Some kids have a strong preference between dolls (or, for those little ones raised in a traditionally masculine environment, action figures) and stuffed animals. I always loved both of them, but while my dolls were the repository of my twisted little scenarios, my stuffed animals were just my buddies.

As I grew older, I gave up most of my stuffed animals. However, what comes around goes around, and several years ago  I once again began to collect stuffed animals. My collection focuses on two categories: antique/vintage stuffed animals and “plush art” by modern designers.  In this post I shall ramble on about antique and vintage stuffed animals (or plush toys, not sure which one is preferred. See, ignorance!)

Antique and Vintage Plush Toys/Stuffed Animals/Whatever

I will admit that my collections in this category are based mainly on instinct and not on deep knowledge of the antique plush category, as well as an affection for the Velveteen Rabbit.  Even casual collectors are probably familiar with Steiff, the main manufacturer of  high-quality stuffed animals. Steiff has been around since 1880 and was responsible for kicking off the teddy bear craze.  (You can read more about them here.)  Steiff is known for its jointed plush creatures with mohair construction. They’re still up and selling today; I personally prefer the odder animals like hedgehogs and foxes.

That said, the stuffed animals I really like in this category are not the Steiffs and the Hermanns (another German plush toy manufacturer – founded in 1912, they mainly do teddy bears) but the folk art – lovingly handmade toys.

There are a few particularly great things about stuffed animals as a collectible

  • Wear and tear only adds to the sentimentality – just thinking of all those Edwardian babies gumming that tatty little stuffed lamb (or whatever)
  • They don’t break! Seriously, I live in terror of fragile collectibles
  • They are so endearing, and one of the few collectibles your five-year-old niece can truly appreciate as much as you do.

It’s actually pretty tough to find information on collecting handmade antique to vintage stuffed animals, perhaps because by their nature they are one-of-a-kind. But here are a few awesome ones:

This just sold for $200 (and yes, I bid on it but had to drop out)

So Victorian, so quilted. And those whiskers!

Here’s an Amish seal doll (didn’t realize that was a thing) on Ruby Lane for $395. You can tell that the Amish were not that familiar with seal anatomy.

Without electricity, it’s hard to know what a seal looks like

And this is another cat doll in a teddy bear-like shape, which I purchased for $15 at the Garage a few years ago. Funny story: I asked the seller where he’d gotten it from, and he told me he was afraid to tell me. I assured him that I was going to buy it anyway, upon which he confessed that he’d picked it out of a dumpster. I’m just happy he rescued this sweetie! (Check out those almond-shaped green glass cat eyes.)


My personal folk art cat toy

So how do you look for vintage stuffed animals? If you want a Steiff, for example, there are ample resources online; you’re also looking for the button in the ear, sometimes a paper tag (though  if  I were a kid I would have ripped the damn thing off ASAP) and the bristly organic feel of real mohair. Hermann has a handy dating guide on its website. For folk art, it’s like any other old textile: hand-stitching, glass eyes, slightly yet endearingly crude construction and the ineffable patina of history and childish affection.

As far as display, I like to substitute my plush animals for throw pillows on my tasteful microfiber couch.