The Timeless Appeal of Steiff

A mid-20th Century Steiff mohair Record Peter monkey
A mid-20th Century Steiff mohair Record Peter monkey

Steiff has become an international household name synonymous with the finest toy animals. The company was started as a domestic enterprise in the late 19th century by Margarete Steiff.

An early Steiff mohair clockwork teddy bear with button in left ear

Margarete Steiff grew up in the small German town of Giengen in the Wurttemberg countryside. Born in 1847 she contracted a fever as a very small child which left her wheel chair bound with a severe weakness to her arms and legs. Nevertheless she was determined and became a skilled seamstress working with her sister, Pauline. In 1868 Margarete opened her own ladies apparel and clothing store. It was around 1880 that she discovered a pattern for an elephant in a fashion magazine and began to make felt elephants stuffed with the finest wool as gifts for adults. They were intended to be used as pin cushions but they delighted the children as much as the adults. They proved very successful and by 1895 the first toys were being shipped from Germany to England. A variety of animals were produced including purring cats, dogs, monkeys and pigs. The first patterns for pull-along toys were produced as early as 1886. That these toys were made with such love and care was readily apparent. Margarete Steiff said “Only the best is good enough for our children” and it was no idle boast.

An early 20th Century Steiff mohair mechanical elephant
An early 20th Century Steiff mohair mechanical elephant

Margarete was joined in the business by her six nephews. Amongst these was Richard Steiff who is credited with designing the first bear. He is said to have been inspired by the playful brown bears in the zoo at Stuttgart whilst studying there. The first bear was made from plush fur with moving flexible arms and legs. The American President, Theodore Roosevelt had a passion for hunting bears. Steiff began importing their toy bears into America during his presidency and they became a symbol of his hunting passions. Theodore was fondly shortened to Teddy. Famously the bear became the Teddy Bear and 12,000 Steiff bears were shipped to America at that time.

A Steiff mohair bear on wheels, with gilt button and tab in left ear, on cast metal axles and spoked wheels
A Steiff mohair bear on wheels, with gilt button and tab in left ear, on cast metal axles and spoked wheels

Output and production were severely affected by the two World Wars but today Steiff animals are still being produced and collected. But it is the early Steiff animals which attract the most attention and highest prices. I ask Toovey’s toy specialist, Chris Gale, about this and he explains “The early Steiff animals were handmade so each toy is unique which has great appeal to the collector.” Chris shows me a selection of Steiff animals which to my eye all seem to be rather playworn. Chris says “There is obviously a premium for toy animals in exceptional condition but they are rare as Margarete Steiff insisted that they be played with!” Amongst the array of Steiff animals sold in Chris’s specialist toy sales is a Steiff mechanical elephant and a Record Peter Monkey which sold for £1000 and £100 respectively. I have to own that my favourites are the bears. There is real character in the hand stitched face of the seated Steiff teddy bear with his boot button eyes. His fur and pads are worn, a sure sign of having been loved over many years. The Steiff pull-along bear delights with his head sewn at a jaunty angle. Chris tells me that Toovey’s sold them for £500 and £460 respectively. All these Steiff animals would have been made in the first twenty-or-so years of the 20th century and are marked with a Steiff button in the ear.

If you are interested in collecting or selling Steiff toy animals Chris Gale is always pleased to offer advice and can be contacted on 01903 891955 or by email at

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 6th January 2016 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Free Toy Valuation Morning at Horsham Museum

Jeremy Knight, curator of the Horsham Museum exhibition Dolly Mixture, with Christopher Gale, Toovey’s toys specialist
An early 20th-century Bing tinplate clockwork bus, auctioned by Toovey’s for £2800

Toys are so evocative; they provide prompts to childhood memories and a window into our imaginations. The current exhibition Dolly Mixture A Pageant of Dolls Through the Ages at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery looks at the diversity of dolls made over the centuries. In support of the exhibition, Toovey’s specialist toys valuer, Christopher Gale, will be at the museum this coming Saturday morning, 21st February, to provide free auction valuations and advice on your dolls and collectors’ toys.

Chris Gale says: “A third of the seller’s commission for items subsequently auctioned by Toovey’s will be donated by us to Horsham Museum to help with its important work.”

A Bassett-Lowke O-gauge electric locomotive and tender, circa 1936-40, auctioned by Toovey’s for £4500

History, heritage and objects have the power to transform our lives. They provide us with a common story. Horsham Museum is the cradle in which that common story is held, preserved and told – a narrative which is at the heart of our community.

A George III carved wood and painted gesso doll with glass eyes, auctioned by Toovey’s for £5600

I tag along with Chris and exhibition curator Jeremy Knight as we view the show and their enthusiasm is infectious. Jeremy explains, “I decided on the title Dolly Mixture because dolls come in all shapes and sizes and have been made from wood, cloth, wax, porcelain and plastic. They have been a constant feature in childhoods over centuries.” The play on words recalling the colourful variety of those ever-popular Dolly Mixture sweets isn’t wasted on Chris or myself.

Wooden dolls date from the earliest times. Dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs and Greek and Roman children are known to have played with them.

A carved wood and painted gesso doll, circa 1760, from Horsham Museum’s collection

I comment on an 18th-century doll whose head appears to be of carved wood and painted gesso. Jeremy Knight responds enthusiastically: “That’s right. This 1760s doll was found under the floorboards of the medieval hardware shop Glaysher’s, which used to be in Middle Street, Horsham.” The shop was deemed to be in poor condition and was dismantled in 1967. Fortunately, it is preserved at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton. Jeremy continues, “The dress is not contemporary to the doll. We don’t know if this is the dress she was discovered in, or whether it is a later addition by the Museum in the early 1970s.” I ask if the doll is made solely of wood. “The arms and legs are kid leather,” replies Jeremy.

Chris Gale adds: “We auctioned a very similar 18th-century wooden doll at Toovey’s for £5600, despite having replacement arms and legs, other alterations and problems of condition. The black glass eyes and carved and painted facial details are typical of the rare examples of this date. People are often surprised and delighted by how valuable their old toys are!” I am reminded of the wealth of Dinky and Corgi vehicles, model trains, tinplate and clockwork toys which accompany the dolls and teddy bears on the shelves of the toys department at Toovey’s.

Dolly Mixture is currently on show at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum in the Causeway, Horsham. So come to play with toys specialist Chris Gale between 10am and 12noon this Saturday, 21st February 2015, for a morning of fun and free pre-sale valuations. Who knows, your old toys could just be your hidden treasure! A third of the seller’s commission for items seen at the event and subsequently auctioned by Toovey’s will be donated to the Friends of Horsham Museum. So sellers would receive the full amount they would normally get but they would know that they have helped the Museum as well. “Funds received this way will go towards the conservation of the historic toy collection,” says Jeremy Knight, “enabling future generations to show their children what they played with when they were young.” For more information on Dolly Mixture A Pageant of Dolls Through the Ages, go to or telephone 01403 254959.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 18th February 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Chichester Lions Annual Model Miniature Railway Exhibition

A Hornby gauge O clockwork goods train set
A Hornby gauge O clockwork goods train set

This Saturday, 25th October 2014, the Chichester Lions will once again be at Chichester High School for Boys, Kingsham Road, Chichester for their 20th Annual Model Miniature Railway Exhibition. An event which provides fun for families and railway enthusiasts alike.

This is the fourth year that Toovey’s toy specialists, Chris Gale and Gordon Gardiner, will be in attendance donating their expertise in support of this Chichester Lions event. They will be available to offer free valuations and advice on people’s toy collections and model railways. Chris Gale comments “Trevor Edwards and his team always organise a great event. Everyone who comes is such an enthusiast.” Gordon Gardiner adds “It’s always a pleasure!”

A Hornby Series gauge O No. 2 railway station 'Ripon', a platform crane and a No. 1 signal gantry, all boxed
A Hornby Series gauge O No. 2 railway station 'Ripon', a platform crane and a No. 1 signal gantry, all boxed

Tinplate toy trains like those made by Bing and other German makers were exclusive and expensive in the early 20th Century. Frank Hornby was behind the move to manufacture model railways for the masses. He had invented Meccano in 1901 but it was not until after the Great War that he went on to make model trains. Almost a century later Hornby trains still have the ability to capture the imagination of the enthusiast, both young and old. Frank Hornby developed a new product in the form of the O gauge train set. It was intended to rival the tinplate toys of Germany and from 1920 they carried their inventor’s name – Hornby. He quickly realized that toy train enthusiasts wanted to make their railway layouts as realistic as possible. Various accessories were added to production like the station and signalling illustrated here.

A Hornby Series gauge No. 2E double signal arm and a No. 2E lamp standard, both boxed
A Hornby Series gauge No. 2E double signal arm and a No. 2E lamp standard, both boxed

The Second World War halted production of toys at the ‘Binns Road’ factory in Liverpool with attention turning to war work. They even raised funds for a ‘Meccano’ Spitfire by creating a special pendant to purchase the aircraft. Immediately after the war, the government insisted on Meccano focusing on their export market to help pay off the war debt.

The Chichester Lions, Annual Model Miniature Railway Exhibition caters for most model railway enthusiasts with gauges N, OO and O in evidence. Additional family fun is provided by live steam exhibits with rides. Chris enthuses “There are always a diverse range of railway layouts and exhibits on display which are very popular with visitors – it’s always very busy!” Many of the train sets have realistic landscapes and accessories inspired by the earlier production of Hornby.

Childhood associations with toys and model trains often seed a lifelong interest, so I’m not surprised that the event should be so popular. It provides the opportunity for us to celebrate an enthusiasm for toys and model railways and support the wonderful work that the Chichester Lions do in our local community.

The Chichester Lions, 20th Annual Model Miniature Railway Exhibition is the perfect opportunity to indulge a love of railways. The exhibition is open from 10.00am to 4.30pm on Saturday 25th October 2014 at Chichester High School for Boys, Kingsham Road, Chichester, PO19 8AE. For ticket prices and more information go to

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 22nd October 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Dinky Toy Vehicles for Sale at Toovey’s Auction

Dinky Toys 'Weetabix' Guy Van No. 514 at Toovey's
Dinky Toys 'Weetabix' Guy Van No. 514 at Toovey's

Just weeks after the introduction of driving tests in Great Britain, the No. 23a racing car became the first model vehicle to bear the brand Dinky Toys when it rolled off the production line in April 1934. However, the history of this household name of toy manufacturing already had its foundations firmly laid prior to the production of this little car. Meccano had been produced at the same Liverpool factory since the early 1900s, created by toy pioneer Frank Hornby. In Mike and Sue Richardson’s book Dinky Toys & Modelled Miniatures 1931-1979, Hornby is described as:

Tooveys Lot 3009 Dinky Toys
Dinky Toys No. 505 Foden Flat Truck with Chains, boxed. £150-250

“A man in the great English tradition of entrepreneur and inventor mixed with a Scottish trait of emphasis on sound educational values and improvement of the mind. He was a true turn-of-the-century Briton…”

Tooveys Lot 3012 Dinky Toys
Dinky Toys No. 531 Leyland Comet Lorry, boxed. £100-150
Tooveys Lot 3057 Dinky Supertoys
Dinky Supertoys No. 918 'Ever Ready' Guy van, boxed. £100-150

Not content with creating a best-selling construction toy, Hornby continued on the logical path from Meccano to develop a new product in the form of an ‘O’ gauge train set, intended to rival the tinplate tradition of Germany (see an earlier blog post on Bing tinplate toys by clicking here). Since the 1920s these trains have been the inventor’s namesake. Quickly realising that the toy train enthusiast wanted to make their railway layouts as realistic as possible, various accessories were added to production. Meccano Limited expanded their output to include a range of vehicles to accompany the ‘O’ gauge series, perhaps influenced by the arrival of the American ‘Tootsie Toy’ vehicles. This first group of six vehicles did not bear the Dinky Toy name but were instead called Hornby Series ‘Modelled Miniatures’. Toovey’s sold two of these early Modelled Miniatures in our specialist auction of Toys on 25th March 2014. No. 22a an open sports car, finished in red and cream, sold for £100, and No. 22b a sports coupe, finished in yellow and green, sold for £380. They are particularly prized among collectors as they are still deemed among the first Dinky Toys, despite the different branding. Hornby soon dismissed ‘Modelled Miniatures’ and ‘Meccano Miniatures’ in favour of the more catchy ‘Dinky Toys’. From then on, generations of children enjoyed playing with ‘Dinkies’. Dinky derives from the Scottish and literally means attractively small and neat, a perfectly apt description of the vehicles produced by the firm.

Tooveys Lot 3058 Dinky Supertoys
Dinky Supertoys No. 942 'Regent' Foden 14-ton tanker, boxed. £100-150
Tooveys Lot 3059 Dinky Supertoys
Dinky Supertoys No. 934 Leyland Octopus wagon, boxed. £100-150

The Second World War halted production of toys at the ‘Binns Road’ factory in Liverpool with attention turning to war work. They even raised funds for a ‘Meccano’ Spitfire by creating a special pendant to purchase the aircraft. Immediately after the war, the government insisted on Meccano focusing on their export market to help pay off the war debt. It was after the war years that Dinky Toys really enjoyed a renaissance period. In 1947 Dinky ‘Supertoys’ were launched to great success. Dinky Supertoys were a larger scale than that previously offered and were produced for nearly two decades. The entire range of Dinky vehicles included planes, military vehicles, cars, vans and lorries. In their striking boxes and bold colours, these are as prized among collectors today as they were coveted by children of the day. The brand enjoyed great success until the Liverpool factory closed its doors in November 1979. The brand name was later purchased by Matchbox but, after various mergers, it was eventually swallowed up by Mattel’s ‘Hot Wheels’ brand.

Toovey’s forthcoming specialist auction of Toys, Dolls and Games on 15th July 2014 features the usual fantastic selection of Dinky Toys and other die-cast metal vehicles.  Among the offerings in the auction is this post-war Dinky Toys No. 514 ‘Weetabix’ Guy van with first type cab and second type wheels. Offered with the all-important original box, it carries a pre-sale estimate of £300-500. A good selection of other Dinky Toys and Dinky Supertoys vehicles included in the sale are also illustrated.

Viewing for the sale is on Saturday 12th July between 9.30am and 12 noon; Monday 14th July between 10am and 4pm; and on the day of the auction, Tuesday 15th July, between 10am and 1pm. The auction commences at 1.30pm. Click here to view the online catalogue.

Boys, Toys and Automobiles in Sussex

A Kingsbury tinplate model of Sir Henry Segrave’s Golden Arrow land speed record car

Here in West Sussex, many of the thriving collectors’ fields are informed by childhood passions. The land speed record attempts were particularly evocative for those growing up between and just after the First and Second World Wars.

Toovey’s toys specialist Chris Gale and consultant Gordon Gardiner enjoy a Gunthermann tinplate model of Sir Malcom Campbell's Bluebird land speed record car at Toovey’s Christmas specialist auction of collectors’ toys on 3rd December

“I remember watching Donald Campbell demonstrating his Bluebird CN7 land speed record car at Goodwood motor racing circuit, Sussex, in July 1960,” recalls Toovey’s consultant toys specialist Gordon Gardiner with customary enthusiasm. Competition for the world land speed record was particularly strong during the inter-war years, as a select group of courageous gentlemen drivers pushed themselves and their cars to the edge of endurance. Among these drivers were men like Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell, Donald Campbell’s father. These successive attempts to become the fastest men on land were celebrated in a mood of patriotism and national pride. Their bravery and achievements inspired a generation of boys. Our interest in their triumphs continues to fuel our appetite for toys and paper collectables relating to the pursuit of speed.

A black and white photograph of Sir Henry Segrave in his 4 litre V12 Sunbeam land speed record car.

It is always great fun to stray into Toovey’s toys department. Our toys specialist Chris Gale is seen here with Gordon Gardiner enjoying a tinplate clockwork model of Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird land speed record car by the German firm Gunthermann. German tinplate toys and trains from this period were made to high standards and are much sought-after by today’s collectors. In view of Gunthermann’s reputation for quality, I ask Gordon why this one does not bear their name and is just marked ‘Foreign’, rather than ‘German’. He replies, “There was a resistance to buying German-made toys after the Great War, so they marked this one simply as foreign to avoid any stigma.” I comment on the condition of this car, which to my eye seems to be remarkably good for its date. Gordon responds, “Most toy land speed record cars were well used by their original owners, so they are often quite play-worn but this one is better than most.” I always warm to the term ‘play-worn’. In all our other specialist departments, problems of condition are often noted as faults, but in the toys department things are play-worn, a fond metaphor for the passage of time and wear. “Nevertheless,” Chris interjects, “it is this model’s rarity and the fact that it still has its original box, albeit torn and incomplete, which led to its remarkable hammer price of £1100 in our Christmas toy sale.”

Chris reminds me of the Kingsbury tinplate keyless-clockwork model land speed record car which his department sold for £650 a couple of years ago. He says, “This is a popular model of the Golden Arrow record-breaker which was driven by Henry Segrave in 1929.”

A menu for a banquet in honour of Sir Malcolm Campbell following his land speed record at Bonneville Flats in September 1935

Interest in land speed record-breakers is strong in other collectors’ areas as well. Take, for example, the menu for a banquet in honour of Sir Malcolm Campbell, ‘as a tribute to his achievement in setting up the New Land Speed Record of 301.129mph at Bonneville Flats, Utah, USA’. It is dated September 24th 1935 and has a bas-relief photograph cover depicting Sir Malcolm. The black and white photograph also illustrated here shows Sir Henry Segrave at the wheel of his 4 litre V12 Sunbeam, which broke the land speed record at 152.33mph in 1926. The card mount is signed in ink by Segrave and other key members of the record-breaking team. Both lots were sold in specialist paper collectables auctions, headed by Nicholas Toovey, for £100 and £300 respectively.

Returning to Toovey’s toys department, I am interested to know what it is about old toys which delight collectors. “Part of it is fulfilling childhood dreams,” says Chris, “but it is also about their interests – particular vehicles, for example, or a certain historical period.” He continues with a smile, “Toy collectors are really generous with their knowledge and their enthusiasm, which is contagious.” I agree. Collecting is often about the acquisition and sharing of knowledge but it is also about community and sharing interests with fellow enthusiasts. After all, lively minds make open hearts!

Chris Gale and Gordon Gardiner are already gearing up for their spring toy auction, which will be held on 25th March 2014. Nicholas Toovey’s next paper collectables auction will be on 22nd April 2014. All are delighted to share their specialist interests with you and offer advice. They can be contacted at Toovey’s Spring Gardens salerooms at Washington.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 11th December 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.