Treasure: Classic stuffed bear more than 100 years old

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Robyn Dobbrastine’s stuffed animal was missing one very important element, but that didn’t stop appraiser Jerry Anderson at DuMouchelles from quickly identifying the maker. Most toys made by the Steiff company feature a trademark button in the ear. Dobbrastine’s did not, yet Anderson still knew without a doubt that it was authentic.

“It was my grandma’s brother’s toy as a child,” she explained to the appraiser. The 16-inch toy dates to the turn of the century, and explains the absence of the button, which Anderson says was one of the first real trademarks of the 20th century. More details were found at, which traces the company’s beginnings to 1880, when a German seamstress named Margarete Steiff founded the company after polio limited her to sewing with just one hand. Her nephew Richard created the first bear for his aunt after being inspired by animals at the Stuttgart Zoo. An American wholesaler later saw the bear at a 1903 toy fair; by World War I, Steiff had sold millions of these toys throughout the United States, Germany and England.

Buttons weren’t used until 1905 according to the site, and this bear was made before then, says the appraiser, who estimates it was made between 1895 and 1904. It would originally have had wheels and a collar, both of which are long gone, unfortunately.

“Kids played with these, that’s what happens,” the appraiser said. “They may have had a dog who got his teeth into it as well,” he quipped, pointing to some ripped seams and gashes on the side. Dobbrastine says her great uncle is still alive and has an extensive collection of antiques. He told her it was a Steiff, but she was curious about its current value. Anderson pointed out that it had some repair work through its more than 100 years in existence, and said that its humpback and tiny ears helped him identify it as Steiff despite its lack of a button.

“It’s a nice little piece and, not surprisingly, has seen a little wear and tear. You may want to put him in plastic with UV protection to guard against dry rot.” Despite its condition, he valued the bear at $150-$250; $425-$550 if in better condition. Like the Velveteen Rabbit in the beloved children’s book, the animal became “real” a long time ago and has many signs of being well loved. If she wants him to last for future generations, the appraiser also cautioned her to keep him out of sunlight. That’s not a problem, she says. “He’s been really loved,” she says. “He stays in my closet.”

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About this item

Item : Steiff stuffed animal

Owned by : Robyn Dobbrastine

Appraised by : Jerry Anderson, DuMouchelles

Estimated value : $150-$250 at auction