The German toy producer Steiff created the plush teddy bear in 1902. Steiff bears are famous for being made by hand with fine materials. Steiff's exclusive trademark is a metallic button in the ear of each plush animal. Careful examination of the metal button in a Steiff toy can give a reliable indication of a teddy bear's age.
Search the teddy bear for any paper chest tags or metal ear buttons. The tag or button may be buried in the mohair of older bears.
Read any inscriptions on the paper chest tag. These tags are usually circular and coloured yellow or half red and yellow. The tag should state the bear's name. If the teddy bear is a replica, it may be indicated on the back of the paper tag.
Examine the metal ear button. Bears in good condition may still have the paper or cloth ribbon attached to the metal button. The ribbon contains the identification and lot number of the bear. These cloth ribbons are either white or yellow, yet the colour alone does not necessarily indicate age.
Inspect the Steiff insignia on the metal button. The earliest buttons contain only an elephant on a nickel button, which gave way to buttons with the word "Steiff" in block letters. Buttons were made exclusively out of nickel until the 1933, brass from 1933 to 1943, and nickel or nickel-plated material from 1943 to 1977. Starting in 1977, Steiff signature buttons were brass or brass-plated, which was still the case in 2011. The word "Steiff" first appeared in cursive in 1952. That wording remained in place as of 2011.
Consult an antique teddy bear guide or Steiff collector's encyclopedia. These books contain photographs and dates of production for all Steiff teddy bears. Matching your bear with a picture in a collector's encyclopedia will give you an accurate manufacturing date, especially if the Steiff toy no longer has a metal button or any tags.
For a few years after World War II, an additional white cloth tag was sewn into Steiff bears along the chest seam. Very old Steiff bears had a signature hump on the back.
Although blank ear tags were briefly used for some early Steiff bears, most indicate the bear has not passed quality control measures. They will not hold much resale value.