How to Find out How Old an Antique Teddy Bear Is
How Old Is My Teddy?
It’s not hard when you collect teddies to simply buy what you like.
When buying vintage or antique ones, it is important to learn the identifying features that help to date them. Whether for the fun of knowing when it was made or for making informed investment decisions, learning about a teddy bear adds to the experience of collecting and helps to guard against buying fake antique ones.
There are several features that help to determine the age of a vintage teddy.
1. Can You Determine the Maker?
Often, teddy bears can be attributed to their maker simply by style or look. Many manufacturers have distinctive features in the bears that make them readily identifiable. A label is the most definitive means of telling who made a teddy though.
The maker helps to determine the value, because some are considered premium and highly sought after, such as Steiff, Chiltern, Joy Toys or Ideal.
2. The Fur or Fabric Is a Clue to Age
- Mohair was used originally. Very soft and silky, it is a fabric woven from Angora goat fleece. Mohair or mohair/synthetic plush continued to be most popular until the 1950s when acrylic plush was increasingly used.
- Artificial silk plush, in various colours, was used in the 1920s (nylon plush wasn't invented until 1938).
- Sheepskin was popular in the 1930s and '40s.
- Synthetic plushes were further developed in the '60s, with the machine-washable bear promoted for children.
- Felt was used for the pads of the earliest bears.
- Later, after WW1, cotton was popular (sometimes brushed or velveteen).
- Rexine was used by some British and Australian manufacturers, which was a coated oilcloth.
- By the 1960s, synthetic fabrics were increasingly used.
3. The Stuffing Says a Lot
- The earliest bears were stuffed with wood wool (also known as excelsior), which is made from long, fine wood shavings. Wood wool gives the teddy a crunchy feel if squeezed.
- Later, after 1914, kapok (a silky fibre from the seed pod of a tropical tree, similar to silky cotton wool) came into use. Teddies stuffed with kapok feel firmer and heavier, and resist insect attacks.
- During WW2, kapok was no longer available for toy use, as it was used to line life jackets for soldiers, so waste from textile mills became a popular substitute. Cork granules or rubber were also occasionally used, which tended to break down over time, giving the bear a strange sensation of movement within!
- By the 1960s, plastic foam (a shredded, sponge-like foam) was most popular, as it allowed for teddies to be wholly synthetic and machine washable.
- Beginning in the 1970s, polyester wadding became popular and is still used today.
4. Teddy Bears' Shapes Change With the Times
A variety of shapes and styles have been used over the years, but the shape of the teddy bear has changed from its inception and can help date when it was made.
- The very earliest bears had a comparatively pointed snout and longer limbs.
- Shorter, stumpy limbs were popular in the 1950s.
- In the 1960s and '70s, several companies began manufacturing the unjointed splayed-arms bear.
- Early bears were jointed with cardboard or metal discs and attached with metal pins, which can sometimes show as rust through the fabric.
- Plastic joints were first used in the 1960s.
5. A Teddy Bear's Eyes Can Say a Lot About Its Age
- Originally, from 1902-1915, teddy bear eyes were wooden or leather-covered wooden boot buttons on wire hooks or shanks.
- Glass eyes (amber or blue, black, or clear with painted backs) replaced wooden eyes during WW1.
- Glass eyes are cooler and harder than plastic eyes. A good indication of what kind of eyes your bear has is to put your lips on them to feel how cool they are and tap your teeth on the eyes. Also, glass eyes are rounder, if you can feel behind them with your fingers.
- From 1955 onward, plastic screw-in eyes were used by most makers, as a safety precaution for children. Law requires that manufacturers use these unless the teddy is labeled as not being a toy.
6. An Older Teddy May Have a Distinctive Nose
- Generally, noses were originally hand-stitched with black or brown thread. Many makers had their own distinctive shape. Some also chose to use curled leather, painted composition or gutta-percha (a natural form of plastic).
- Moulded plastic first came into use in 1945. Some teddies were also made with painted tin or moulded rubber noses.
- Since 1970, plastic safety noses are most often used as toy teddies for children.