humorpop culture
Teddy Bares All: The Naked Truth about America’s Love Affair with the Teddy Bear
by Marjorie Dorfman

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Collecting teddy bears (Arctophillia) has become an international pursuit. Actor Peter Bull, was one of the most prominent and his fame certainly contributed to making collecting the little darlings as popular a pastime as it is today. He toured the United States with his collection and the teddy bear that appeared in Brideshead Revisited was from his own private stash. Sotheby’s held their first teddy bear auction in 1982. A Steiff Teddy Girl, the most expensive teddy bear in the world, (the equivalent in US dollars of $171,600) was sold at Christie’s in South Kensington, England. Its former owner was Colonel T. Henderson, a leader of the British branch of the organization, "Good Bears of The World" (Unite?). The Japanese collector who bought it is said to have booked the bear on his own first class seat back to Japan!

According to doll expert, Tim Luke, Steiff bears "have become hard to find and very expensive." Teddys are with us all of our lives and on all occasions. They are our friends and playmates as children and become our significant collectibles as adults. Other toys have been popular in their day, the hula-hoop and the yo-yo, for example, but none of them has stood the test of time as the teddy bear. There is neither a holiday nor an occasion that is not marked with a teddy bear, either as part of a card or decoration. They are charmingly ubiquitous and never lose their cuddly warm appeal. You see them bearing shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, hearts on the day of the valentine, flags on the Fourth of July and cheers for Christmas and the New Year, just to name a few. They have so assimilated into all types of advertising that they are almost invisible. (Try going into a card store and counting teddy bears wherever you see them. I tried and I went nuts, even though I have been there (nuts, that is) many times before.)

teddy bearIn the collecting of teddy bears, authenticity, provenance and condition are of paramount importance. "Mohair is still king" claims Tim Luke, "whether the bear was made 100 years ago or today." The first bears were stuffed with wood shavings (wood wool). The paws on early bears of good quality were made from felt; brushed cotton for the cheaper ones. During the 1930s, kapok and wool waste began to be used, although wood wool was almost always preferred for the head. Because of this, a bear with a softer body is unlikely to have been made before 1930. The early bears had boot button eyes. In the 1920s these were changed to glass ones. They also had snouts that were quite long and the nose was usually stitched with silk thread. The nose became progressively shorter until it became the relatively flat one seen today. The original bears also had a pronounced hump, mimicking that of a real bear. This has also gradually disappeared.

With the increase in value of teddy bears, the production of fakes has become a lucrative business. Before you spend your hard-earned money, look at many bears. Visit toy and teddy bear museums. Make sure you are familiar with the overall look of bears of different periods and types. Check that the distinctive features like the length of the snout, type of eyes, hump (or lack of hump) are all consistent with its supposed age and manufacture. Also, make sure that the fabric coincides with the period in which it was made and that any wear and tear is in logical places, such as where the bear would have been held or cuddled. Any wear on the top of the head or the face, for example, should raise a few flags of various colors. Another tip is to smell the little darling. Does it smell as if it was made yesterday or does it have the musty, dusty smell of your grandmother’s attic? (Don’t try this test with fish. Old loses there.)

Today, most American companies have workers in Korea, China or Taiwan make their teddy bears because labor costs are so low there. According once again to Tim Luke, "the true American teddys of today are the artist-made bears. That is to say, these bears are originally designed and made one at a time by craftsmen who tend to give more attention to detail than the larger companies." Because these bears are handmade and distinctive, collectors pay anywhere from $200-$1,000 for one of them. Many of these artist-made teddys are sold by magazines, teddy bear clubs on the Internet and doll shops.

Whatever you decide, your ultimate decision should be to buy the teddy that most appeals to you. This will counter any disappointment you might muster if it turns out not to be the plaything of some Gilded Age aristocrat’s child. It will also lift you to unspeakable heights if it should happen to be authenticated as the original inspiration for Elvis Presley’s pelvic expressions of love eternal. In any case, appreciate or depreciate, the teddy bear is here to stay. Over time they all become more endearing, even if we as adults never really grow up! (I won’t mention any names here. You know who you are!)

Long live Tinkerbelle and the teddy bear!

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