Design Classic: Steiff Teddy Bear

The Steiff Teddy Bear, named after US President "Teddy" Roosevelt, has been a children's favourite for over a century and is recognised worldwide by the yellow tag sewn into every bear's ear.

Designer: Richard Steiff, 1902

Details: Steiff collectors’ teddy bears, from £110, Steiff

It may look cuddly and cosy, but the forerunner of this classic children’s soft toy had a spiky start.

In 1879, Margarete Steiff, a young German seamstress, stitched a small felt elephant, intending to use it as a pin cushion. When local children clamoured to play with it, she spotted an opportunity and founded a business that kicked off a hitherto non-existent soft-toy industry.

One year later, in 1880, Steiff Manufacture was founded and over 5,000 of the little elephants were sold at the nearby Heidenheim market.

Ten years later, monkeys, donkeys, horses, camels, dogs, hares and giraffes had been added to the range and Margerete hired her nephew Richard to join her expanding team. Richard designed the world’s first stuffed toy bear with moveable arms and legs, the “Bear 55PB”, in 1902 and an American buyer fell in love with them at the Leipzig toy trade fair and placed an order for 3,000 – catapulting the grizzly bear to fame.

Steiff collectors’ teddy bears, from £110, steiff.com

The bears began an unprecedented selling success in the USA from 1906 under the name of Teddy Bear (named after the American president Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt), and it soon became a worldwide children’s favourite.

By 1907, Margarete employed 400 employees and 1,800 home workers to produce around 1,700,000 toys – of which 973,999 were teddy bears.

Highly prized examples include the 1904 Teddy Girl and the limited-edition black-clad Teddy in mourning, released after the Titanic disaster, complete with eyes rimmed red from weeping.

Should you find a battered version of either in your attic, look first for the Knopf im Ohr, the yellow tag sewn into every bear’s ear as the sign of authenticity.

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