Lauver said that Steiff hedgehog families generally are hard to sell
because so many survive and because their latex heads can crack and become deformed. Most collectors of vintage Steiff animals prefer earlier and rarer plush toys, especially teddy bears, she added.
Steiff was founded in Germany in 1880 by Margarete Steiff, a seamstress disabled by polio. Her first stuffed animal, a pincushion shaped like a standing elephant, was so popular that she made others in the forms of camels, monkeys, donkeys, and horses, which her brother sold at country fairs, according to Steiff Teddy Bears, Dolls and Toys With Prices by Jean Wilson and Shirley Conway (Wallace-Homestead, $17.95). By 1893, Steiff had its first catalogue and a sales representative at the important international Leipzig Toy Fair.
Collectors easily recognize and date Steiff pieces by a little metal button and tag in one ear of each animal and a tag on the chest. The colors and designs have changed over the years. According to a recent book, Button in Ear by Jurgen and Marianne Cieslick (Steiff, $89), the first ear button dates from 1904 and pictures an elephant with an upturned trunk. From 1905 to the early- 1950s, the tags bore just the Steiff name in raised block letters. In 1952, it was a script logo on shiny silver-colored buttons, and since 1980, gold-colored buttons have been used.
To mark its 100th anniversary in 1980, Steiff began producing limited- edition reproductions of several early toys. "Papa Bear," the 1980 copy of a 17-inch-high 1905 bear, was limited to 11,000 pieces worldwide and sold for $150, according to Dick Frantz, Steiff's Ohio representative. Collectors pay $800 to $1,200 for it today, he said.
The most expensive Steiff product sold at auction is a 24 3/4-inch frosted ''Petsy" bear, circa 1920, which brought $88,000 at Sotheby's in London in 1989.
Barbara Lauver publishes a free illustrated quarterly newsletter, Teddy and Toy Review, featuring current market prices for Steiff toys, teddy bears, and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Harper General Store, RD 2, Annville, Pa. 17003. A catalogue of Steiff limited editions, complete with a price guide, is available for $10 from Cynthia Brintnall, Cynthia's Country Store, 11496 Pierson Road C-1, West Palm Beach, Fla. 33414.
Q: I found a pair of brass and mother-of-pearl opera glasses in an old leather case. They are marked "Lumiere FT Paris" and "Made in France." Are there collectors for this type of item?
A: Highly embellished European opera glasses like yours, made between 1910 and 1930, are plentiful and useful but hard to sell because few people collect them. Michael Birdsall, a St. Paul, Minn., antiques dealer, said he often found old opera glasses mixed in with other belongings when he purchased estates. Generally they are priced in the $45-to-$75 range at antiques shows, depending on their condition and decoration and whether they come with a case.
Lita Solis-Cohen can answer questions only in her column. If you wish to write to her, please include a description, measurement, clear photo, and all markings of your collectible or antique. For those who wish their photos returned, a self-addressed, stamped envelope should be enclosed. Write to Lita Solis-Cohen, The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.