Teddy bears are more than mere soft toys, being cherished by children and adults alike.
The most loved and enduring of all cuddly toys, various teddy bear styles have come and gone over the years. The first teddy bears were those created by Michtom (later Ideal) and Steiff. These early bears were more realistic and less “baby like” than those that came later, with a muscular “hump” between the shoulder blades, thin, curved limbs, a pronounced snout and smaller eyes. Despite these less appealing characteristics, they were popular with both adult women and children – something that’s come full circle!
Today, the humble “ted” is among the most collectible of all toys, with some rare versions selling for thousands of pounds. Some collectibles are a lot cheaper; for example there are antique reproductions of early Steiff and Ideal bears, and “Limited Editions” of modern styles, released for things like the 2012 Olympics. The latter make ideal teddy bear gifts, and can be put away for posterity. Collectors also look out for rare examples of popular modern brands, such as TY INC Beanie Babies, 1980s Care Bears and Me To You Bears Tatty Teddies. While each has been designed as an instantly recognisable brand, they all conform to the basic teddy “template.”
There are two basic teddy bear styles – the classic form with jointed limbs, and cuddly toys which are sewn as one piece (such as Beanie Babies.) Many bears are partially jointed, which is safer for young children, but top quality collectibles have fully jointed limbs and heads. Some teddies have short limbs and large heads, to appeal to babies. However, others have longer limbs and a head that’s more in proportion to the body, making them easier to dress and play with. In recent years, personalised teddy bears which can be dressed in a variety of outfits have become highly popular, being sold as cuddly toys for both adults and children. Originating from a high street craze in which people bought a basic bear and then “built it up” with a variety of accessories, the idea spread to the internet. Today, there are specialised websites selling nothing but personalised teddy bears. Available in a range of colours and sizes, they can be dressed from a “boutique” of different clothes and accessories, with customers able to add an embroidered or printed message. As well as Christmas, birthday and Easter presents, personalised cuddly toys are purchased as gifts for anniversaries, weddings, engagements, baby showers, graduations, house moves, Valentine’s Day and retirements. If you are poorly, a cute plush toy bearing a “Get Well Soon” message is far preferable to a bunch of flowers or grapes.
Early teddy bears had mohair coats, which had a soft silky feel. Glass or boot buttons were used for the eyes, and stuffing was either wood shavings or kapok. As time went on, synthetic materials came into fashion, but there has been a move in recent times to more natural fabrics and fibres. Today, you can buy alpaca, cotton, knitted, crocheted and patchwork teddy bears, stuffed with everything from recycled plastic beads to lavender-fragranced wheat bags.