What’s not to love about Teddy bears? They are adorable, collectible, and universally recognized for their ability to make everyone feel like a kid again. Here are 10 random, but true facts about Teddy bears that just might make you appreciate them more – if that’s possible!
Fact #1: Jointed bears were simultaneously “invented” in 1902 by Richard Steiff of the German Company Margarete Steiff, and Morris Michtom, an entrepreneurial store owner in Brooklyn, NY.
At the turn of last century, Richard Steiff was tinkering with ways to add movement to his company’s early static toy bears. In 1902, he introduced Steiff’s first jointed bear, a cub with string jointing. In 1903, a version with metal rod jointing debuted. In 1905, he updated this basic pattern with disk jointing. These flexible and lighter bears started gaining international popularity; by 1907 Steiff produced nearly one million fully jointed Teddy bears to meet worldwide demand.
Morris Michtom and his wife sold candy and sundries by day and sewed soft toys for the store at night. Mitchom followed politics closely. He saw Clifford Berryman’s famous cartoon, Drawing the Line in Mississippi in the Washington Post in November, 1902. This cartoon pictured President Roosevelt not shooting a bear cub on a hunting trip. Michtom decided to create this bear in plush. The couple made a few and sold them immediately through their store. Knowing they might be on to something, they wrote to Roosevelt and asked if they could use his name to promote the bears. Roosevelt wrote back saying, “Dear Mr. Michtom, I don’t think my name is likely to be worth much in the toy bear business, but you are welcome to use it.” The Michtoms went on to open the Ideal Toy Company in 1907.
Fact #2: Teddy bears were favorite “props” for advertisers, photographers, and illustrators at the turn of last century.
Teddy bears were frequently pictured with children in commercial images that graced walls, magazines, and picture books in the early 1900’s. Bessie Pease Gutmann (1876 –1960), an American illustrator, often included these happy playthings in her work. Her “Delighted” drawing features a toddler in a hunting outfit with a Teddy in tow. Margarete Steiff loved this drawing and had a framed copy of it hanging in her office.
Fact 3#: Roosevelt was not the only President with a stuffed toy created in honor of him.
President William H. Taft (term: 3/4/09 – 3/4/13) was nicknamed “Billy Possum” because of his love of opossum stew. As such, toy companies produced toy opossums to celebrate his inauguration. Not surprisingly, these lacked the appeal of Teddy bears! A few years later, Steiff produced “Dolly Teddies” in honor of President Woodrow Wilson (term: 3/4/13 – 3/4/21). These rarities were red, white, and blue mohair. Today, Dolly Teddies are extremely rare due to their limited production and unusual coloring.
Fact #4: Although their expressions vary greatly, early Steiff Teddy bears were made to specific proportional measurements.
Standard line, prewar Steiff Teddy bears share the following scale. The measurement of the torso from the neck to the crotch is twice the length of the measurement from the top of the head to the neck. The total height of the bear standing is five times the length of its foot, measured from heel to toe. And the arms are quite long and reach down to the bear’s knees, as they were originally designed to be posed on all fours, not sitting.
Fact #5: Teddy bears in bright, gemstone hues were produced by several European manufacturers in the c. 1925 to 1935 timeframe.
These would include examples in green, teal, pink, purple, yellow, and other happy colors. A good example is Steiff’s Teddy Rose, a lovely and feminine cub from 1925-1930, which was designed to reflect the aesthetic ideal of the “roaring 20’s.” If you see a brilliantly colored mohair Teddy bear, chances are it may be from this timeframe.
Fact #6: 20th century Teddy bear companies often used distinctive nose stitching patterns to help differentiate and brand their cubs in the marketplace.
For example, the 1930’s were a heyday period of Teddy bear production for British firms. To give their cubs a unique appeal, Merrythought bears had vertically stitched noses with downward outer stitches; Chad Valley bears had thick, vertically stitched oval noses with horizontally stitched borders; Chiltern bears had vertically stitched nose with upward outer stitches; and Farnell bears had wide, vertically stitched rectangular noses.
Fact #7: Teddy bears often play key roles in book, TV, and movie plots.
A good example of this is “Radar’s Teddy,” from the TV show M*A*S*H. “Radar’s Teddy” was a 1952 Cubbi Cuddle Bear, made by Gund, and the constant companion of “Radar,” played by Gary Burghoff. The original “Radar’s Teddy” from M*A*S*H was sold at auction in 2014, realizing $14,308!
“Radar’s Teddy,” which never had a formal name on M*A*S*H, lives on today through the children’s TV program, Sesame Street. Big Bird’s Teddy bear is named “Radar” in homage to the M*A*S*H bear. He was named by Caroll Spinney, the Big Bird actor who met Burghoff at a taping of the TV show Hollywood Squares. In real life, Burghoff paints birds and is an activist for bird preservation.
Fact #8: Although the market for collectibles down across most categories, Teddy bears did generate six figure sales during their heyday in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The vintage price record belongs to “Teddy Girl” a 1905 Steiff bear with full provenance. She sold for $171,600, more than eighteen times her estimate and twice the previous world record, by Christie’s in 1994 to businessman Yoshihiro Sekiguchi. She belonged to Colonel Bob Henderson, who took her everywhere with him – even to his landing on the D-Day beaches, where he was an adviser to Field Marshal Montgomery.
The modern price record belongs to a new Steiff bear with a full Louis Vuitton wardrobe. This well attired Teddy was purchased by Jesse Kim at Les Teddies de l’an 2000, a charity auction in Monaco, for close to $200,000. This cub now lives in the Teddy Bear Museum in Jeju, Korea.
Fact #9: Teddy bears are adorable, and resistance to their charms is futile.
Research has shown that humans have a natural instinct called “Baby Schema.” This makes adults find certain configurations of body proportions on animals, children, and some inanimate objects irresistible – including Teddy bears! From an evolutionary perspective, this may reflect the need to care for youngsters. These “cute” features include a wide, prominent forehead; a proportionally large, round, symmetrical head; big eyes placed low on the face; soft textures; and a rounded body and features. Many Teddy bear designs, including Steiff’s classic “Petsy,” exactly mirror these features! Seeing cute things also releases dopamine, a “feel good” neurochemical.
Fact #10: Scientists have found that Teddy bears can help in both personal performance as well as community dynamics.
According to research conducted in Japan, people did better on tasks requiring focused attention after viewing cute images. The findings suggest that cute things can be used as “an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work.” As such, have a Teddy with you at all times to insure you are at your best. This author certainly does!
From a community perspective, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review, adults are less likely to cheat and more likely to engage in “pro-social” behaviors when reminders of children, such as teddy bears and crayons, are present. So make sure to bring along a Teddy to your next board, staff, social, or family gathering to insure a pleasant and productive meeting!
About the Author
Rebekah Kaufman is a third generation lifelong Steiff enthusiast. Her personal collection of vintage Steiff treasures numbers north of 1,200. Rebekah’s German grandmother kindled her love for the brand over four 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 she holds today – that of Steiff’s North American archivist. In this role, she leads collector’s events around the country, authors most of the vintage related articles in the biannual Steiff Club Magazine, and authenticates and values 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 Morphy Auctions of Denver, PA as a Steiff and Fine Plush Expert where she identifies, values, and catalogs treasures for the company’s quarterly fine doll and Teddy bear auction events on an as needed basis. Rebekah owns and merchandises Steiffgal’s Vintage Museum Marketplace, 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.”