The teddy bear is now such an established emblem of childhood, it is easy to forget that the first teddy was only made a little over a hundred years ago. Who amongst us today grew up without a charming bear companion? For so much childhood comfort, we have Margarete Steiff to thank.
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Margarete Steiff, born in mid-19th century Germany, battled childhood illness to open her own little sewing shop in her home town making clothes and homewares out of felt. However, it was when Margarete made a pin cushion from a pattern for a model ‘Elefantle’ she had seen in a magazine in 1879 that the course of her life was set. Her little felt elephant proved very popular as a children’s toy and six years later, with the help of her brother, over 5,000 had been sold.
The little business grew and grew, and by 1892 Steiff was producing a whole catalogue of soft animals of the finest quality – indeed Margarete worked under the belief that ‘only the best is good enough for children’. In 1902 the first bear was created - not by Margarete herself, but by her artist nephew, Richard. Inspired by the bears in Stuttgart zoo, Richard designed the world’s first toy bear with jointed arms and legs, in cuddly mohair plush.
The bears were an immediate success, particularly in America, where from 1906 onwards they were sold under the name ‘Teddy Bear’ after US President Theodore Roosevelt. Soon many imitations came on the market, and the signature Steiff Button-in-Ear was trademarked.
Steiff bears continue to be made today, but it is the older models that attract the highest prices at auction; and if an old bear comes with a history, or even a photograph with its original owner, the value is greatly increased.
A good circa 1911 Steiff Yellow Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear is coming up on the 9th February in the Costume, Accessories & Textiles Sale. View Lot.
2nd March 2024, 09:30
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