety.

This also applies to the design that was instrumental in bringing about the final breakthrough for Margarete Steiff GmbH. Richard Steiff, one of the company founder's nephews, was very fond of brown bears and while studying at the school of art in Stuttgart, he produced a number of sketches that were primarily focused on the physiognomy and movements of these animals. Inspired by his aunt's experience and the unjointed brown bears that she produced, he came up with the idea of developing a bear as a soft toy animal for little boys. He wanted to go a step further, however, with respect to the quality of play and the quality of craftsmanship and design.

The time was right in 1902: Richard Steiff launched a bear with a head that turned and moving limbs onto the market as a surprising innovation. Given the simple designation Bear PB - P for plush and B for beweglich, which is German for movable - he started something that was to become successful among adults as it was among children.

Motivated by the desire for continuous improvement, Richard Steiff was already working on another, slightly smaller, slimmer bear with finer limbs and a coat of soft, light-colored mohair plush in 1903. This plush was a natural material, soft but hard wearing, that met the stringent requirements of Margarete Steiff and is still used for some models today.

In an effort to identify the particularly high quality that was characteristic of Steiff animals even then, and to distinguish them for rival products at a glance, the famous metal button was introduced in 1904 as an unmistakable mark of quality. It still graces every Steiff animal today, attached to the left ear. Steiff's Teddy Bear of 1902 was revised and improved again in 1905, before new styles, new animals and new materials were gradually added to the product range during the years that followed. Known as "Barle", the adorable design of this little bear provided the basis for all Steiff Teddy bears right through to the present day. He was the first bear whose limbs were secured by a sophisticated, patented technique that replaced the strong-thread jointing method used previously.

Filled with wood shavings, the lighter, softer Teddy bear was given mobility by a strong metal pin and firm cardboard disks in his limbs and body. A fastening technique that is durable and completely safe for the young user.

And, like this loving attention to detail, the essential traits of the design or the carefully executed craftsmanship, the wish for innovation and the declared belief in quality still mould the character of every single Steiff animal today.

Author:Ted E Bear