Antique of the month
In her column celebrating collectibles, antiques expert Judith Miller looks at everyone’s favourite toy, the timeless teddy bear
Although a comparatively late arrival on the toy scene, teddy bears have become very popular with collectors. There are several rival claims as to which company produced the first teddy bear. The German company Steiff (est 1877), produced jointed bears from 1902–3, and in 1904 a Steiff bear won a medal at the
World’s Fair in St Louis. The New York-based Ideal Novelty & Toy Co (est c.1906) produced a jointed mohair bear that became known as ‘Teddy’s bear’, supposedly after a cartoon showing the American president Theodore Roosevelt sparing a bear cub on a hunting trip. Such was the popularity of the toys that manufacturers in Germany, Britain and the USA all diversified into teddy bear production.
During and after World War I, British companies expanded to fill the gap left by banned German imports. All European bear manufacture was severely disrupted by World War II, following which there was an increased use of less-desirable synthetic plush. One of the best-known British teddy bear makers was Chad Valley, which produced bears from the 1920s. Production continued throughout WWII and in 1967 the company acquired Chiltern Toy Works (est 1920). In 1978, Chad Valley was bought by Palitoy and records and catalogues were destroyed, so dating their bears can be very difficult. As is the case generally, early Chad Valley bears are more desirable than later bears. From 1920, Chad Valley bears were marked and are therefore easy to identify. Bears made by Chiltern before the takeover are also collectable, especially early bears, which were made from high-quality, long, soft mohair and had long, curving arms and wide feet with cardboard reinforced velvet pads.
Other distinguished teddy bear makers include Dean’s
Rag Book Co Ltd (1903–72), in London, noted for its unusually coloured bears and such novelty designs as bears on wheels, and Merrythought
Ltd (est 1930), Shropshire. Traditional early Merrythought bears are highly sought after and are usually marked with a celluloid button in the ear; this button was later moved to the back, and a fabric foot label was added. J.K. Farnell & Co (1897–1968), also claimed to have invented the teddy bear. However, a more likely claim to fame is that it was almost certainly a Farnell bear that inspired A.A. Milne’s much loved Winnie-the-pooh books.
Above: A 1950s Chiltern blond ‘Hugmee’ plush teddy bear, with plastic nose, £200–250Right: Farnell white plush teddy bear, with glass eyes, black stitched nose, pronounced hump, pads and mohair, £220–280
ALL STAR CASTThe Royal Opera House(ROH) has collaborated with Scottish design duo Timorous Beasties to launch an exclusive range of porcelain ceramics alongside textiles and accessories. Capturing the grandeur and history of the institution, the flamboyant designs feature layered floral silhouettes as well as architectural, dance and orchestral motifs inspired by the ROH and its art forms. From left: Coffee cup and saucer, £25; trinket tray, £12, and tea-for-one set, £40, RoyalOpera House shop.
Above: A Steiff cream teddy bear, with shoe-button eyes and owner’s initials stitched onto each paw, circa 1907, £900–1,100 Below: 1950sChad Valley bear with a tartan bow