The oldest known Steiff teddy bear, created in 1904, sold at auction for 82,000 British pounds (approximately £81,250) in 2000. Steiff collectors spend countless hours searching flea markets, auctions and garage sales in the hopes of finding an authentic Steiff priced well below the bear's true value. Steiffs have several identifiers like metal ear buttons, ear tags and specific fabrics that date the toy and indicate the authenticity.
An ear button trademark in the bear's left ear was introduced in 1904 and is considered Steiff's signature. Collectors still consider the ear tag or button as the best identifier of a true Steiff teddy bear. Some Steiff bear buttons from 1904 and 1905 either have an elephant image or the button is blank. Buttons from this period were made from nickel-plated iron.
Study the lettering on the ear button of a potential Steiff carefully. The company has stamped the "Steiff" name on the metal ear buttons since 1908. This logo dates the teddy bear. Bears from 1910 to 1927, for example, have the last "F" on the logo stretching backwards, under the name, and extending to the "E." Another button from 1950 has the logo printed in capital letters with a simple typeface.
Starting in 1927, Steiff tied round paper pendants around the necks of each teddy bear. The pendants took on a few different designs through the years. A pendant from 1928 to 1950 should have the yellow face of a bear on the bottom. The bear has a circle printed on the left ear representing the Steiff trademark. The words "Steiff-Original-Marke" is printed along the top edge of these pendants.
Fabric can play a major role in identifying a Steiff bear. In one example, Steiff produced a popular bear called "Teddy Baby" from 1929 to 1950. These bears were constructed from mohair and artificial or wool stuffing. The colours ranged from dark brown and cream to white. Teddy Baby had either a laughing, open mouth or a smiling closed mouth.
Beware of the blank buttons on any Steiff teddy bear. The 1905 versions with the blank buttons are extremely rare. Blank metal buttons usually indicate the bear is a fake or a reject from the Steiff company. Most authentic Steiff bears in circulation have the metal button in the left ear with the typefaced company logo.