How many Steiff cats do you have in your meow mix? Steiff has been manufacturing cats as part of their product line since the late 1800’s, and these precious pets have always captured the hearts of collectors. They are adorable grouped together or as a focal point in a display, and look particularly charming posed with a vintage doll as his or her “companion.”
One of the most popular, and beloved, Steiff feline designs is the company’s sitting “Susi” cat. It is believed that Susi was named after a member of the Steiff family. This irresistible pattern appeared in the line from 1936 through 1978 overall – about 42 years. By today’s consumer goods lifecycle, that’s practically an eternity! Although Susi does not hold the record for the longest Steiff product line appearance, she comes close to Jocko the Monkey at over 50 years, Waldi the Dachshund with 47 years, and Molly the Puppy at 44 years. Although Susi’s basic form did not change over time, her exact detailing, construction, and general “personality” did – probably to keep up with the times and to control production costs. Here’s a look at four Susi cats spanning several decades. Check out how they changed – but also stayed the same – over their production timeline.
1. The first Susi walked in on little cats’ feet in 1936. Prewar, she was made from mohair in 14, 17, 22, and 28 cm through 1943. This petite treat was constructed from patched grey and white mohair and detailed with light black airbrushed striping, distinctive red claws, and a pink hand embroidered nose and mouth. In Pfeiffer’s 1892-1943 Sortiment reference book, she is described as “mohair plush, gray tabby, sitting, very pretty model, round shape.” It is very unusual to find subjective or “flattering” descriptions in the Sortiment books as they are almost always entirely factual and literal. In terms of ID, Steiff’s earliest Susi cats would have left the factory with a short trailing “f” button, a yellow ear tag, and a named chest tag. The picture of the two 1930’s era Susi cats at the top of the article is from Pfeiffer’s 1892-1943 Sortiment.
2. World War II created great shortages of fine materials, including mohair and felt. As a result, many of the company’s most popular designs, including Susi, were produced in artificial silk plush shortly after the factory reopened for toy making business in the late 1940’s. This substitute fabric was seen on popular line items from the mid-1930’s through the very early 1950’s – just before, and just after WWII. Artificial silk plush wears out and get dirty easily, so its initial shine and good looks fade almost immediately. It is not a very durable or attractive fabric in the long run. However, it was available for toy production, and to their credit, Steiff always found a way to get their job done – making fine playthings for children.
Here in the photo above, we have an example of one of these rare, early post war artificial silk plush Susi cats; she is from the author’s collection. This sweet Susi is 17 cm tall, sitting, and head jointed. Her muzzle, front feet, and chest area are made from white artificial silk plush, while her body, head, and tail are made from grey artificial silk plush. The grey areas are hand airbrushed with black stripes. Her face comes to life with back painted green and black slit pupil glass eyes and a pink embroidered nose and mouth. Her clear monofilament whiskers and her red claws have been lost to time. You can feel the squeaker in her belly, but it is not working now. Her IDs include the somewhat rare “STEIFF in all capital letters” button. This button appeared approximately in the 1947 through 1952 timeframe, aligning with her actual production time. This Susi would have also had a yellow eartag when she was younger, but probably not a chest tag, as additional Steiff IDs. Artificial silk plush Susi was produced in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1948 to 1949 only.
3. Starting in the early 1950’s, Susi was again produced in mohair. Her design at the time remained quite similar to the pattern launched in 1936, including her patched style mohair and continuous black striping. This 14 cm example below from c. 1950 shows off all of these fine features. She is from the author’s collection. In terms of IDs, these early post war mohair Susi cats would most likely have had a yellow ear tag, one of several early post war buttons – including a short trailing f button, a blank button, or a “STEIFF in all capital letters” button – a linen or ribbon “made in the US Zone” tag sewn into an arm or leg seam, and sometimes a named chest tag.
4. A handful of years later, starting in the mid-1950’s, Steiff updated its Susi pattern once again. These cats were now entirely made from one color of mohair – white – and their stripes minimized and less continuous than in the past. As you can see in the example below, which is from the author’s collection, that their faces were also simplified and had a more “contemporary” look to them. This pattern appeared in in 10, 12, 14, 17 and 22 cm through 1978. These Susi cats had raised script or lentil style buttons, yellow ear tags, and named chest tags as their Steiff IDs.
As always, something is worth what someone will pay for it. Steiff’s charming pre-1980 era cats are always super scores for both vintage Steiff and doll collectors worldwide. And, ironically, the smaller the cat, the bigger the sales price it seems able to generate! But condition also plays a huge role in valuing toy items like these, and can add or subtract hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars from important and rare examples. Given Steiff Susi cats are in clean, very good to excellent condition, with minimal playwear, and at least one form of ID, they may value as follows:
- Earliest prewar Susi cats, c. 1936 to 1943: $400-1,200
- Post war silk plush Susi cats, c. 1947 to 48: $250-500
- Grey and white patched mohair post war mohair Susi cats, c. 1950 to 1953: $200-400
- White mohair Susi cats, c. 1953 to 1978: $125-175
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