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How the ‘magic’ of these Steiff animal skittles helped a little girl beat scarlet fever – and why they’re worth thousands of pounds

Picture Caption: This rare Steiff animal skittles set was taken along to Hansons’ free valuation day at Fairways garden Centre, near Ashbourne

With cases of scarlet fever cases soaring around the country, a woman who fought the illness at the age of four has revealed how precious Steiff animal skittles aided her recovery.

And now the toys – which starred in TV’s Antiques Road Show in 1998 – are destined to find a new home after being discovered in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

The Steiff skittles, which date back to 1907, were taken along to a free antiques valuation event held by Hansons Auctioneers in January – and are worth thousands of pounds.

They belong to a woman from Denstone, Staffordshire, who wishes to remain anonymous but is happy to share the story of how the skittles came into her life.

“In 1946, when I was four, I was seriously ill with scarlet fever. I remember my mother bringing them into the bedroom and lining them up along the top of the fireplace. She told me they were magic and would help me get better.

“I was only tiny and, at the time, thought they were huge, about a foot tall. I found them decades later in a cupboard at my mother’s house and was surprised to see they were only a few inches tall.”

The owner thinks the Steiff skittles were given to her late father as a Christening present in 1907. In 1998 they ended up on TV when the family took them along to the BBC’s Antiques Road Show in Gainsborough – and received a shock.

The owner said: “They were valued by Jon Baddeley, who is also managing director of international auction house Bonhams. He said they were worth between £8,000 and £10,000. I remember my mother saying ‘that’s ridiculous’ because we were all so shocked they could be worth so much.

“We placed them in a bank vault for safe keeping but they were water damaged there.”

The damage was so bad, the owner feared the skittles would be lost forever but she painstakingly dried them out.

“I wrapped the skittles in tumble dryer fabric softener sheets to absorb the moisture and put them in the airing cupboard for three months, taking them out frequently to brush them with a tiny paintbrush. Bit by bit, the toy animals dried out completely and were restored.”

The skittles were valued by Bonhams in 2013 and received an estimate of £4,000-£6,000.

The fluctuating antique toy market has reduced the value but the skittles are still worth thousands. They will be sold at a specialist toy auction at Hansons Auctioneers, in Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on February 22 with an estimate of £2,500-£3,500.

The nine skittles – the set is just missing the ball – feature a king pin bear, dogs, a cat, rabbit, pig, lamb and elephant, each displaying the Steiff button in the ear, an important design element.

The famed ‘button in ear’ was devised in 1904 to stop counterfeits being passed off as Steiff toys, which have been highly collectable for decades.

German company Steiff, founded in 1880 by Margarete Steiff, is famous for creating the teddy bear in 1902. The Steiff company motto is, ‘Only the best is good enough for children’.

Hansons valuer Victoria Sheppard, who came across the skittles at a valuation event at Fairways Garden Centre, near Ashbourne, said: “These toys are wonderful. Everyone at Hansons was bowled over by the cuteness of the animal figures – and the fact that they had stood the test of time. After all, the set is more than 100 years old.”

Hansons valuers are at Fairways Garden Centre, Clifton, Ashbourne, every Monday from 2.30-4pm. To find out more, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988. The Toy Auction welcomes entries until February 2.