Young or old, male or female, just about everyone loves teddy bears. Most people recall having one when they were a kid. That's one reason why teddy bears are not just lovable but also highly collectible in the toy market.
Antique collectors, especially those who crave Americana items, find that teddy bears have the "good old days" written all over their curly little bodies.
Big names in bears include Steiff, Knickerbocker, Gund, Hermann, Boyd and other toy manufacturers, plus the handmade work of artisans. Bears of every color, size and personality are available, so a collector can be entertained for years.
This Steiff bear is a charmer and proudly displays his tag, which includes the all-important button sewn in his ear, a trademark found in all Steiff bears after 1905.
This 20-inch plush bear has had a place in the home of columnist Maureen Zambito for many years. If any reader has a clue to its identity, contact Zambito.
America fell in love with teddy bears in the early years of the 20th century after German toy manufacturer Margarete Steiff, an expert seamstress and toy maker, introduced a stuffed bear as one of her company's new toys at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903. An American buyer ordered a remarkable 3,000 of them!
The buyer knew that not long before, President Teddy Roosevelt, famous for his hunting, had refused to kill a captive bear cub, presented to him as a sitting target when he failed to get a bear during a hunting trip in Mississippi.
Roosevelt was in Mississippi helping with a border dispute when he "drew the line" at killing the sitting target. The incident was immortalized in a famous political cartoon by Washington Post artist Clifford Berryman.
No wonder teddy bears are beloved in the USA!
About the same time as the Roosevelt incident, two Russian immigrants in the United States, Morris and Rose Michtom, began making a jointed bear and they came up with the idea of calling it "teddy," after the president.
They were granted permission to use Roosevelt's name. Our bears became known affectionately as teddy from then on. These two ambitious toy makers went on to found the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. Ideal continued to create bears but quickly turned to dolls and became famous for its Shirley Temple, Betsy Wetsy and Patti Playpal dolls.
One of the most famous teddy bears for Baby Boomers is Smokey the Bear. My older brother, David, had one, and I remember his funny pants (the bear's, not my brother's!). Of course, Smokey is the U.S. Forest Service's mascot for forest-fire prevention and remains an advertising icon today.
Teddy bears are lovable, which is why I can't seem to get rid of a vintage one that arrived in my house years ago, that dates to the mid-20th century. A 20-inch model with brown plush body and cream-colored belly, nose, ears and paws, he's got huge button eyes that would be collectibles in their own right! The button eyes seem to be replacements for some that disappeared over the years. Like so many vintage bears, he has no tags or marks to identify him as anything more than a beloved toy, so he's hard to put a dollar value on, but the charm is evident.
If you're looking to collect bears in a serious manner, tags and original box are important since, with toys, these packaging items are rare and add greatly to value. For lots more on teddy bears, visit collectorsweekly.com, an informative website that gives a great overview and links to auction items found on eBay.
For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing in care of this newspaper.