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Toy lovers will bear any cost to collect

The nine Steiff bears are from Rebekah Kaufman’s personal collection of about 800 Steiff animals which she displays in every room of her Cambridge home. A third-generation Steiff collector and a Steiff consultant archivist, Kaufman holds a 20-inch panda, one of the Steiff favorites. This blue-eyed 16-inch French Bru Jne 4 bebe sold for $21,870, the top price at James D. Julia’s Toy, Doll & Advertising Auction. This rare 19th-century firehouse and pumper, the top selling toy, fetched $9,720.

For more than 100 years children have experienced the joy of finding a teddy bear or another cuddly Steiff toy under the tree on Christmas morning

Today many of these vintage toys are in collections, none probably larger than Rebekah Kaufman’s in Cambridge, who displays about 800 Steiff toys, the majority of them bears, in every room of her three-bedroom house.

The oldest and finest bear in her collection is Lou, a 14½-inch-tall white bear dating to 1905, made just three years after the world’s first toy bear with jointed arms and legs was created by Steiff, the company founded in Germany in 1880 by Margarete Steiff (1847-1909).


A resolute woman, whose legs and one arm had been paralyzed by polio in childhood, Margarete wanted to lead a normal life, so to earn a living she became a seamstress working out of the family home in Giengen, in southern Germany.

In 1879 she saw in a magazine a pattern for a small elephant made of fabric. It would completely change her life. She used the pattern to sew pincushion-shaped elephants which her brother Fritz sold at a nearby marketplace. They became so popular as a toy that over 5,000 elephants were sold by 1880, and that year Margarete Steiff GmbH was founded. It is still today a family-run company heaquartered in Germany with sales and marketing offices in the United States and Britain.

Kaufman is a third-generation collector, whose mother photographed her with a tiny teddy bear when she was 4 days old, and whose German-born grandmother gave her her collection of Steiff toys.

Like her mother and grandmother, Kaufman developed a passion for Steiff items that became her vocation when she was made marketing manager for Steiff’s US division.

Today she is a Steiff consultant archivist, which entails traveling the country on behalf of the company, attending staff meetings and programs, and identifying and valuing Steiff items for collectors.


A former manager of the Steiff Collectors Club, which has over 60,000 members worldwide, Kaufman now manages the Steiff vintage Facebook fan page, blogs each week about Steiff on “My Steiff Life,” and sells online rare and vintage Steiff items, with a portion of each sale used to support two nonprofit organizations.

“Good Bears of the World” last year gave over 20,000 teddy bears to children worldwide including child victims of natural disasters and domestic problems, and “Pet Food Stamps” helps to provide pet food and pet needs to pet-owning families who are having financial troubles.

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A 24-inch-tall Steiff apricot-colored teddy bear, which until recently had remained in the family that purchased it in the early 20th century, sold for $5,925 at James D. Julia’s Toy, Doll & Advertising Auction last month. It was missing Steiff’s button-in-ear trademark but was described as being in “remarkable original condition.”

The top-selling toy was an exceedingly rare early American firehouse and horse-drawn pumper that brought $9,720 against a $7,500-$12,500 estimate. One of only two known complete examples, the toy appears to have been a collaboration between Merriam, a tin manufacturing company in Durham, Conn., and W. S. Reed of Leominster, a maker of wooden toys, and was likely to have been produced in the 1870s. Diminutive in size, the 11-inch-tall firehouse and 7½-inch-long pumper were found in an attic and had been in the collection of a Connecticut couple who purchased the toy at a Maine auction many years ago.


Another attic find was an early Marklin train that had been in a Massachusetts attic for more than 50 years. The 4-4-0 American Outline 2-gauge locomotive and tender, adapted at the Marklin factory in Germany for the US market by adding the front headlamp, bell, and cowcatcher assembly, sold for $9,480 against a $4,000-$6,000 estimate.

The top-selling doll was a 16-inch Bru Jne 4 bebe with a $10,000-$15,000 estimate that brought $21,870, the top price of the 599-lot auction.

A 29-inch cloth doll made around 1860 by Izannah Walker of Central Falls, R.I., and rescued by a Rhode Island woman from a neighborhood trash heap about 20 years ago, brought the auction’s second-highest price of $14,220.

This also was the price paid for an early 1920s outdoor tin sign from Fogg’s Drug Store in Skowhegan, Maine.

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The market for natural pearls is booming.

This was seen at Skinner’s Fine Jewelry Auction this month when a necklace composed of 61 natural pearls by the French jeweler Chaumet was the top seller, bringing $186,000, more than tripling its $60,000 high estimate.

The expected top seller, a 4.23-carat emerald cut diamond pendant with an $80,000-$120,000 estimate, brought the auction’s third-highest price of $114,000. It was sold with the proceeds to benefit Partners in Health, the global organization committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized populations.

The two other six-figure sellers included a Cartier Art Deco ring set with a 5.25-carat marquise cut diamond that brought $180,000 against an $80,000-
$120,000 estimate and a 29-inch-long necklace composed of 105 jadeite beads that went for $108,000 or more than five times its high $20,000 estimate.


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At Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Auction, two natural pearl necklaces were among the top sellers, one selling for $1.9 million, more than tripling its $600,000 high estimate, and the other for $1.2 million, more than doubling its high $500,000 estimate.

The auction was led by an 18-karat gold ring set with a 61.35-carat Colombian emerald that sold for $4.6 million.

The pair of Bulgari 18-karat gold, spinel, turquoise, and diamond earrings inspired by ones worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film “Cleopatra” fetched $52,900 against an $18,000-
$22,000 estimate. The earrings were sold to benefit the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Virginia Bohlin can be reached at vbohlin@comcast.net.