That faithful companion of childhood, the teddy bear, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Ever since this plush playmate’s entrance onto the toy scene, collectors have journeyed forth on a bear hunt of a cuddly sort. Though there are many versions of the tale of teddy’s origin, it is certain that in 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a defenseless bear was satirized by the popular political cartoonist Clifford Berryman of The Washington Post.Among those captivated by the cartoon was a Brooklyn shopkeeper, Morris Michtom. Michtom displayed it alongside a toy bear his wife had made. A sign identified the stuffed animal as “Teddy’s Bear.” The largest producer of teddy bears and the most important to collectors today is Steiff. Early Steiff bears have an elongated nose, long arms, large feet and humped back. Experienced collectors are well-versed in the various buttons that Steiff has used to mark its bears over the years. Placed in the toy’s ear, the button has been blank, embossed with an elephant design and proclaimed “STEIFF” in raised letters.
The earliest known Steiff teddy is the 1904 rod bear. Metal rods inside the bear enable its head, arms and legs to move. The bear was produced in two sizes — 20 inches and 16 inches — with a sealing wax nose, seam across the top of its head, the elephant button in the ear and pink thread for a mouth. A 16-inch example in excellent condition recently sold for $35,000, and last year, one sold in Germany for $100,000. Another popular bear manufacturer is the Ideal Toy and Novelty Co. founded by Michtom. Early Ideal teddies have a wide triangular head, large ears, short mohair, pointed pads on feet, and long slender bodies. Ideal’s bears from the 1950s and ’60s are commonly found with features painted onto a molded vinyl face and with large sleep eyes. They were often unjointed with bodies of rayon plush. Collectors also look for Knickerbocker, Schuco, Chad Valley, Gund and Dakin bears. Miniature bears are not proportionally cheaper than large bears. In fact, a miniature bear in good condition can be more expensive than its full-size counterpart. As with all bears, facial appeal and rare color variations can increase value. The 3 1/2-inch dark gold mohair Steiff teddy produced in 1910 is valued at $800 in the book Today’s Hottest Collectibles. To command top prices, a bear’s fur covering should be in excellent or better condition. Foot pads however, can be tolerated in worn condition.
Bears of the late 1960s and 1970s are abundant and can be found at very reasonable prices. But the legion of bear hunters is growing, and the market has exploded over the last decade.
Teddy bears that only recently would have sold in the hundreds of dollars are now selling in the thousands — sometimes tens of thousands.
The most important part of a bear’s value may be its emotional appeal, which is totally subjective. People can be as much in love with a $5 bear as a $5,000 bear.
If you think a bear is adorable and it calls to you, it will probably have the same effect on another teddy bear collector down the line.
In the final analysis, the best advice may be not to collect teddy bears with the hope of ever reselling them, because by the time you go to sell one, you probably won’t be able to bring yourself to do it.
That is the essential allure and the eternal burden of teddy bear collecting.
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