People are often not aware that collecting vintage teddy bears is not as expensive as they think and it is quite possible to put together a nice collection on a small budget. Only a handful of bears will be sold at auction for six figure sums and the bear must be in perfect condition or come with very important provenance. The majority of old teddies sell for much more modest prices and are often not much more expensive than a manufactured limited edition piece.
Many collectors of bears start with the modern, limited editions of Steiff. Everyone has heard of the name and is aware of the history and the quality. A really early Steiff, even in poor condition, would cost hundreds of pounds but, fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives. The Zotty, one of Steiff’s most popular designs in the post war era, is constantly overlooked by collectors and can usually be found in good condition at affordable prices. Zotty was introduced in 1951 and with his eager, open-mouthed appearance was designed to appeal to children. He was a huge success and Steiff made him in varying styles and sizes well into the 1990s. Collectors tend to go for the earlier examples, such as the 11inch (28cm) one and if you are lucky you might be able find one for under £100.
If Zotty isn’t your thing there is another cut-price vintage option, an Original Teddy, introduced by Steiff in 1950 and made in large quantities and a variety of sizes and styles. The Original Teddy was made from high quality materials and that is one of the reasons why so many are still found in good condition.
While Steiff is the most high profile Teddy manufacturer collectors should also look at some of the other German and European companies. The Hermann company has produced some very fine bears. While early Hermann’s would cost you between £150 and £500, depending on condition and popularity, the later designs are more affordable. There is a lovely 19inch (48cm) teddy from the 1980s made from gorgeous apricot mohair tipped with dark brown and this can often be had for less than £100. Some collectors will be put off by the fact that that it’s from the 1980 and won’t consider this to be vintage enough. They might want to go for a European bear from an unknown maker – there are some lovely examples and they can often be had for between £50 and £60.
If you want to collect British vintage teddies you should look at Merrythought and one of their post war examples in London Gold mohair. These can be found in various sizes and the prices are not bad at all. One to look out for is the Merrythought Cheeky. It was launched in 1957 and soon became a best seller and several other manufacturers produced their own versions. Some collectors are only intersted in teddy bears that are threadbare, what we call ‘well loved’. These are usually from unknown makers and their charm often lies in the expression on their faces. You can pick them up for low prices at auctions.
If you want to start collecting vintage teddy bears you should check out your local auctions and specialist dealers, as well as antique centres and antique fairs. There are also dedicated Bear Fairs which it might be fun to visit. As always, buy what you like rather than hope to find a bear at a small price that turns out to be worth a lot more.