Antique Steiff items are highly collectible, particularly in America, where good condition examples sell for thousands of dollars. Though Steiff was better known for their Teddy Bear – named after American President Theodore Roosevelt, an elephant was the first Steiff toy, so it was also the company’s trademark animal.
Elephants on tricycles were a Victorian popular fantasy depiction and, in the early years of circuses, some Elephants were forced to ride tricycles. If you examine the tricycle shown below, on the front cover of an 1887 issue of The Graphic newspaper, you can see that it appears to be specially made for an elephant to ride.
1920s Pedal-Operated Elephant Riding Toy
with Disc Wheels and Steering to Front Axle
(Maybe made by Steiff?)
I bought this wonderful elephant four-wheel riding toy in an auction. He doesn’t have a button in his ear, the mark of the manufacturer Steiff. But he is very similar to Steiff elephants, so he may be despite lack of button. Compare the wheels with those illustrated in the 1929 Steiff book ‘The Perfect Zoo’ at the bottom of the page. These larger disc wheels appear to be earlier. Though I’ve never seen another riding toy like this, from the style of it, the pedal mechanism, steering, wheels and chassis I would estimate manufacture around the mid-1920s.
MARGARETE STEIFF GmbH: Founded 1880
Margarete Steiff was born in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany, in 1847. As a child she was struck with polio and became paralysed in her legs. But she was determined to succeed at everything she did. She completed an apprenticeship as a seamstress at the age of seventeen. After working for some years in the profession, in 1874 her father converted part of their house into a workshop for her and, in 1877, she started her own felt clothing business. In the December 8, 1879, edition of ‘Modenwelt’ (Fashion World) magazine, Margarete saw a sewing pattern for a small stuffed elephant. Using this pattern, she initially made the elephant as a pin cushion. However, these little stuffed animals soon became very popular as children’s toys.
The official founding date of Steiff Manufacture was 1880. The first big seller was the elephant, which her younger brother Fritz sold at the nearby Heidenheim market. Just six years later Margarete had sold over 5,000 elephants and was now designing other stuffed animals, too. In 1892, the first illustrated Steiff catalogue was released, showing the diversity of the range. In addition to elephants there were monkeys, donkeys, horses, camels, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, hares and giraffes. Margarete’s motto also featured prominently:
‘Für Kinder ist nur das Beste gut genug! – For Children, only the Best is good enough!’
Richard Steiff, Margarete’s creative favourite nephew, entered the company in 1897. He had attended the school of applied arts in Stuttgart and studied in England. His animal sketches were the basis for many Steiff creations. In 1902 he designed the ‘Bear 55PB’ bears, the world’s first stuffed toy bears with moveable arms and legs. After searching for a covering that was suitably cuddly and also good for colouring, Richard selected mohair plush produced by Florweberei Schulte (Schulte pile weaving mill) in Duisburg.
Margarete was somewhat skeptical, but Richard was allowed to present his bears at the Leipzig toy trade fair. The breakthrough came when an American trader discovered the bears and ordered 3,000 of them. The bears began an unprecedented selling success in the USA from 1906 under the name of Teddy Bear – named after the American president Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt. By 1907, almost a million teddy bears had been produced.
In order to make their own high quality products unmistakeable, and fend off numerous cheap imitations, Franz Steiff developed the brand sign ‘Steiff – Button in Ear.’ At the world exhibition in St. Louis, Margarete was awarded the Grand Prix, and finally in 1906 Margarete Steiff GmbH was founded, the company name which is still used today.
THE PERFECT ZOO
The 1929 book ‘The Perfect Zoo’ is out of print, but a copy will be offered for sale by auction in Germany on 31st October 2015. See the link below –
Steiff children’s picture-book ‘The Perfect Zoo’ by Eleanor Farjeon; published in 1929 by David McKay Company, Philadelphia, USA; 31 pages; twelve coloured pictures sized ca. 7.1in. (18cm) wide & ca. 4.7in. (12cm) high each; written in English
1920s ELEPHANT PEDAL CAR: UNDERSIDE
Steiff info – http://www.steiffusa.com/steiff-the-story/