The life and work of UK teddy bear artist Paula Carter.
Visit my website: www.allbearbypaula.com
Wednesday 1 March 2023
Teddy bears, a British tradition
TEDDY BEARS, A BRITISH TRADITION.
As a British teddy bear maker, no matter how many years of bear-making and design I tuck under my belt, I never cease to be inspired by the traditional teddy bear. He holds such a special place in my heart and of course, even more importantly, in the history of British toy-making...
The first teddy bear, manufactured in the United Kingdom at the turn of the twentieth century around 1906, was created by leading toy manufacturer of the time, JK Farnell, originally a silk merchant producer of small textile goods in the 1840's.
The family firm of J K Farnell Company Limited holds particular significance within the British soft toymaking history, not only because it was the very first British toy company to manufacture teddy bears but also because it created the actual teddy bear who inspired A. A. Milne to write his famous Winnie the Pooh stories, first published in 1926. J.K. Farnell became the most respected and influential soft toy manufacturer in Britain and the superior quality of the company's products ensured it huge success internationally.
In 1908, the rival Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company, established a factory in the beautiful Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire and in 1915, produced its first teddy bear, a funny googly eyed fellow with dressed cotton body and mohair head and paws, boldly titled 'The Master Teddy'. He soon paved the way for a fabulous range of handsome mohair teddy bears named 'Chiltern Hugmees', sturdy teddies with distinctive large heads and drumstick legs, still very much sought after by collectors today, a century since the first Hugmee was created.
The British public fell head over heels in love with the teddy bear, which is probably why many were kept in attics when their owners grew up and are still found in dusty boxes today. In the first half of the 20th Century, mohair teddies were manufacturered throughout the United Kingdom in all manner of sizes and styles, by famous and lesser known companies such as Farnell, Chiltern, Merrythought, Deans, Omega, Terry, Chad Valley, Aneeta, Twyford, Pixie, Invicta, Hammond Manufacturing Company of Stoke on Trent, Harwin & Co... the list goes on. The teddy bear became an iconic toy, comforting generations of children through the difficult war years and beyond.
Sadly, by the end of the 20th Century, despite surviving challenging economic and supply problems presented by the war years, our toy making companies could not compete with cheap teddy bears imports from China, so almost all were forced to cease teddy bear production. Today, of the thirty or so teddy bear factories that once existed in twentieth century Britain, only one remains. The Merrythought Company Ltd, founded in 1930 still produces teddy bears in the traditional manner, from its factory in Ironbridge, at the heart of the Shropshire hills.
Despite the dramatic change in fortune for teddy bear manufacturers from the 1960's onwards, the British teddy bear is still very much heralded as a treasured toy. Teddy bears produced throughout the past century have become significant collectibles and independent teddy bear designers such as myself, continue to create personal tributes to the traditional teddy, to help ensure the heritage of the British teddy bear for future generations to cherish.
If you are wondering who the traditional teddy bear in the photograph is, I am proud to tell you he is my latest traditional teddy bear creation, created as a special commission, to celebrate a collector's 50th birthday. I hope he is a fitting tribute to over a century of British teddy bears!