Steiff teddy bear (1910)
Steiff teddy bear (1910)

The first stuffed toy to be called a “teddy bear” was introduced in 1903 by Morris Michtom who created a stuffed bear to commemorate an incident in which President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt had refused to shoot a young bear during a hunting trip. Michtom’s teddy bears were enormously popular and formed the basis for the creation of the Ideal Toy Corporation. 

The credit for creating the teddy bear must, however, be at least equally shared by Margarete Steiff, a German polio victim who made stuffed toys as part of her dressmaking business. In 1902, she decided to try to sell a few stuffed bears that she had made including a bear designed by her son, Richard. They were so successful that, by 1908, the Steiff factory was selling well over a million bears a year.

From 1904, every Steiff bear had a metal button attached to its left ear.  At first the button was small, made of pewter and bland. Later the name Steiff was inscribed in Roman letters and, later still, in script lettering on a chrome button, then brass and then a grey-painted button. However, the company sometimes used old stock buttons so that this is not a completely accurate guide to dating. Beneath the button is a label which also changed over the years – before 1926 it was white; from 1926 to 34, red; from 1934 to 50, yellow; and after 1950, white-and-yellow or black-and-white.

Other important German manufacturers of teddy bears include Getbruder Bing. Their wind-up mechanical bears that walk, climb or tumble are especially collectable. Bing bears have a metal tag marked “GBN” (Getbruder Bing, Nuremburg) before 1919 and “BW” (Bing Werke) after 1919.

 The leading manufacturer of teddy bears in Britain was Chad Valley, which made bears in a wide variety of styles and qualities from 1920. Early bears have a tinplate label marked “Chad Valley Hygienic Toys” and a black woven label with red lettering reading “Hygienic Toys Made in England by Chad Valley Co Ltd” attached to the foot.

In Australia, toy koala bears were made from the 1920s. At first, they were made from koala skins, but this practice was outlawed in 1930 after which they were usually made from kangaroo hide. They were straw-filled with glass eyes and leather noses and paws. They were tagged on the bottom of the foot or, later, with a tag sewn onto the leg.

Vintage teddy bears available now
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