From Pincushions to Piqua: The Story of The Wilson Family Steiff Collection

From Pincushions to Piqua: The Story of The Wilson Family Steiff Collection

Mrs. Jean Wilson Reed passed away on January 2, 2021, at the age of 92. She was a dedicated volunteer in our community. This story is in memory of her and begins by donating her collection of Steiff toys to the Piqua Public Library. The tale includes the history of the Steiff toy company and a little bit of Piqua’s history.

When the Piqua Public Library moved to the Fort Piqua Plaza in 2008, Jean Wilson Reed donated her collection of Steiff toys to the library. She wanted to ensure that the group stay intact and allow future children to enjoy them. 

Photograph collage of two photos. One photo shows Jean Wilson Reed standing next to a display case of Steiff bears. The other photo is a close up photo of Jean Wilson Reed.

The Wilson family began collecting Steiff toys in the 1950s. Jean Wilson bought several small animal toys for her five sons from the Orr Toy and Novelty Store in Piqua. Carl (born 1950), Matt (born 1952), Joe (born 1955), David (born 1957), and Dan (born 1959) had a variety of about twenty animals by the time they were adults. 

Photograph collage of three photos. One photo shows an entire display case of Steiff toys, mostly bears. The other two photos are close ups of some shelves of the same display case.

Once the Wilson boys were grown up, their collection of Steiff animals were put away in a box. They were brought out to be played with when children came over to visit the Wilsons. The toys survived a severe house fire, leaving them smelling of smoke for many years. 

Photograph collage of four photos. One photo shows an entire display case with some large Steiff bears and books. Two photos show a close up of bears. The last photo is of the backside of the same display case, also containing Steiff bears.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Wilson began selling antiques and traveled to different shows as part of her business. At one of these antique shows, she met another dealer, Shirley Conway, selling stuffed toys and antique collectible dolls. Mrs. Wilson asked her about the toys and found out that Steiff toys had become very collectible. She also learned more about the Stieff company.   

Photograph collage of four photos. Each photo is of a Steiff bear on a white background. Two of the bears have bows around their necks. All bears have a Steiff tag in their ear.

As Mrs. Wilson learned more about the Stieff company, she and Mrs. Conway decided to write a book for Steiff Collectors. They titled their book "100 Years of Steiff" and published it in 1980 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the toy company. 

Photo collage of four photos. One photo shows Jean Wilson Reed and her co-author, Shirley Conway, each holding Steiff bears. The other three photos are the cover of the Steiff books written by Wilson and Conway.

Mrs. Wilson continued to acquire more Steiff toys, including a giant reindeer that used to be on display at the Orr Toy and Novelty. Mrs. Wilson bought the Steiff ark to display the small Steiff animals from the 1950s and 1960s. She and Mrs. Conway wrote "Steiff Teddy Bears, Dolls, and Toys." Later, Mrs. Wilson wrote, "Steiff Toys Revisited." 

Photograph collage of four photos. One photo is a newspaper clipping showing Jean Wilson Reed standing next to a life size Steiff reindeer. Another photo is a close up of a Steiff gnome doll. There is a larger photo of a shelf of Steiff animals, which includes an elephant. The fourth photo is of the Steiff ark with the small Steiff animals around it.

You can see Mrs. Jean Wilson Reed's Steiff collection at the Piqua Public Library on the first floor. We have multiple display cases containing Steiff toys from the Wilson Family Steiff Collection.  The Piqua Public Library is grateful to Mrs. Jean Wilson Reed for donating her collection of Steiff toys to the library. They are popular with our young and older patrons! 

Photograph of a large display case with a Steiff ark and approximately twenty small Steiff toys around it. The ark is sitting on green fabric. A rainbow is hanging above the ark.

Mrs. Jean Wilson Reed passed away on January 2, 2021, at 92. She was an English teacher at Wilder Junior High School and Piqua High School, retiring in 1988 following twenty years of distinguished service. In addition to teaching, she was also a writer. Her work appeared in the Piqua Daily Call, the Miami Valley Sunday Times, and the Daily Newspaper. She was active in the Piqua community as a member of the Piqua Arts Council, Fortnightly Club, and the Columbian Club. She was a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. She was an original member of the Friends of the Piqua Public Library organization.   

 

The Orr Toy and Novelty Store

Photograph collage of three photos. All photos are black and white photos of the Orr Toy and Novelty Store. One is of the last building the store was in. Another features the carousel sign and the last photo is of the store's grand opening.

The Orr Toy and Novelty store opened in Piqua on West Water Street in 1945. The store sold various toys and was a magical spot and loved by many children in the community. 

Collage of two newspaper ads for the Orr Toy and Novelty Store. Both ads are announcing the store reopening after remodeling.

In the 1950s, Orr Toy and Novelty moved to 219 North Main Street. In the late 1960s, the store moved across the street to 212 North Main Street. In 1971 the building suffered damage in a fire that started at Jack's Drugs that destroyed some buildings in that block.

Photograph collage of three photos. All of the photos are of displays in the Orr Toy and Novelty Store, the last one showing a Christmas display.

Some of the items sold at Orr Toy and Novelty included dolls, board games, and penny candy. Steiff toys were upstairs, some of which were life-size, and in the basement, a giant slot car race track. It was a popular destination in town, especially during the Christmas season. 

Photograph collage of three photos. All photos are of the slot car race track which was in the basement of the toy store.

The Orr Toy and Novelty store closed in the early 1980s. 

 

The Steiff Company

Steiff was started in 1880 by German seamstress Margarete Steiff. She was born in 1847 and, as a young child, fell ill with polio. Her legs were paralyzed as a result, and it hurt her to use her right arm. 

Photograph collage of four images. The first is a photograph of Margarete Steiff as an adult in her wheelchair. The second photo shows a sewing machine. There is an image showing the pattern for the elephant pin cushion. The final image is a photograph of the elephant pin cushion.

Her disability did not stop her from pursuing education and work. Steiff became a seamstress and owned her own felt clothing business. The Steiff company got its start when she sewed elephant pincushions from a design she found in a magazine. Children began playing with the pincushions, and Steiff started to make them as children's toys. By 1886, Steiff had sold over 5,000 little elephants and began designing other animals. 

Photograph collage of three photos. The first photo shows the Steiff factory in full production. Another photo shows half a dozen early Steiff teddy bears. The final photo shows Margarete Steiff working on a design for new toys.

In 1897, Steiff's nephew joined the company and began making stuffed animals based on drawings made at the zoo. In 1903, an American customer placed an order for 3,000 Teddy Bears. In 1907, Steiff was making 974,000 bears. The company has been known for its Teddy Bears ever since.

Collage of four images. The first image is of a political cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot an injured, old black bear. Two images are of newspaper articles about the bears Teddy--B and Teddy--G. The final image is a photograph of an early teddy bear.

Teddy Bears became a beloved children's toy in the early 1900s. Many stories about the origin of the Teddy Bear credit its start to a political cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot an injured, old black bear. This inspired a popular illustrated short story series called, The Roosevelt Bears, published in the newspaper. The bears were named Teddy--B and Teddy--G. Later, the Bronx Zoo would give two real bear cubs the very same names. Toy companies quickly jumped on the trend and began making Teddy Bears. 


Source URL: https://piqualibrary.org/content/pincushions-piqua-story-wilson-family-steiff-collection