An American President on the Hunt.
How far back can we go with Teddy Bears? Well, literally thousands of years. Teddy Bears or stuffed animals have been found throughout the world in every region and in every culture. But the Teddy Bear we know today does not go back quite as far. It all started on a hunting expedition in 1902…
In 1902, American President Theodore Rooselvelt was on a hunting trip in Mississippi. A member of his group captured an American Black Bear and tied it to a tree. The intention was to allow Theodore Rooselvelt to shoot the bear and celebrate a successful hunting trip, which up until that point had been uneventful.
Being the sportsman, Roosevelt refused to shoot the defenseless bear. Luckily, as the story goes, a reporter witnessed the act of kindness by the president. The Washington Post printed a cartoon by Clifford Berryman of the incident the following day symbolizing Roosevelt refusing to shoot a Black Bear being held by one of his group members.
An enterprising business owner in Brooklyn, New York, named Morris Michton, quickly recognized the potential for Roosevelt’s act and displayed two Teddy Bears in his window that his wife had created. The bears were plush, stuffed with excelsior and had black shoe button eyes.
The Teddy Bears were a hit and the popularity of this new product caused Michton to start a new company, Ideal Novelty and Toy Corporation.
It has been said that Michton asked Rooselvelt’s permission to call his new creation Teddy Bears. Rooselvent gave his blessing and the name stuck.
A Discrepency in Teddy History?
As the story goes, on the other side of the planet in Germany, a woman named Margarete Steiff was creating stuffed bears. Steiff claims she was making bears in the late 1800’s. The Steiff Company of Giengen produced its first stuffed bears in 1902.
So who was the first company to create the Teddy Bear we know today? Since Ideal Novelty no longer exists and Steiff claims they were the first, no counter claims with supporting evidence have arisen to dispute Steiff. Considering transatlantic communication was practically non-existant at the time, one would be lead to believe that Steiff and Ideal were unaware of one another’s presence.
The Role Steiff has played in Teddy Bears
There can be no dispute that the German company Steiff has played a serious role in the history of the Teddy Bear as we know it today. In 1903 at the Leipzig Toy Fair, Steiff introduced its first commercial bear, Baer 55PB. Its release did not receive the warm welcome in Europe as Teddy Bears received in the United States. An American buyer, sensing the imminent Teddy Bear explosion in the United States, began importing Steiff Bears.
For Steiff, the rest is history. They are one of the dominant, serious Teddy Bear manufacturers producing the highest quality, limited edition Mohair bears attracting the highest prices at auctions. Very few if any 1902-1903 Steiff Bears exist today in the secondary market or in museums, including Steiffs.
A couple on the West Coast of Florida owns a mint condition Steiff bear (1909 American Pride) that they purchased. This was not seen by Steiff and at Steiff’s request, the bear was sent to Germany to be x-rayed and studied. The goal was to examine not only the original craftsmanship, but to understand the materials and coloring/dies that were used by the original artists. Bears such as these can easily attract prices of $40,000 and up.
So few exist today because wear and tear by children take their toll, bears are thrown away, destroyed in fires / floods and any other catastrophes that can befall a Teddy Bear. Teddy Bears were toys for children when they were first introduced, not the highly prized collectables they are today.
Teddy Bear Mania
Early 1900’s America was enjoying the Teddy Bear Phenonema. The high demand of early Teddy Bears caused a rise in Teddy Bear manufacturers: Steiff, Gund, Bing, Deans and more. Few of the early manufacturers survived the craze but their products did and attract high auction prices today.
Teddy Bears inspired JK Farnell & Co. in 1921 to create Winnie the Pooh, which was based on a bear that was given to Christopher Robin Milne by his mother on his first birtday. You can see the original toys that inspired Pooh at the Central Children’s Room of the Donnel Branch of the New York Public Library in New York City.
Teddy Bear Mania continued to the late 1930’s when WWII brought Teddy Bear Manufacturers to close their doors or make weapons instead of Bears. Rationing also caused manufacturers to refocus their industry away from Teddy Bears.
WWII divided the world, but post WWII globalized it and introduced new fabrics, new competition and cheaper products from Asia. This change slowed the advance of some of the established Teddy Bear manufacturers who designed quality products, not industrialized ones. The 1950’s-1970’s saw an onslaught of bears into the market; the saturation caused buyers to purchase less expensive bears over the bears of quality.
The Teddy Bear Comeback
Any number of things can be attributed to the market shifting back towards the older Teddy Bear Manufacturers. Nostalgia, Marketing and some claim a single actor Peter Bull, who openly expressed his love of bears, sparked the current Teddy Bear Revolution. One of the highest prices for an auction bear goes to Steiff’s Teddy Girl, which attracted $174,000 in 1994! The high price is rare but it is not rare today to find bears in auctions fetching high 6 digit prices.
Private Artists, who are designing bears throughout the world in Austrailia, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, United States, help drive the market, along with the major manufacturers such as Steiff. Germany is seeing a surge as many Germans who treated their Steiffs as toys are realizing now that there is a Global Collecting Frenzy. Japan throughout the 90’s and today has become a major trading hub for collectors as well the United States. The advent of the internet is helping smaller artists pursue new buyers in the Global Economy, further driving the Teddy Bear market.