Have you ever had a moment where a vintage treasure seemed to appear at the perfect place at the perfect time? Like it was meant for you to find? A moment where this item seemed to be invisible to everyone else and only you could see it and appreciate it? I’ve had a few moments like that and this is one of them…
I once found a 40′s era Steiff Lion sitting on a shelf in a thrift store near my home town. I clearly remember the day I found it. I was pushing my basket down an aisle and there it was. It was sitting amidst a plethora of Ty Beanie Babies, Disney Plush knock-offs, and claw machine prizes. I was all the way at the opposite end of the aisle and there were hordes of people shopping that day. I thought for sure that I would lose it to one of the nearby shoppers and that it would get snagged before I got to it. I tried hard not to eyeball the kitschy little lion as I got nearer to it. The last thing you want to do in a thrift store is to show too much interest an item – it tips off other collectors and treasure hunters to a great find.
I was shocked that this item had not caught the attention of anyone in the nearby vicinity, especially because there were so many collectors browsing that day. Steiff is a very popular brand of plush toys that is highly collectable. The German-based Steiff Company was founded by Margarete Steiff in 1880, whose motto was always “Only the best is good enough for children”. The Steiff Company began creating plush animals, such as Elephants and Lions. It later became more successful with it’s line of Teddy Bears. Steiff products are subject to meticulous testing and inspection and are branded with its trademark ear button (which was created to ward off couterfeits). Steiff still operates today, creating high quality, high priced plush toys for children of all ages.
It goes to show that antique and vintage sellers need to know their brands and histories and how to identify rarities amidst a mass of knock-offs and the more common pieces. I nonchalantly made my way over to the plush toys section and grabbed the Steiff Lion like Indian Jones grabbing the Crystal Skull. It was in good condition and complete with the original tag and ear button. I had heard about these beauties, but had never actually seen one in person. I was further elated to find that the color of the thrift store tag meant that it was half-priced that day! I ended up paying $2.50 (plus tax) for it! I later researched the item only to discover that the particular item was a rarity in the Steiff collecting world. In the end, I ended up selling it on eBay (during my pre-Etsy days) for $250.
This was truly an awesome find and ended up being one lucky person’s treasure! That was almost 4 1/2 years ago. Now, the same Steiff Lion retails for approximately $350 in the same condition. So, both myself and the buyer ended up in a win-win situation because of this rare treasure that I found sitting on a thrift store shelf!
P.S. This Wiki is a great resource for more information on the Steiff Company.