The story behind this Steiff “Peter Rabbit” sounds too good to be true, but I swear on a tall stack of Beatrix Potter books that it is!
I have the pleasure of being one of Auctionata’s Steiff (“button-in-ear” brand Teddy bears, animals, and dolls) experts. For many years I have written a blog on vintage Steiff. As a result, I receive inquiries from people all over the world about these great treasures. Here’s how one of these notes turned into a real life auction adventure!
I received the following email from a gentleman from the UK…
“I live in the UK and have discovered an 8 inch Steiff Peter Rabbit in a locked jewel box. It has probably been there for 50 years.
I inherited a load of stuff including this box from my mother and have only just discovered a key!
Here are some details about the rabbit:
His eyes are black buttons which are backed by red felt.
His tail is velvet and is an appendage to his body.
His entire body is made from white and grey velvet.
He is wearing red felt slippers with leather soles.
His ears are made of velvet and are lined in the same material; he has a rust iron disk in one.
Any help you can provide on its history and value would be most appreciated!"
I had to catch my breath after reading this note. This gentleman appeared to have stumbled across one of the most delightful and sought-after early Steiff non-bear items of all times. And the history and story behind his discovery - including the mysterious jewel box key - is the stuff that antique enthusiasts only dream about. Knowing the market at the time, I valued this treasure from around 1909 in the 3,000 to 5,000 Euro range, and provided the gentleman with the important details of his find.
Here’s a little bit about this rabbit. His basic design - sitting up, begging, with unjointed arms, and a flat bottom - first appeared in 1894. At the turn of last century, this very popular pattern was produced in sizes ranging from 10 cm to 35 cm, and in materials including felt, short pile plush, mohair, velvet, wool plush, and coat plush.
In 1902, Beatrix Potter introduced her now legendary children’s book, Peter Rabbit. Soon after, Ms. Potter created a little Peter Rabbit doll and registered it in the London patent office. Despite numerous attempts, she could not find a manufacturer in England to produce her toy. Steiff got wind of this, and soon became the producer of the "official" Peter Rabbit doll for the English market. The key accessories for Steiff’s Peter Rabbits included blue felt topcoats and red slippers. Overall, Steiff produced Peter Rabbit from 1904 through 1919.
Early February, 2012:
There’s a surprise in my inbox. It is from the UK gentleman with the Peter Rabbit. He writes in part…
“You remember that I contacted you about my mother’s rabbit? And you did a blog. I actually want to sell him but the market in the UK is not great. have you any ideas as to the best place I should go to such as auction houses in the US?”
At the time, knowing the global market for Steiff quite well, I suggested that he contact my colleague in Germany who runs the Steiff-only auction associated with the Steiff Company annual summer festival. This particular auction, which happens the first week in July, features highly unusual, archival quality Steiff items - and attracts the buyers with the means to pay top dollar. After a series of emails and communications, the gentleman agreed to consign his family treasure to the Steiff summer festival auction.
Late February, 2012:
After learning I would be attending the upcoming Steiff summer festival, my auctioneer colleague invited me to be an on-stage presenter at the Steiff auction. This is a dream come true. I accept immediately and begin a crash diet to lose 10 pounds to fit into the required white pants and black shirt auction uniform.
July 4, 2012>
For the first time, I see Peter Rabbit in person at an auction preview party in Bonn, Germany. It is delightful to finally lay eyes upon this treasure that I had first written about two and a half years ago. He’s more handsome in person than in his photos.
July 7, 2012:
I’m standing on the stage of the Steiff summer festival auction in the white pants (that fit) and black shirt. The auction assistant hands me the next item to present to the audience. It’s “my” Peter Rabbit! I take him gently into my white-gloved hands, walk across the stage, and display him proudly to the potential bidders.
I am beaming as the bids flurry upwards. After a few minutes the hammer finally goes down. SOLD! For 2,500 Euros, plus the buyer’s premium. I’m not supposed to clap on the stage so I do so quietly as I walk back to the staging area. I am thrilled with the interest he generated and feel so honored to have been able to participate in his transition to his new home literallyfrom start to finish!
Here’s to his NEXT 100 years!