Carol has written for antiques and collectibles magazines in the UK as well as online.
Are Old Teddy Bears Valuable?
The history of the teddy goes back over one hundred years, although there is some debate about exactly how they came into being. So how do you find out if your old teddy is valuable or just lovable?
Even though most teddies are not valuable, some of the best-known makes are profitable enough to attract fakers. If you want to collect teddy bears, you need to know how to sniff out the genuine ones from the fakes.
Unique Features of Old Steiff Bears
This video of antique Steiff bears is great to watch if you love teddies. Some are still cute, while others look sad—those are the ones who look like they've had hard lives. Maybe they have just been well-loved but now feel abandoned.
There is a practical reason to watch the video if you want to collect teddy bears. Look at the pronounced snout and hump on the back of old Steiff bears. Over the years, both features have disappeared but are noticeable on old bears. Watch out for these when someone is hoping to sell you an antique bear.
Keys to Identifying Your Teddy Bear
When collecting teddy bears, authenticity, provenance and condition is of paramount importance. First of all, you need to identify your bear. Take a good look at him and carefully examine all his parts.
- Stuffing: Feel your bear so that you can identify the stuffing. The first bears were stuffed with wood shavings (wood wool), then in the 1930s kapok and wool waste began to be used, although wood wool was often still used for the head. Because of this, a bear with a softer body is unlikely to be pre-1930.
- Label: A label on the bear is a good clue to its maker but not an infallible one! The most valuable and desirable bears are those made by the German company Steiff. They have a small metal button in the left ear, and the design on the button can identify the period of manufacture. The company used an elephant on the original button from 1903. Other desirable manufacturers include Ideal, Bruin, Chad Valley, Farnell, Merrythought and Chiltern.
- Fur: The fur on early bears was usually mohair fabric; later, other fabrics were used, like silk or cotton plush in the 1930s and synthetic materials after the 1950s. The paws on early good-quality bears were made from felt or, on cheaper ones, brushed cotton. From the 1930s, some bears had paws made from a leather-look cotton fabric, velveteen or just from using a different coloured plush.
Care and Repair of Teddy Bears
If your bear is a much-loved reminder of your childhood, you will still want to care for it and make sure its condition doesn’t deteriorate.
Dealing With Insects and Other Bugs
When you buy a collectible teddy bear, you need to take precautions in case it is infested with bugs like the larvae of the furniture beetle, moth larvae or even fleas.
- Put your bear inside a plastic bag with no holes in it and then seal it and put it in the freezer for a few days. If it’s a large bear, leave it for at least a week. Alternatively, you can put moth or other insect repellent in the bag and leave it sealed for around 2 weeks.
- When you take the bear out of the sealed bag (and when it’s completely dry if it’s been in the freezer), gently brush the fur.
Inspect your bears regularly for signs of infestation. You might find small holes in the pads of feet or paws or the papery casings of larvae cases.
Vacuuming: You can use a vacuum cleaner on your bear, but do it with care. Cover the nozzle with a piece of fine net curtain or part of a pair of tights (panty hose) so that you don’t accidentally suck off an eye, label or stitching.
Sponge-Washing: If your bear needs a bit more than a vacuum clean, you can sponge it but very carefully. Never immerse an old bear in water!
- Using warm water and a small amount of very gentle soap liquid, well mixed, with a soft cloth or very soft brush (a baby’s hairbrush, for example), carefully wash the fur but without wetting the backing fabric.
- Then use clean, warm water to remove the soapy water.
- You can use a hairdryer on warm but not hot to gently dry the bear. Otherwise, gently towel dry.
- Whichever way you dry your bear, put it somewhere warm like an airing cupboard for a couple of days to remove all traces of damp.
If your bear is more modern, it should come with washing instructions, and these should be followed.
Hazards at Home
- Smoking will make your bear smell and may discolour it.
- Dogs often love soft toys but will damage them so make sure your bears never end up in your dog’s mouth. If you have cats, make sure they can’t use your bear to sharpen their claws. Both cats and dogs can have fleas which can infest your bear.
- Keep your bear out of direct sunlight which will fade its fur.
- Valuable bears should always be repaired by an experienced restorer. Amateur repairs can affect their value and, in some cases, make it unsaleable.
- If you decide to repair a bear yourself, always do it in exactly the same way as the original. Don’t experiment with alternative stitching or different eyes.
- If your bear is in a poor condition with open seams but you can’t or don’t want to get it repaired, stop the damage getting worse by protecting it. Use baby clothes like mittens, booties or a baby’s bodysuit (babygrow).
Brief History of the Teddy Bear
One of the most notable births of the 20th century was that of the teddy bear, the delight and comfort of children and adults for over one hundred years.
There are two claims for the invention of the teddy bear. One belongs to German toy designer, Richard Steiff, who is said to have seen performing bears in a circus when he visited America.
This gave him the idea for a new toy: a bear that had jointed arms and legs and could turn its head, just like a doll. In 1903, he exhibited his new toy, called Friend Petz, at the Leipzig Spring Toy Fair.
"Teddy's Bears" by Michtom
Meanwhile, in the USA in 1902, President Theadore (Teddy) Roosevelt went on a hunting trip which was unsuccessful. The story goes that his aides procured a bear cub for him to shoot to compensate for his lack of success but he refused to shoot it.
The following day a cartoon illustrating the incident appeared in newspapers all over the United States. It was seen by Morris Michtom, the owner of a Brooklyn candy store, and it sparked off the idea for a new toy: Teddy’s bear.
He worked out the design for a jointed bear and his wife made them. Sold in their candy store, Teddy’s bear was an immediate hit. It was such a success that the store was closed and Michtom started the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, one the largest toy companies in the world today.
From these small beginnings, teddy bears have become one of the most popular toys ever with toy manufacturers in Britain, Europe and America making their own versions of the teddy.
Rising Popularity of Teddies
Actor Peter Bull was one of the most prominent teddy bear collectors and probably one of the people who helped to make collecting bears as popular as it is today.
He toured the USA with his collection of teddies, and the bear that appeared in Brideshead Revisited belonged to him.
Teddy Bear Auctions
Sotheby’s held the first teddy bear auction in 1982. The world record price for a bear was achieved in 1994 at an auction at Christie's, London. It made £110,000 (British Pounds). It was sold by a Colonel Bob Henderson and bought by a Japanese collector who is said to have booked the bear his own first class seat to fly back to Japan.
There are more expensive teddy bears for sale, but they are new and made for multi-millionaires.
© 2014 Carol Fisher
Do you still have your childhood teddy bear?
Patsy proud on September 14, 2015:
I have a teddy bear giving to me by my aunt when I was born in 1962 , it was passed down to me from my aunt , I love my little ted ( that was what I named him ) he sits up straight and proud his body is stiff with limbs that move . lITTLE TED my. Teddy Bear .
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 01, 2015:
Isn't it amazing what some of these old teddy bears can be worth?
Carol Fisher (author) from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on November 06, 2014:
Makingamark - Peter Bull's devotion to teddy bears stuck in my mind all these years because he didn't look like the kind of man who would like them so much.
Katherine Tyrrell from London on November 06, 2014:
I'd completely forgotten about Peter Bull and his teddies!
Jacquelyn fuller from Woonsocket, Rhode Island on November 06, 2014:
I love teddies and beenie babies!!!!