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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Rare early cone-nosed bear; golden mohair; black boot button eyes; pronounced muzzle; circa 1905; 25 inches high; $10,692. Photo courtesy of Christie's, South Kensington
Between the rattles and rocking horse sits teddy bear. Even though he is short on hair, eyes and limbs these days, he remains a loyal and kind confidant.

There’s something about the way teddy looks at you. He was the one who was always around for those dark nights and friendless days of childhood. Maybe that’s why this keepsake of the play room never really loses his magic.

His early days like his charm started simply. Confined to a wheelchair as a result of childhood polio, Margarete Steiff worked with her hands when she grew up. As an expert seamstress in Germany, she focused on children’s clothes.

Steiff never married or had a family of her own but she loved kids and encouraged their visits. One day she stitched a pincushion elephant. Stuffed toys in the 19th century were a rarity and the elephant was a hit with the kids. It wasn’t long before parents were placing their orders for elephants as well as other stuffed animals.

Steiff got so many orders she trained other people to help out. By 1880, Steiff had a mail order business making stuffed toys which eventually became a factory. She was one of the early producers of stuffed teddy bears.

Steiff’s teddy bears were inspired by a 1903 Washington Post cartoon showing President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt with a bear cub. The same year, at the Leipzig Fair in Germany, a New York toy buyer, Hermann Berg saw Steiff’s soft and cuddly bears.

Not the usual felt toys he was used to, Berg was so charmed he ordered 3,000 bears for the department store George Borgfeldt and Co.

Steiff bears were such a hit the factory expanded three times in the next five years. The period between 1903 and 1908 was known as the “Bears Years” in Germany. Production went from 12,000 bears to 975,000 annually.

For many collectors Steiff bears are the real charmers. They’re still being made today. Take Eddy for example. Steiff first produced Eddy around 1903. The blank, nickel-plated button in his left ear tells you he’s Steiff.

Beyond the button, this guy has soft, golden mohair fur and little rounded ears. Add to that his close-set, wooden, shoe-button eyes and a furry humped back. He looks like a distinguished, fuzzy old man.

At the sake of sounding syrupy, this guy is cute. The bald spot on his right arm just might mark the spot where he was hugged a bit too much by his faithful owner. His squeaker no longer works, but who cares.

In terms of collecting antique Steiff bears, collectors seek out the earliest examples like Eddy, especially those bearing the Steiff button. Condition is important which is ironic because so many of these teddy bears belonged to kids. Finding one in impeccable condition is like finding the proverbial hens teeth.

On July 3, 2005, Christie’s South Kensington featured its Teddy Bears auction. Here are some current values for Steiff bears.

Steiff Bears

Edwina; cinnamon mohair; black boot button eyes; circa 1908; 24 inches high; $5,132.

Edward; golden mohair; black boot button eyes; pronounced clipped muzzle; circa 1907; 20 inches high; $5,346.

Rare brown tipped white mohair; blue-and-black glass eyes; circa 1920s; 19 inches high; $6,415.

Rare early cone-nosed bear; golden mohair; black boot button eyes; pronounced muzzle; circa 1905; 25 inches high; $10,692.

Other Antique Bears

Bing; golden mohair; brown and black glass eyes; circa 1920s; 23 1/2 inches high; $9,623.

Ally; extremely rare Highland soldier; made by Harwin & Co., 1st World War; golden mohair; black boot button eyes; circa 1917; 13 1/4 inches high; $12,830.

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