Teddy bears are some of the world’s most beloved children’s toys, and children’s definitive favorite stuffed animal toy. After its debut it accompanied millions of children to bed, protecting them from bad dreams and demons who they believed visited them in the middle of the night to abduct them. Even today, the teddy bear remains a beloved animal, and a great gift for couples, as well as friends, children, and loved ones in particular.
The popularity of teddy bear toys was preserved so well, that now many collectors hunt to find antique ones and take pride in knowing the first teddy bears that made it to 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, with the first one being 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 did it originate from. Luckily for you, we wrote this guide that will not only help you identify even the oldest teddy bears made to this date, but also evaluate them and find what it’s truly worth without considering an appraiser unless there’s a need to do so.
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 Antique Teddy Bears
Before we get to evaluation and identification, let’s take a brief look at the history of antique teddy bears and how did people come up with them. Whether you believe it or not, the first teddy bear was invented in the USA and was inspired by events and actions that included 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 welcoming and inviting the president to shoot it which he decided to pass as he considered it was not considered sportsman-like behavior.
The event was quick to spread around the world, to the point even a cartoon was created thanks to Clifford Berrman. New York-based shopkeeper Morris Michtom saw this political cartoon and found inspiration in it. H
e worked quite hard to develop a special stuffed bear that he named “Teddy’s bear”, after President Theodore Roosevelt who decided to spare the bear. The bear was sitting at the store’s window where it was quick to grab the eye of many people.
There is even some report that Michtoms and his wife reached out to president Roosevelt’s office to ask for permission to use his name on the teddy bears and after they received the permission, they founded their company where they were making stuffed teddy bears along with other animals.
Just a year later, a Germany-based company started shipping out its own-made teddy bears. Margarete Steiff was making a plush bruin that was initially designed by her nephew Richard who developed it based on the inspiration of zoo-based bears. They were featured at Germany’s toy fair in 1903 and the popularity of teddy bears kickstarted.
Steiff bears were in high demand in both Europe and the USA, with the USA constantly pledging on large orders. Ultimately, these bears officially became known as teddy bears in 1906 after which they were shipped internationally, along with other companies following them.
Interestingly, Steiff continues to manufacture modern teddy bears today, but its antique and vintage variants still live on today. They are sought after by numerous collectors around the world, and 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 state and 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 you, as well as some sort of etiquette that holds 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 overtime or got ripped off the teddy bear.
Unless you researched and visited antique shops, auctions, and antique fairs in the past, you will probably have difficulties identifying your teddy bear, but the good news is that it’s not impossible.
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, as well as model.
- Body shape: Models made in certain years, by certain manufacturers, for certain series have some traits in common. One of them is body shape as well as size. Research different types of teddy bear shapes and who makes which ones. That will simplify the identification.
- Limbs: Depending on the time the teddy bear was made, the overall shape varies. However, it’s worth mentioning that the length of limbs will also be different for different models.
- Materials: You can see that the materials and stuffing quality become more sophisticated as time passes. That being said, focus on the eyes, fur, noses, pads, and the stuffing used inside the bears.
- Muzzle Shape: Newer models have a more deary and familiar shape of the muzzle, which should be a starting point for you to identify different teddy bear models.
Here’s what you should consider with more details.
Identify The Manufacturer
Identifying the manufacturers should be the easiest if you have some piece of label or any mark that could hint at their name. Nevertheless, 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 isn’t that today where all products can look identical, without flaws or mistakes that can make one different than the other. Different manufacturers have quite a specific style of manufacturing 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. Upon seeing pictures of different teddy bears, you’ll have the general picture of what they should look like.
Which Fabric Was Used?
Throughout the decades, different types of fabric and stuffing were used. Initially, the first teddy bear makers referred to Mohair because it felt gentle and soft. It was used for decades until the bear makers introduced acrylic plush during the 1950s.
With some more premium teddy bears, you may stumble upon artificial silk plush that was also available in different colors so that the different and 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.
Nevertheless, 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 wool made out of wool which is recognizable for the crunchy sensation when you squeeze it.
Other materials include kapok 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. The polyester filling was normalized with the 1970s stuffed animals.
Different Shapes Different Time
If you are a teddy bear collector, you can see a visible change of shapes as the manufacturing design approaches the contemporary teddy bears we see on the market. The manufacturing process was less automatized and everything was being made by hand.
That being said, some teddy bears from the earliest days had specific designs on their face, in terms of long 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 more chance it used some sorts of metal discs or pins to join the parts of the teddy bear together. Most metallic parts are being replaced with plastic after the 1960s.
Types of Teddy Bears You Can Collect
While most antique objects and collectibles come in different shapes and types, teddy bears, it’s more applicable to the place of origin. The most common bears were 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 teddy bears were about 19.5-inches tall and had the color of golden mohair. The feet and other limbs were pointy with either a bit flattened or triangular heads.
Something that also distinguished the American teddy bears was a black nose and eyes with longer limbs like arms. Usually, the shoe buttons were used for the eyes, so you’ll be able to identify the first teddy bears from America, which are also among the most valuable ones. 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 for their teddy bears, although the quality of those materials declined during recess and 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 with black button eyes. They also involved paw pads made out of cotton and rounder humps. 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 out by the Steiff company. They have designed different compared to the American teddy bears and were massively shipped into today’s USA. British companies were inspired by the manufacturing that Steiff did.
The first and most distinguishable teddy bears had the label Bear PB 55. They also had a distinguishable metal button that was stitched into their ear, which would mark them. They also had cloth tags that would state the company somewhere around the chest, so those made after 1904 were equipped with those tags, which could help you identify them.
They were made out of golden mohair, but since the company still operates, those newer ones are made out of synthetic fiber. Those after 1906 have four claws as opposed to the original teddy bears that had five, and fixed limbs, whereas models made after 1905 come with moveable joints.
French Teddy Bears
French teddy bears are perhaps the hardest to identify because they rarely contained any labels. Unlike British and American companies, French companies used simpler joining techniques, as to make the bears more dynamic and give them more movement. They used a mixture of mohair and cotton plush for stuffing. If you’re looking for a 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’s value, 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 even reach out to some forums and such, but the satisfaction level upon doing it on your own is immeasurable.
Valuing Antique Teddy Bears on Your Own
Evaluating your vintage or antique teddy bear is relatively similar to identifying it, except that now you know which teddy bear you’re evaluating. 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 age, tear, and damage.
Certainly, the manufacturer plays a great role in evaluating it. Steiff is the most popular teddy bear manufacturer, as well as Novelty & Toy Co., Schuco, and others. Those teddy bears made by one of these companies will have the highest price.
Condition is another thing you should consider, although we mentioned that earlier. 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 storm and chaos that the two world wars caused, which is likely that they have some damage to them, and features that decayed due to both beating and age.
The most important thing to consider is that there has been no irreparable damage, like some unwashable spills, parts of the body missing, or some repairments that are too obvious and too visible.
The best bet you can have is to own an intact teddy bear, although if you can fix it to perfection upon the damage, we’re sure that you can still get a good value out of it. Another thing to keep in mind is unique models. The older the teddy bear, the fewer models there are, making it more unique and valuable on the market.
The manufacturing process of teddy bears was slower than it is today, in most cases, it was also manual so some particular models won’t be available in too many units. If your teddy bear is one of those, the value will be huge.
It’s also worth saying that many teddy bear collectors value it when there’s a label on the teddy bear model, especially if it’s a super-old one. Steiff teddy bears had that plate with the model, which collectors deep important. If your teddy bear has one, the value is even greater.
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 important historical persons were involved. Just take the hunting event with president Roosevelt for example.
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 even more worthy 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 fairly 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 a lot of experts in the field. 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, most of the time you can end up without any new information, and sometimes you can end up even more confused.
The websites serve just as the support while you’re trying to value the teddy bear you’re looking for. However, if you’re unable to make the right value for your teddy bear, the best way is to consult professional services. While general antique dealers and appraisers can help you see whether this teddy bear is real and allow you to have a better understanding of them, other appraisers excel at evaluating teddy bears.
If there are no antique dealers and appraisers in your area, you can look online for antique stores which are the most convenient to visit. Still, we advise you on reaching out to them first so you can ensure that they have an understanding of what you want to check for and whether they specialize in teddy bears.
Finally, learn about the pricing for their services so that you don’t get ripped off, or even worse, scammed.
Where to Buy Antique Teddy Bears?
Of course, antique dealers in your area may have some antique or vintage teddy bears that they can offer you. Nevertheless, what’s much more convenient for you is searching online. You’d be surprised to find so many online antique shops within giant selling sites such as Amazon, eBay, and others.
Below we listed the best marketplaces for purchasing antique and vintage teddy bears. Don’t forget that no online marketplace can guarantee that those are actual teddy bears that 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 all-around marketplace where you can connect to antique dealers based both close and far away from you.
The bad part is that there is always space 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 authentic 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 owned some vintage models from after WW2.
Whatever is your preference, we’re sure that you’ll be able to find at least something that interests you.
Editor’s notes: Be careful with the sellers and make sure they have proven positive reviews. Teddy bears come and go, so make sure not to waste time if you find a good catch.
Amazon – Good Marketplace to Check Out
We’re used to being able to find pretty much anything on Amazon, and now and then, either an individual selling antique goods they found in the attic, or a professional antique dealer can be found selling them.
Unfortunately, goods that are available on Amazon are hardly good to date, 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: Keep in mind that the collectibles you found are likely to disappear fast, because of many interested buyers, that being said, make quick decisions.