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This is Fosco. It is my last deal. Last week , I found this terrier in a junk deal in Turin. It was sleeping in a old trunk overwhelmed by toys and blankets. It is a early stuffed toy. It is mohair covered over excelsior-filled body, embroidered mouth, nose and feet, mounted on four cast iron wheels with brown glass eyes, short tail, felt-lined ears, leather collars, marked Steiff, 15″ long and high. It is a rare collectible toy. Now it is with us in Milan. It has an intelligent expression and the eyes are shrewd and alert. I put it near our armchair, it keeps us company.

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The Steiff toy factory is the world’s oldest plush manufacturer and has grown to be synonymous with top quality the world over. Founded in 1880 in Giengen – Germany by Margarete Steiff, a seamstress who was limited to sewing with one hand due to polio. Margarete Steiff was inspired to create a delightful felt pincushion in the shape of an elephant. Intended to be a functional item, the enchanting design meant that it quickly captured children’s hearts and imaginations and, encouraged by her family, she opened her own felt toy company, Maragrete Steiff GmbH. Within five years she had sold over 5000 elephants, further Steiff animals were added to the range and the family company grew steadily.Steiff is best known as the company that invented the Teddy bear. In 1902, Richard Steiff, a nephew of Margarete and a gifted artist-inventor, presented the idea to Margarete. At first, she was not enthusiastic. But with Richard’s persistence, she finally relented. And the rest is history.

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The east block from 1903 is the front pavilion to the left. The others were built between 1904 and 1908. Picture from the early 1920s.

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Steiff workers. Traditional hand labor is still the norm in the factory; they believe there is no substitute for products that are completely handmade. This is in keeping with Margarete philosophy, which still motivates the company today, “Only the best is good enough for our children.”

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Exhibited in Leipzig in 1903, this bear had been a failure until at the last minute on the final day of the fair, an American toy buyer stopped in front of the stand. He was so charmed by Margarete’s bear that he immediately ordered 3,000 of them. Nevertheless, the final twist in the story comes when this same American buyer displayed the bears in New York where, quite by chance, they were noticed by the designer responsible for decorating the tables at Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter’s wedding reception. Wanting to display some witty originality amongst his decorations, he immediately purchased one of the little brown bears. Remembering the president’s love of hunting – bear hunting in particular – the guests at the wedding joked about the “Teddy” bear. Thus the teddy bear was born, the teddy boom was launched and the two stories surrounding his creation became one. In 1907 alone, Steiff produced 974,000 bears all made by hand and the company had become universally known and loved.

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The famous “Button in Ear” trademark, introduced by Franz Steiff, another of Margarete’s nephews, in 1904, distinguishes every Steiff Teddy bear or animal. It stands for superior quality, richness of ideas, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

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Richard Steiff – 1897.

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Margarete Steiff. 

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