This old teddy bear belonged to my father, who is deceased. I know the bear is rare and very collectible, but I need to know more. It is about 24 inches tall, has two color glass eyes, and is stuffed with excelsior. - N.A.K., Toledo
Dear N.A.K.: The story of the "teddy bear" starts in two very different places.
One is the woods of Mississippi, where President Theodore - or Teddy - Roosevelt was visiting in November, 1902. As the story goes, the president's hosts took him on a bear hunt, but he was having no luck bagging his prey. Reportedly, a guide then tied a bear cub to a tree and invited Mr. Roosevelt to shoot. The president declined. In November, 1902, a cartoon depicting this scene appeared in the Washington Post. It was titled "Drawing the Line in Mississippi" and it was drawn by Clifford Berryman.
Morris and Rose Michtom of Brooklyn, N.Y., saw Berryman's depiction and decided to create a toy bear in honor of Mr. Roosevelt's decision not to kill the cub. When it was placed in the window of the Michtoms' candy and stationery store, it caused quite a stir.
The Michtoms' "teddy bear" was so popular that, with the help of Butler Brothers, a firm specializing in wholesaling, they founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. to produce the bears and other toys.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Margarete Steiff (1847-1909) was making toy stuffed animals.
Her first, a pincushion elephant, was made around 1880. In 1902, her nephew, Richard Steiff, a former art student, sketched some animals he saw in the Stuttgart Zoo and among them was a bear cub that Ms. Steiff turned into the prototype for a stuffed bear. This bear made its debut in March, 1903, at the Leipzig Toy Fair, and the rest is history.
Unfortunately, the teddy bear belonging to N.A.K. was probably not made during the first years of teddy bear production in either the United States or Germany. A telltale sign that this bear is of World War I vintage or slightly after is the amber and glass eyes that were not widely used until after around 1914.
Toy specialist Rich Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, N.J., said N.A.K.'s bear was American because of its round head, which differs from the somewhat narrower heads typically found on Steiff teddy bears.
The condition of this bear is very good, and the large size is in its favor. There is a tear on the foot exposing the excelsior stuffing (made from wood shavings), and the mohair plush looks like it is dirty or has been exposed to tobacco smoke for decades. With all this taken into consideration, the insurance replacement value for this charming teddy bear is in the $600 to $800 range.
Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at: P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.