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Antique & Collectible Teddy Bears

A Collection That Never Goes Out of Style

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Early Teddy Bear Photographed at the Smithsonian

Early Teddy Bear Photographed at the Smithsonian

- Pamela Wiggins

Quick Facts About Vintage Teddy Bears

- The teddy bear dates back to 1902 when the Washington Post published a cartoon depicting President Teddy Roosevelt sparing a bear’s life.

- The first teddy bears were made by a shopkeeper’s wife. The small business they owned went on to become the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

- Both new and old bears are collectible, with some of the most desirable and expensive being produced by Steiff.

- Steiff has been producing bears for more than 100 years, with many newer bears mimicking older styles. Be sure you know the age of the bear you’re buying before paying a vintage price.

Teddy’s History

The origin of the teddy bear dates back to 1902. It seems that President Theodore Roosevelt took a little hunting trip down in Mississippi and when he refused to shoot an exhausted bear tied to a tree, declaring it to be unsportsmanlike, the Washington Post called attention to the event.

An ensuing editorial cartoon drew national attention and before long, an enterprising Brooklyn merchant capitalized on the opportunity. Shopkeeper Morris Michtom's wife handmade several plush toy bears stuffed with excelsior and decorated with black shoe button eyes. With Roosevelt's knowledge and blessing, they were dubbed "Teddy's Bears." The fuzzy bears gained popularity and as demand increased, Michtom relocated his business to a larger space and renamed it the Ideal Novelty and Toy Corporation.

About the same time, Steiff began producing jointed stuffed bears in Germany. An American buyer viewed them at the 1903 Leipzig Fair and imported several thousand to sell in the United States. Now collectors clamor to find these treasures, many marked with a distinctive button in the ear.

Other companies have produced teddies throughout the years, including Bing, and Farnell, which can also be very expensive when found in excellent condition. Faithful collectors love them all. Never failing to please consumers, talented entrepreneurs make many versions of new bears these days as well.

Newer Collectible Bears

One interesting concept provides a suberb use of unwanted or damaged mink coats turning the pelts into “heirloom” bears. On their website, the Like a Doll shop offers a variety of hand fashioned mink bears with tons of personality. The service isn't cheap, but the result is extraordianry. Made with movable hip, neck and shoulder joints, these lovable bears simulate vintage styles adding charm and character to their appearance. Hand sewn eyes and embroidered noses make them extra special. A big, shiny bow tied at the neck adds the perfect gift-giving touch.

For a more affordable fur alternative, some collectors seek a brand of bears called "Rare Bears." These cuddly creatures, made with mink, came in a variety of color combinations and show up on the market fairly frequently since they were produced relatively recently.

Other newer bears, such as the Boyd’s series of stuffed bears, offer a wide array of characters. Many of them have holiday themes, while their companions mimic human poses and personalities. The attention to detail and clever costuming make these bears a desirable and welcome addition to many modern collections.

Starting a Teddy Bear Collection

Even the most simple bear styles appeal to collectors. Often starting out with a childhood friend, teddy lovers begin to amass a collection built around cherished memories. The most important aspect of adding to a collection comes with choosing things you'll enjoy owning, just as you enjoyed saving that special bear all those years.

Many people wonder what to keep for their children to have when they grow up. Knowing you can't salvage everything, how about choosing one favorite teddy bear or other stuffed animal? Who knows, one day it may offer the foundation for a special collection to be passed on to future generations.

And remember, it's never too late to start a collection. If you've been eying a cute teddy thinking you might like to own it... get into the spirit of collecting and take the plunge. It doesn't have to be expensive, just loved.

Teddy Bear Price Points

  • Steiff jointed bear with blank button in ear, 15", ca. 1905-06 - $1,225
  • Bing jointed bear with glass eyes, 23 1/2", ca. 1917 - $1,206
  • Farnell mohair bear, 11", ca. 1912 - $1,136
  • Steiff white bear, good condition, ca. 1920s - $670
  • Kimbearly's "Rose" mink bear, artist made, contemporary - $300
  • Diem mohair bear, 19 1/2", ca. 1950s - $298
  • Steiff "Rough Rider" commemorative bear, 1996 - $92
(eBay prices realized 8/06)

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