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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teddy Talk

Hey all!
My name is Michelle of Handcrafted Teddy Bears by Michelle and I am a bear artist, a collector and a restorer of vintage teddies! My dear friend Tracy asked me if I would like to contribute to The Sunburnt Cow blog and I was, of course, only too happy to accept her invite! Thanks Tracy!

I previously contributed to one of her other blogs “Handmade Teddy Bears and Raggedies” with a post about how I got started in the booming teddy bear business and we took a fun trip down “Memory Lane” with some photos of classes I used to teach and some special bears I made along the way!

This time, however, I’m excited to talk about some of my favourite antique bears….sorry, not mine, personally…oh my, it would be an honour to actually own even one of these bears! No, these bears are part of some very extensive collections throughout the world and certainly deserve the attention that has been bestowed upon them throughout history!

Teddy bears have been a childhood favourite for over one hundred years now! Some say that it all began with President Theodore Roosevelt (nicknamed “Teddy”) who was rumoured to have refused to shoot a live bear cub that was tethered to a tree by his attendants and in turn solidifying his place in history as the “Father of the Teddy Bear”. There are many versions of that rumour but we’ll just stay with that for now.
Others will tell you that it all began with the famed Steiff Toy Company and its founder, Margarete Steiff where her nephew, Richard Steiff , a well established artist in 1902, created the very first Steiff bear who would be known only as "55PB" (55 cm tall, sitting, P = plush, B = jointed ["beweglich" in German]). The debate still rages on even after all of these years!

No matter how teddy bears came to be, they’ve become one of the world’s most beloved and treasured toys not to mention one of the hottest collectibles around! As I'm sure most of you are aware, the "artist bear world" is a very big world but perhaps you didn't know that there are some even more famous bears out there? While there are many vintage teddy bears we could talk about, only a few really capture the attention of major collectors around the world such as Paul and Rosemary Volpp, Sue Pearson and others.

Let’s begin with my absolute favourite antique teddy bear…
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Happy is best known for being one of the world’s most expensive teddy bears! In 1989, collector Paul Volpp paid the incredible price of $86, 350.00US for this special teddy bear at the famed Sotheby’s auction house in London! He then presented the bear to his wife, Rosemary as a gift for their anniversary! While he was not able to attend the auction, he had a representative take his place. During the auction, he received a call from that representative to say that the original amount he was willing to pay had been outbid and without a word…Mr. Volpp said to him “get that bear!”
The history of this particular bear, her rarity and size were defining factors in her high price! She has since “paid her dues” as a “charity” bear raising thousands of dollars for several different causes!

“Winnie The Pooh”
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This special bear actually belonged to author A. A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin! The history of “Pooh” is a popular one which really bears no repeating here but I can tell you that this original teddy bear spent a good portion of his life with the real Christopher Robin. He was then sent to the publisher of the now famous Winnie the Pooh stories, E. P. Dutton after Milne died and since 1987, has been on display at the Donnell Library Center of the New York Public Library!

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In 1908, the Grand Duke of Russia commissioned the Steiff company in Germany to make a special teddy bear for his daughter Princess Xenia Georgievna. It was to be made from an unusual red fur. Her Nanny made him a lovely outfit and the Princess named him Alfonzo. In 1914, the Princess took her bear with her to England where she stayed with relatives at Buckingham Palace. Due to civil war in Russia and the subsequent assassination of her father, the Princess never returned but the bear remained very dear to her heart. After her death in 1965, the special bear went to her daughter and then was auctioned off at Christy’s auction house in London garnering a hefty price of nearly
$20, 000.00US
This very important bear is said to be residing at Teddy Bears of Whitney in the United Kingdom.

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This extraordinary teddy bear is one of the lesser known famous bears but surely deserves a place in history alongside his counterparts! Fritz was found under some dusty old floor boards in a hut that was occupied by a German prisoner of war during World War II. Once cleaned up, it was discovered that he was a 1906 Golden mohair-plush Steiff bear!
Although he was discoloured and worn, he was found completely decorated with German and British badges! It’s not known where he resides to this day.

“Fire Guard Bear”
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Perhaps one of the most impressive bears, to me is this one! He was the “mascot” bear to the London Fire Brigade during the “Blitz” of London in World War II! He is a very rare 1906 golden mohair-plush Steiff bear who was found in near excellent condition with the exception of some singed paws. He must have seen his fair share of firefighting during a horrible time in history. This lucky bear now resides at the Cotswold Teddy Bear Museum in the United Kingdom!

And finally…
”Mr. Whoppit”
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Merrythought, one of my absolute favourite bear manufacturers of all time, made “Mr. Whoppit”. This particular bear, photographed here, led an amazing life during the 1950’s and 1960’s when he was owned by daredevil “Donald Campbell” who broke many speed records on both land and water! Unfortunately, it all came to an abrupt end in 1967 when Mr. Campbell was killed in England on “Coniston Water “during one of those record breaking moments! Mr. Whoppit, who accompanied him on almost all of his death defying attempts, was the only one whose “body” was recovered.

Teddy Bears spell comfort and security. They remind grown-ups of the happiest times of their childhood. There’s nothing threatening about him ~ he never yells back. It’s comforting to have something around that’s lived with you all of your life. And still likes you .~ Dr. Leonard Kristal

I hope to continue this wonderful story very soon…there’s always a vintage bear or two to talk about!

Before I go, I would like to invite you over to my blog to take a peek at my latest creations or perhaps to read about my latest teddy bear restoration projects and also to my Etsy shop where you can see, not only the handmade teddy bears I am offering but some great vintage bears as well!
And finally, I will be hosting another great giveaway (the prize being one of my own handmade teddies as well as a great vintage item to accompany the bear!), starting September 15th! I haven't quite figured out, yet, which blog I will host that giveaway from as I host two but you'll be among the first to know when I do!

Thanks so much for stopping by and thanks, again, Tracy for this fun opportunity!
Now go hug your bear!


  1. What an interesting article on bears!! My mother was a great collector of bears, old and new, and she would have LOVED this post! as do I! Thanks Michelle! I learned a lot!

  2. Absolutely great feature...thank you...I LOVE old bears!! Smiles & Hugs ~ Robin

  3. Hi Michelle! You did a great job on this post. I LOVE the old teddies. They have so much charm and mystery to them. I would love to hear their stories. Hugs, Vicki