Love at first sight! That’s how many people describe their feelings towards Teddy bears. And it’s been that way since their “formal” introduction at the turn of last century, when the Steiff Company in Germany, and businessman Morris Michtom in New York, independently introduced fully jointed mohair bear toys to the world. Both lines proved so popular, and so irresistible, that by 1907 Steiff was producing nearly one million Teddy bears annually and the Michtoms would go on to open the Ideal Toy Company to meet worldwide demand.
Teddy bears have many features that make them such appealing collectibles. For the most part, they are unbreakable, easy to display, and timeless in their presentation. They look adorable grouped together, can be dressed or accessorized, and blend in perfectly with dolls from any era. Aesthetically, there is something for everyone. They range from traditionally scaled blonde, white, or brown cubs to off-the-chart colorful characters that double as works of art. And size is not an issue either – even for collectors who have “run out of room!” I’ve seen Teddy bears that range from as small as three centimeters in height – to those that go from floor to ceiling!
What makes a collection, well, a collection? From my perspective, it is more a passion and focus than a number of physical objects. A collection can have two things, or 2,000 things. It all depends on the individual and their preferences, needs, and budget. “Volume” does not matter, either. One of the finest Steiff collections I know of consists of 20 tiny, extraordinary, early 20th century items that fit on one shelf of a small book case. It is particularly interesting, and most fitting, that a Teddy bear collection is technically called “a hug.” Clearly, Teddy bears make people feel good on so many levels.
So, are you thinking of starting a Teddy bear collection? Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you are… or already have one. For most things in life, taking that “first step” can be challenging. Luckily, that is not the case when it comes to Teddy bears. Some of us have been collecting since childhood, but it is never too late to pursue a new interest. For grown-ups, the source of that inspiration might come about in several ways. Perhaps you were browsing Ruby Lane, or walking through an antique mall, and came across a Teddy bear that looked exactly like your childhood bear? Or you saw a Teddy bear on Pinterest or in a friend’s collection that simply grabbed your heart? Or you were given a delightful Teddy bear by a friend or colleague “just because?”
Don’t ignore the hug tug! Pull the trigger and start with one or two bears that call to you. You’ll be glad you did. Study them and learn everything you can about them. Check out their construction, materials, jointing, seaming, facial detailing, stuffing, identification, and their other “bear essentials.” It does not matter if your Teds are antique, vintage, brand new, or made by an artist. The more you know about them, the better you can evaluate and select new additions for your collection. And don’t be surprised if your Teddy bear tastes evolve a bit over time – that’s all part of the collector’s experience! Perhaps over time your collection will focus on palm-sized bears, or rainbow-hued bears, or pre-war examples – only time will tell!
Keeping a record of your growing Teddy bear collection is a good idea. It is easy to think that you can remember everything about a bear purchase. But as we all have experienced, it’s really easy to forget things, especially details, as we get older. Teddy bear documentation does not need to be a big deal, or production, and can be done either online on a spreadsheet or in a paper notebook. The important things to capture include the bear’s name, brand or artist’s name, date and place of purchase, purchase price, and other salient details. If the bear comes with provenance, or photographs, or other ephemera, note that in your records and put those materials in a safe space. This archive will not only help you to manage your collection, but could be invaluable to friends or family members responsible for deaccessioning your hug sometime in the future.
There are many ways for Teddy bear collectors to learn more about their cubs, as well as meet like-minded enthusiasts. The internet is a vast resource of information, but always evaluate and vet any e-information carefully – just because you see something online, does not mean that it is true or authentic! Well known teddy bear companies, like Steiff and Teddy-Hermann GmbH, have websites and collector’s clubs that offer news, information, and events targeted to collectors. Facebook hosts numerous Teddy bear collectors’ groups. These range from focusing on one brand of bears to Teddy bears in general. For the most part, fans of these pages are happy and willing to share their knowledge and passion with others. Instagram features countless photos of new and antique bears; if you see one of interest contact the poster for more information. Online collector’s blogs are another way of learning “from the experts” without leaving your home or office. There are several print and online magazines that specialize in Teddy bears, including Teddy Bear Times (US and Europe), Teddy Bear and Friends (US), and BärReport (Germany). These publications include stories on new and vintage Teddy bears and are a good way of keeping current on all fronts. And, of course, don’t forget about clubs, including those which are part of United Federation of Doll Clubs. The vast majority of doll collectors have at least an appreciation for Teds of all sorts, and often collect Teddy bears to display as companions for their dolls. It has been my experience as a Steiff collector that doll clubs are delighted to include bear collectors as members – usually with Teddy hugs!
About the Author
Rebekah Kaufman is a third generation lifelong Steiff enthusiast. Her personal collection of vintage Steiff treasures numbers north of 1,600. Rebekah’s German grandmother kindled her love for the brand over five decades ago, and today Rebekah is the proud steward of many of her Oma’s Steiff treasures.
Rebekah’s passion became her vocation when she became the Steiff Club Manager for the North American division of Margarete Steiff GmbH in 2003. A few years later, in 2008, she changed jobs and was appointed to the position of Steiff’s North American archivist, a job she held through the end of 2017. In that role, she led collector’s events around the country, authored most of the vintage related articles in the biannual Steiff Club Magazine, and authenticated and valued vintage Steiff treasures on behalf of the company. In 2014, at James D. Julia Auctioneers in Fairfield, ME, she appraised and cataloged the largest and most important vintage Steiff collection to come to market ever in North America; the sale realized over half a million dollars. Since 2015, she has consulted with a number of well-known auction houses as a Steiff and Fine Plush Expert. She also runs her own full-service public relations and social media marketing agency for organizations in the antiques and auctions industries who wish to outsource these key communication functions.
Rebekah owns and merchandises on Ruby Lane, the largest online vintage Steiff shop worldwide.
Rebekah’s blog, My Steiff Life, focuses on vintage Steiff finds, Steiff antiquing and travel adventures, international Steiff happenings, and the legacy and history of the Steiff company. It has been updated weekly since 2009 and can be found at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com. Her book, Sassafrass Jones and Her Forever Friends ABCs, features vintage Steiff as an integral part of the storyline. It was co-authored by Cathleen Smith-Bresciani, a fellow Steiff enthusiast. The book, ISBN #978-0-578-15002-4, is available for purchase on Amazon.com. Rebekah truly leads “The Steiff Life.”
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