Antique and Collectible Teddy Bears

Steiff teddy bears

Morphy Auctions

The origin of the teddy bear dates back to 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt took a little hunting trip down in Mississippi. When he refused to shoot an exhausted bear tied to a tree, declaring it to be unsportsmanlike, the Washington Post reported the event.

An ensuing editorial cartoon drew national attention and before long, an enterprising Brooklyn merchant capitalized on the opportunity. Shopkeeper Morris Michtom's wife handmade several plush toy bears stuffed with excelsior and decorated with black shoe button eyes. With Roosevelt's knowledge and blessing, they were dubbed "Teddy's Bears." The fuzzy bears gained popularity and as demand increased, Michtom relocated his business to a larger space and renamed it the Ideal Novelty and Toy Corporation.

About the same time, Steiff began producing jointed stuffed bears in Germany. An American buyer viewed them at the 1903 Leipzig Fair and imported several thousand to sell in the United States. Now collectors clamor to find these treasures, many marked with a distinctive button in the ear. Updated versions of Steiff bears are still being made, and most are just as nicely crafted as the old ones.

Other companies have produced teddies throughout the years, including Bing, and Farnell, which can also be very expensive when found in excellent condition. Faithful collectors tend to love them all, even newer bears. 

Newer Collectible Bears

One interesting concept provides a superb use of unwanted or damaged mink coats (or even faux furs) turning the pelts into bears. On their website, Stadler Furs offers a variety of hand-fashioned mink bears with tons of personality. The service isn't cheap, topping $200 per custom bear, but the result is extraordinary. Made with movable joints and high-quality components, these lovable bears simulate vintage styles adding charm and character to their appearance. These make wonderful family heirlooms when they are fashioned out of a special fur coat.

For a more affordable fur alternative, some collectors seek a brand of bears called "Rare Bears." These cuddly creatures, made with mink, came in a variety of color combinations and show up on the market fairly frequently since they were produced in the early 2000s. Of course, with each passing year, they get a bit harder to find.

Other newer bears, such as the Boyd’s series of stuffed bears, offer a wide array of characters. Many of them have holiday themes, while their companions mimic human poses and personalities. The attention to detail and clever costuming make these bears a desirable and welcome addition to many modern collections.

​And, of course, there are a variety of Beanie Babies that look like mini teddy bears. Yes, they do still have their fans after more than 20 years. One of the most expensive today is a colorful version made exclusively for Ty, Inc. employees. That particular example can sell in the thousands if you're lucky enough to find one. Other Beanie bears can be found much more reasonably priced starting at a few dollars everywhere from thrift stores to online auctions.  

Starting a Teddy Bear Collection

Even the most simple bear styles appeal to collectors. Often starting out with a childhood friend, teddy lovers begin to amass a collection built around cherished memories. The most important aspect of adding to a collection comes with choosing things you'll enjoy owning, just as you enjoyed saving that special bear all those years.

Many people wonder what to keep for their children to have when they grow up. Knowing you can't salvage everything, how about choosing one favorite teddy bear or other stuffed animal? Who knows, one day it may offer the foundation for a special collection to be passed on to future generations.

And remember, it's never too late to start a collection. If you've been eyeing a cute teddy thinking you might like to own it, get into the spirit of collecting and take the plunge. It doesn't have to be expensive, just loved.