Avid collectors of the limited edition hand-made Teddy Bear, arctophiles Toby Simkin & DJ Wizniak have been collecting vintage, antique, artist, miniature and designer Teddy Bears since 1982.
The crazy history of the teddy bear
Everyone agrees that the “Teddy Bear” was invented in 1902, and is named after Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, then President of the United States, however a dispute between America and Germany has continued for a century as to who made the first Teddy Bear…
Origin of the “jointed bear”…
The story begins in Germany, in late October 1902, where Richard Steiff, a toy designer working for the family firm in Giengen, went to a touring American circus in search of an idea for a popular new toy. Among the animals he saw there was a troupe of performing bears, and they sparked off the original idea. The following day, he put his thoughts down on paper for Margarete Steiff, his aunt, who had founded the firm in 1880.
Richard saw an opportunity to make a bear toy, standing upright, and jointed in a similar way to dolls. There had been bear toys before, of course – often made from real fur, but these had all been copies of real bears on all fours. Richard’s bear would be able to walk upright. Richard set to work on visiting the Nill’scher Zoo in Stuttgart to sketch the bears and come up with some proper designs for a jointed bear codenamed Steiff Bär 55 PB (“Bär” is German for “bear”, 55 = the bear’s height in centimetres; P = Plusch, plush; and B = beweglich, moveable limbs).
Origin of the “Teddy” bear…
Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, President Roosevelt, visiting Mississippi to settle a border dispute, decided to go out hunting on November 14, 1902 near the town of Smedes. After several hours, he still hadn’t bagged anything, when one of his aides discovered a lost bear cub wandering through the woods. Catching it, the aide tied it to a tree, and brought the President to it. To Roosevelt’s eternal credit, he couldn’t bring himself to shoot the defenseless cub, and ordered it to be set free by declaring, “Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal.”
The press pack following Roosevelt’s visit heard about the story, and it inspired cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman to draw a cartoon of the incident, entitled ‘Drawing the Line in Mississippi’. This cartoon was printed in The Washington Post, and triggered a moment of inspiration for Brooklyn candy store owner Morris Michtom, a Russian Jewish immigrant and his wife Rose.
Using Berryman’s cartoon as a guide, he quickly worked out a pattern, and, his wife, Rose cut and stuffed a piece of plush velvet into the shape of a bear, sewed on shoe button eyes, creating a little jointed bear cub. On February 15th 1903, Morris put into his shop window at 404 Tompkins Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with a copy of the cartoon, and a handwritten notice saying ‘Teddy’s Bear‘.
To his surprise, not only did someone enter the store asking to buy the bear, but twelve other potential customers also asked to purchase it. Aware that he might offend the president by using his name without permission, the Michtoms mailed the original bear to the White House, offering it as a gift to the president’s children and asking Roosevelt for the use of his name. The President apparently replied telling the Michtoms he doubted his name would help its sales but they were free to use it if they wanted.
Because of “Teddy’s Bear’s” popularity, Roosevelt and the Republican Party adopted it as their symbol in the election of 1904, and Michtom bears were placed on display at every public White House function.
The Bears sold very well, and within a year, Michtom closed his candy store, and founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co., which remained in family hands until the 1970s – still one of the biggest toy firms in the world.
The global “Teddy Bear”…
In Germany, unaware of what was going on in New York, Richard Steiff completed the designs for his bear 55PB, and Margarete quickly ran up a prototype from scraps of mohair cloth. The bear, christened ‘Friend Petz’ first appeared in public in March of 1903 at the Spring Toy Fair in Leipzig, Germany.
To Richard’s disappointment, nobody seemed interested. Legend has it that it was only as Richard was packing away the stand at the end of the fair, that an American toy buyer, Hermann Berg of New York wholesalers George Borgfeldt and Co., came up to him, bought the entire lot of 100 bears and ordered 3,000 more on the spot. And so the Teddy Bear was born, and sent on his way to international success.
Teddy Bear-mania sweeps the world…
How did Winnie The Pooh start?
On August 21, 1921, A.A. Milne gave his son, Christopher Robin Milne, a teddy bear for his first birthday. Christopher named his bear Edward Bear because Edward is the proper name for Teddy. Milne bought Edward Bear at Harrod’s in London, England. It was made by J.K. Farnell & Co. in England.
Between 1920 and 1928, Christopher Robin Milne received other stuffed animals. In 1926, A.A. Milne began writing bedtime stories about his son’s adventures with his stuffed animals, including his bear who was renamed, Winnie-the-Pooh. Thus Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Rabbit, and the 100 Acre Wood were born. The 100 Acre Wood is based on the Ashdown Forest, located near Milne’s home in southern England.
The name Winnie-the-Pooh came from a combination of a bear and a swan. “Winnie” was the name of a black bear in the London Zoo in the 1920’s. Winnie had been the mascot for the Canadian Army’s Winnipeg regiment. “Pooh” was the name of a swan in A.A. Milne’s book, “When We Were Very Young.”
USA vs. German Designs
American Bear ca. 1902
Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which operated from 1902-1984, created the first American bear. It’s characteristics were:
- Trademarks not used in first bears; later trademarks used were two variations of labels, one shaped like a circus wagon and one marked “Ideal”.
- Height: 19.5″ tall
- Made of golden colored mohair
- Pointed pads on feet
- Broad, flattish triangular heads
- Black nose
- Long and tapered arms
- Curved paws with felt bads
- Rounded thighs and heels with pointed toes
- Stuffed with excelsior
- Black shoe-button eyes
German Bear ca. 1902
- Metal button pegged into left ear, made from brass, iron, nickel-plated and in limited editions, gold (beginning in 1904)
- Cloth ear tags sewn into the chest area “Steiff Original”, “Made in Germany” or “Made in US-Zone Germany” in white, red, beige or yellow.
- Oldest bears made from mohair, 1947 onward, synthetic fiber.
- The most desirable are made with cinnomon or white mohair.
- Stuffing 1904 was wood-wool (excelsior), these models had voice boxes
- Early Steiffs had old shoe-button eyes, 1910 changed to glass
- Bears from 1904 had five claws and felt pads, 1906 had four
- Every 7th Steiff bear before 1905, were made with a hand-sewn seam down the middle.
- Original bears did not have moveable limbs; in 1905, moveable joints made from heavy card.
Who Was Margarete Steiff?
Margarete Steiff (born 24 July 1847 in Giengen, near Ulm, Germany) is considered the inventor of the first stuffed animal. Despite stricken with Polio, with paralysis in her right hand, she could not stop to use a sewing machine. At 17, she finally completed her training as a seamstress. In 1880, she founded the Margarete Steiff GmbH company. Their first “Elefänte” was originally conceived as a pincushion, but the great success as children’s toys, opened new markets. Consequently, more animals were designed and produced. The invention of the first teddy bear with movable arms and legs arrived in 1902. The trademark “Steiff – Button in Ear” was developed in 1904. In 1909 Margarete Steiff died of pneumonia at the age of 61. The family company continued her legacy, and went on to create more than 20,000 different animals designs over the last century, with millions and millions of teddy bears over it’s illustrious and crazy history.