The world’s rarest vintage teddy bears

The nation’s foremost authority on teddy bears highlights the rarest of the rare

Think the teddy bear originated with our “Rough Riding” President Teddy Roosevelt? Think again. In 1888, McLoughlin Brothers published “The Three Bears.” There are three different-colored prints that show a small stuffed teddy bear: one in the kitchen while Goldilocks is getting porridge, one in Baby Bear’s bed and one in a small wagon during a walk with the three bears. The prints were made 15 years before Steiff created the first documented teddy bear. This suggests there were “homemade” teddy bears in existence as early as the late 1800s.

A 1904 Steiff 16-inch Rod bear appears with an X-ray showing the metal rods in hips and shoulders to allow jointed movement.

Steiff is, indeed, the original manufacturer of teddy bears, and artist Richard Steiff was that teddy bear’s designer in Germany, in 1902. The first and oldest model Steiff bear that survives is the Rod Bear. Several museums and private collections have examples of this Rod teddy bear, which has shoe-button eyes and a gutta percha nose and is jointed by internal iron rods. An X-ray is the best way to detect and observe the inside jointing. Made in 1904-1905, it also was fitted with a special button in its ear. Known as the elephant button for the elephant symbol on it, bears with this feature are extremely desirable, and the button adds to the value of this model. To my knowledge, fewer than 50 of these bears exist in collections today. When available at auction, they command from $10,000  to more than $30,000.

Note: Steiff first exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. It was after seeing the metal button and cloth tag in all the live farm animals being judged at the show that Margarete Steiff began a policy of putting a metal button and tag in the left ears of all Steiff toy bears and animals!

Seymour Eaton wrote “The Roosevelt Bears,” which in newspapers and then books created much interest and excitement in the teddy bear world. His dressed literary bears soon prompted Steiff, among others, to offer sweaters and other outfits for everyone’s teddy bear. The scarce early political pin bears made in 1904 sold for 5 cents each. Today they command more than $1,000. The spun-cotton wired Teddy B and Teddy G bears (shown below) may be the only set known to exist today.

A rare pair of 1906-07 5-inch tall Teddy B and Teddy G spun-cotton and wired teddy bears are shown next to the color plate from the 1906 book “The Roosevelt Bears.”

In 1905, Steiff starting selling teddy bears on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and in 1907, the firm sold more than 1 million teddy bears. Steiff was one of only two early, original teddy bear makers that used artists’ designs. Richard Steiff’s designs were of the highest quality and set the standard for all other manufacturers. 10-inch bears were called doll size and were intended as replacements for the little dolls girls played with and as a solid alternative for boys.
An original 1906-07 Steiff as shown in excellent condition, brings up to $500 per inch! A 20-inch bear can be worth $10,000.

Note: Provenance — the known history of a bear, which may include original photos from the turn of the century with the bear and owner — can increase value by up to 50 percent. The documentation and story of an item is a valuable asset.


This beautiful 20-inch white Steiff teddy is from 1911.

Rare colors, special features, limited production and universal appeal all have an effect on value. A white, long-mohair bear in excellent condition brings high prices from collectors (right). A 20-inch white Steiff bear from 1910 would bring up to $15,000 from an interested collector. Tan or honey-colored mohair is the most common, while cinnamon, white and brown are considered more rare and desirable.


This 18-inch German Bing Teddy bear is from 1912.

Gerbrüder Bing of Nuremburg started making teddy bears and mechanical animals circa 1906-1907. They originally were designed by a famous animal painter, Kunz Weidlich, who emphasized the importance of looking lifelike. Bing employed nearly 10,000 toy makers in 1910, making it the largest in the world, by far. Of Jewish-German heritage, Bing eventually was forced into bankruptcy in 1932, but the company left a legacy of some of the finest bears and toys ever made. The quality and detail make Bings among the highest-selling items at auction. The 18-inch cinnamon teddy bear shown (above) is in excellent condition and commands $4,000 and up on the market today. Bing marked its bears in several ways. Those interested in collecting Bing should read the book “Bing Bears and Toys,” which highlights all the criteria for identifying a genuine Bing. Remember, the newest original Bing is from 1932 or earlier.


This 20-inch mint version of the Uncle Remus teddy bear is extremely rare and valued at $5,000 or more.

Joel Chandler Harris wrote the Uncle Remus stories, which some may remember from the Walt Disney movie version. The Uncle Remus teddy bear was made in America in 1906-1907. A special sewing procedure was used for the Uncle Remus bears’ eyes that made them hold their looks and not loosen or fall out.

Uncle Remus featured early dressed bears, who wore boots, as well. I have a photo from 1906 that shows a New York toy show selling rows and rows of teddy bears like this one, marked “UNCLE REMUS.” This 20-inch mint version is extremely rare, and valued at $5,000 or more.


This original 20-inch American Ideal teddy bear was made in 1907.

Ideal Novelty And Toy Company was one of the very early teddy bear and toy companies in America. Thanks again to research by my friend, Charles Moose, I can say without reserve that Ideal was not the maker of the first teddy bear, and it probably was not even the first American maker. Morris Michtom played a great role in the American toy industry and was a beloved benefactor to many less fortunate.

Playthings magazine reviewed Michtom’s life in 1938, when he died. In 1906, Michtom started making bears in a small shop, along with two partners. One year later, he moved to a larger factory facility that measured 50 feet by 50 feet! This was against the urging of his friends, who said he could not compete against the long-established German factories. Pictured at left is a 20-inch, 1906-07 Ideal teddy bear with pointed felt footpads and triangular head, which are features of Ideal’s early production. Though more scarce than Steiff, Ideal bears usually bring 25 to 30 percent of comparable Steiff models. This Ideal is a mint, rare long-haired 20-inch version, valued at $3,000 to $5,000.

This Schuco original Bellhop/Messenger Yes-No teddy bear is from 1920. This was purchased from Skinner Inc. 

Schuco is one of the premier early German teddy bear and toy producers. As a teenager, Heinrich Mueller served an apprenticeship at the Bing Company, then started his own company in 1912. In my humble opinion, the Schuco Yes-No is the single greatest bear toy ever made. Introduced in 1920, it is the first “talking bear” — Schuco also made cats and dogs and birds — although it is nonverbal. Yes-No bears have tails that allow users  to rotate the bear’s head to say yes or no. In an age of storytellers, parents and librarians loved to use Schuco’s Yes-No bears to tell stories.
The Bellhop/Messenger bear, with shoe-button eyes, and a beautiful felt uniform, was a gigantic hit. Over the years, I have seen a typical 12- to 16-inch version command more than $5,000 at  auction. The mint version pictured at right is valued in that area. Glass eyes were used from 1923 onward.


This magnificent 16-inch Teal Blue English Farnell teddy bear is from the Roaring ’20s.

Rare … appealing … and mint! In the roaring ’20s, lively colors were used by teddy bear makers: red, orange, blue and combinations. Farnell made a limited number of turquoise, or teal, teddy bears, as did several other companies. Farnell, however was the “Steiff” of England, and the company also sold its honey-colored bear from Harrods, which Christopher Robin called Winnie the Pooh.
Shown here is an original 1920s turquoise 16-inch Farnell teddy bear that was given as a Christmas gift in 1923 and was never taken out of the paper bag. It is tissue mint, only taken out for the photo you see here. Value? There was one like it a couple of years ago in a Sotheby’s auction, but it was described as faded color and 80 percent mohair coverage, but still cute. It sold for $11,000. The one shown here is perfect. You tell me what it is worth.

Remember: There is no substitute for reading, attending shows and checking with experts who want to help you enjoy what they have already enjoyed for many years. Good hunting!


The real history of the American Teddy Bear

Teddy Roosevelt, on a much publicized Mississippi bear hunt in 1902, acted in a very sportsmanlike manner by refusing to shoot a black bear that had been brought to him essentially as “target practice.”
Cartoonist Clifford Berryman, the renowned Washington Post commentator, drew a cartoon depicting the President with the tethered bear and the phrase “Drawing the line in Mississippi.” It appeared in Washington Post the next day.
Over the next few years that little bear began showing up in many political cartoons with Teddy Roosevelt, and soon Berryman’s little bear, became know as Teddy’s bear. Eventually the apostrophe was dropped and the stuffed toy sensation became officially known by everyone in 1907 as simply “ teddy bear.”
It should be noted that the original cartoon had a very limited release, and that in June of 1907 it was copyrited, in a redrawn and signed form. This release, some 5 years later, is the one which received massive attention by the population.


A museum case featuring original American teddy bears: BMC(Bruin), Hecla, Uncle Remus, Knickerbocker, Ideal Muff, and a blue Ideal.

Ken Yenke, who passed away in 2014, was an author, collector and retired corporate account manager who traveled the world for work and his passion: teddy bears. He authored the books: Teddy Bear Treasury Vol. 1, Bing Bears and Toys and Teddy Bear Treasury Vol. 2. The Chelsea Teddy Bear and Toy Museum is located in Chelsea, Mich.

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