Teddy bears are some of the world’s most beloved toys. After their debut. they accompanied millions of children to bed, protecting them from bad dreams, demons and monsters under the bed. Even today, the teddy bear remains a beloved animal friend, and a great gift for loved ones including couples, friends, and children.
The popularity of teddy bears has persevered over so many years. Today, many collectors hunt to find antique ones and take pride in owning the first teddy bears that was available on the market.
Although different vintage movies would suggest that teddy bear toys have been here for hundreds of years, depicting children clinging onto their stuffed animals in stressful situations, the first commercial teddy bears can barely be called antique – the first model was invented a little more than a century ago.
Whether you’ve stumbled upon a vintage or antique teddy bear, you must want to know who made it, and where it originated from. Luckily for you, we wrote this guide that will not only help you identify even the oldest teddy bears made, but also evaluate them and find what they are truly worth.
Continue reading through this article and learn what are the oldest teddy bears made of, and how can you maximize their value on the market.
The History of Teddy Bears
Before we get to evaluation and identification, let’s take a brief look at the history of antique teddy bears. Whether you believe it or not, the first teddy bear was invented in the USA and was inspired by events surrounding president Theodore Roosevelt.
In November 1902, Theodore Roosevelt was on a hunting raid in Mississippi. In the heat of the hunt, there was a Bear that President Roosevelt decided to spare and not shoot. The bear was captured and tied against the tree, with other hunters inviting the president to shoot it. He decided to pass as he considered it not to be sportsman-like behavior.
The event was quick to spread around the world, even to the point that a cartoon was created by Clifford Berrman. New York-based shopkeeper Morris Michtom saw this political cartoon and found inspiration in it. He worked hard to develop a special stuffed bear that he named “Teddy’s bear”, after President Theodore Roosevelt who was nicknamed Teddy. The bear sat in the store’s window where it was quick to grab the eye of many people.
There is even some reports that Michtom and his wife reached out to president Roosevelt’s office to ask for permission to use his name on the teddy bears. After they received the permission, they founded their company where they made stuffed teddy bears along with other animals.
Just a year later, a Germany-based company started shipping out their own teddy bears. Margarete Steiff was making a plush bruin (European brown bear) that was initially designed by her nephew Richard who developed it based on bears in a local zoo. They were featured at Germany’s toy fair in 1903 and the popularity of teddy bears was really kickstarted.
Steiff bears were in high demand in both Europe and the USA. Ultimately, these bears officially became known as teddy bears in 1906 after which they were shipped internationally, with many other companies following suit.
Interestingly, Steiff continues to manufacture modern teddy bears today. Its antique and vintage variants are sought after by numerous collectors around the world. If you’re one of them, this guide may help you find the most valuable teddy bears on the market.
Identifying Antique Teddy Bears
Depending on the condition that the teddy bear you found is in, the identification process can either be significantly difficult or a piece of cake.
If you’re lucky, your teddy bear still has its product label or marks that can help you identify it. Ideally these will contain the name of the model, as well as the year it was manufactured, or the manufacturer’s name.
Unfortunately, most of the time, the teddy bear has seen some things and it’s impossible to identify it using the label because the marks either faded or got ripped off.
There are a few trademarks, as well as traits of antique teddy bears that will help you identify yours. Take a good look at these features and perform research that will help you recognize your teddy bear’s origin.
- Body shape: Models made in certain years, by certain manufacturers, for certain series have some traits in common. One of them is body shape and size. Research different types of teddy bear shapes and who made which models. That will simplify the identification.
- Limbs: Depending on the time the teddy bear was made, the overall shape of the limbs varies. The length of limbs will also be different for different models.
- Materials: You can see that the materials and stuffing quality became more sophisticated as time passed. Focus on the eyes, fur, noses, paw pads, and the stuffing used inside the bears.
- Muzzle Shape: Newer models have a more endearing and familiar muzzle shape, which can be a starting point for you to identify different teddy bear models.
Identify The Manufacturer
Identifying the manufacturers should be easy if you have some piece of label or any mark that could hint at their name. If you’ve been in the antique industry and already own a few teddy bears, there’s a chance that you can easily identify the teddy bears just by looking at them.
More than a century ago, the manufacturing process and quality was not that of today where all products look identical, without flaws or mistakes. Different manufacturers have quite a specific style that can be recognized by veteran collectors.
Try to research different teddy bear makers such as Steiff, Chiltern, Ideal, or Joy Toys, as they’re most known for their particular styles.
Which Fabric Was Used?
Throughout the decades, different types of fabric and stuffing were used. Initially, the first teddy bear makers used Mohair because it felt gentle and soft. It was used for decades until the makers introduced acrylic plush during the 1950s.
With some more premium teddy bears, you may stumble upon artificial silk plush that was available in different colors so that more unique teddy bear toys could be made. Other material options include cotton, sheepskin, and rexine. All of these materials were used from the 1920s to the 1940s.
If the synthetic fabric was used on the teddy bear you’ve found, it’s likely a vintage teddy bear from the 50s and 60s.
The stuffing quality and material can tell you a lot about the model of the antique teddy bear you’re trying to identify. The materials vary, starting from the earliest made out of wood wool which can be recognized by the crunchy sensation when you squeeze it.
Other materials include kapok which was used until WW2 and other alternatives like textile waste. If the teddy bear was made later than the 1960s, it’s likely stuffed with some kind of synthetic foam that has a spongy feel when you squeeze the toy. Polyester filling was introduced in the 1970s.
Different Shapes, Different Time Period
If you are a teddy bear collector, you can see a visible change of shape as the manufacturing design approaches contemporary teddy bears. The manufacturing process was less automatized and everything was being made by hand.
Some teddy bears from the earliest days had specific designs on their face, and tended to have longer limbs and snouts. As the manufacturing process and style improved, we can see these parts of the teddy bears shorten.
It’s also worth noting that the older the teddy bear, the higher the chance it used some sorts of metal discs or pins to join the parts together. Most metallic parts were replaced with plastic after the 1960s.
Types of Teddy Bears You Can Collect
The most common collectible bears can be categorised by place of origin, notably the American, British, German, and French teddy bears.
American Teddy Bears
As you know, the first teddy bear originated from the American continent in 1902, inspired by the event involving President Theodore Roosevelt. The first bears were about 19.5-inches tall and were the color of golden mohair. The feet and limbs were pointy with either slightly flattened or triangular heads.
Something that also distinguished the American teddy bears was a black nose and eyes with longer limbs like arms. Usually, shoe buttons were used for the eyes. It’s worth noting that most American teddy bears were stuffed with wood wool.
- Novelty & Toy
- Gund Manufacturing Company
British Teddy Bears
British-made teddy bears usually used the highest quality materials, although the quality of those materials declined during the recession in the 1930s. Not many of them have trademarks, but some models include either metal plates or cloth labels listing the quality, particularly on models made after WW2.
They use eyes made out of the glass on the bigger models, as well as smaller ones, although some smaller teddy bears are distinguishable by their black button eyes. They also involved paw pads made out of cotton and rounder tummies. These teddy bears also have longer limbs and large feet.
- K. Farnell & Co.
German Teddy Bears
German Teddy Bears are among the most popular, especially those made by the Steiff company. They were designed differently compared to the American teddy bears and were shipped to the USA in vast quantities. British companies were inspired by Steiff.
The first and most distinguishable teddy bears had the label Bear PB 55. They also had a distinctive metal button that was stitched onto their ear to identify them. They had cloth tags that would state the company attached somewhere around the chest after 1904.
They were made out of golden mohair. The company still operates and newer models are made out of synthetic fiber. Those after 1906 have four claws as opposed to the original teddy bears that had five. They also had fixed limbs, whereas models made after 1906 come with moveable joints.
French Teddy Bears
French teddy bears are perhaps the hardest to identify because they rarely included any labels. Unlike British and American companies, French companies used simpler joining techniques to make the bears more dynamic and give them more movement. They used a mixture of mohair and cotton plush for the outer fabric. If you’re looking at the filling, they used wood wool and sometimes kapok.
- Le Jouet Champenois
Valuing Antique Teddy Bears
Of course, it’s always the best option to work with an appraiser for both identification and evaluation of your teddy bear, but the good news is that you can also do it alone. It’ll take more time, and you may need to talk to some people, perform research and reach out to some forums, but the satisfaction level is much higher.
Valuing Antique Teddy Bears On Your Own
As you know, the general rule of the thumb is the older it is the better, as long as it’s well-preserved and has minimal signs of wear and tear.
Certainly, the manufacturer plays a great role in the value. Steiff is the most popular teddy bear manufacturer, as well as Novelty & Toy Co., and Schuco. Teddy bears made by one of these companies will have the highest price.
Condition is another thing you should consider. It needs to be well-preserved, and as unique as possible. Some antique teddy bears were made before the first World War and might have seen the chaos that the two world wars caused, so it is likely that they have some damage to them.
The best bet is an intact teddy bear and/or a rare model. The older the teddy bear, the fewer there are, making it more unique and hence valuable on the market.
Lastly, the manufacturing of teddy bear toys started at an important time in human history, at the beginning of the 20th century, when a lot of transition was going on, and a lot of key historical events were occurring.
If you have a teddy bear from that time, or your vintage or antique teddy bear is associated with some story or historical event, it will be worth even more if you can prove that it’s associated with that event.
Editor’s notes: Of course, getting things done entirely on your own can be difficult, which is why you can use the help of some evaluation websites, as well as forums where valuing and identifying is often discussed with experts. Here’s a list of websites you can consider.
How to Evaluate Teddy Bears Professionally?
While the websites we provided above and many others can contain the information about the particular teddy bear you are looking for, you can end up without any new information, and sometimes even more confused.
The websites serve as support while you’re trying to value your teddy bear. However, if you’re unable to ascertain the right value, the best way is to consult professional services. Antique dealers and appraisers can help you see whether the teddy bear is genuine and estimate a price based on today’s collectors market.
If there are no antique dealers and appraisers in your area, you can look online for antique stores or email images and information to nline apprasiers.
Finally, look carefully at the pricing for their services so that you don’t get ripped off, or even worse, scammed.
Where To Buy Antique Teddy Bears?
You’ll be surprised to find so many online antique shops within giant selling sites such as Amazon, eBay, and others.
Below, we’ve listed the best marketplaces for purchasing antique and vintage teddy bears. Don’t forget that no online marketplace can guarantee that their items are authentic, so you’ll have to keep your eyes wide open for scammers.
eBay – Best Overall Online Marketplace For Antique Teddy Bears
Whether you want to buy or sell antique teddy bears made by different manufacturers around the world, eBay is probably the most popular marketplace where you can connect to antique dealers both close and far away from you.
The bad part is that there is always room for getting tricked and scammed as you can’t check the teddy bear in person unless the seller is close to you.
Still, there are a lot of models, starting from relatively recent vintage models to the earliest and most antique Steiff teddy bears.
Editor’s notes: If there is a chance, stay connected with your local appraiser and try to evaluate the teddy bears you choose online to see whether they are authentic.
Etsy – Great Collection of Antique and Vintage Teddy Bears
Etsy is known mostly for hand-crafted objects and DIY work. Nevertheless, it has a great collection of both Antique and Vintage teddy bear collections. Some people have been collecting the oldest Mohair-made teddy bears from Gund and Steiff, while some are selling vintage models from after WW2.
Whatever your preference, we’re sure that you’ll be able to find something that interests you.
Editor’s notes: Be careful with the sellers and make sure they have positive reviews. Teddy bears come and go quickly, so don’t to waste time if you find a good one.
Amazon – Good Marketplace to Check Out
We’re used to being able to find pretty much anything on Amazon. Now and then, an individual selling antique goods they found in the attic, or a professional antique dealer can be found here.
Unfortunately, goods that are available on Amazon are often reproductions, so you will need to track the experience of other buyers through reviews to confirm that the seller is legit and that they are known for selling real products.
Editor’s notes: Be careful with Amazon, while you can find lots of good authentic items there are also many reproductions and fakes which claim to be genuine on this marketplace.