Collector'S Corner: How much is that teddy in the window?

Teddy bears are always popular, but they can mean big bucks, too, says Gwyn Jones

The world-record price for a teddy at auction now stands at a staggering £110,000. The top prices are for vintage Steiff bears from Germany, but for those with fewer resources, other areas of this market are worth considering. The outlook is anything but bearish.

Christie's, the main teddy-bear auction house in the UK, held a sale in December and some interesting trends emerged. "We never seem to get enough bears to go round, particularly the better-quality ones such as the Steiffs and the really early bears," says Christie's Daniel Agnew. "The market has now settled down to a steady level - 15 years ago, when it was all starting, you got extremes of prices, when things would sell for four times the estimate and then, next time, sell for less. Now, we are seeing a steady increase in the values."

One fascinating collection under the hammer last month belonged to Clifford Berryman, the man who, it could be said, inspired the birth of the teddy bear as we know it. Berryman was the cartoonist who, famously, drew President Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear cub.

It was from this cartoon that Morris Michtom, founder of the Ideal Toy Company, first created a cuddly bear named after the president. This event coincided with Steiff first producing bears in Germany, which were then imported into America.

Agnew says that lesser- known British bears have started to receive a lot of interest. "British bears are becoming more collected, but it's not really the big names," he says. "During the First World War, we stopped importing German bears, so lots of companies set up overnight. Some of these are rather obscure and, consequently, their bears are rare and are starting to make more money.

"Companies such as Harwin, the Teddy Toy Company, and Terry are sought-after, but the best known is Farnell. Prices have gone up for some smaller manufacturers, but they are still a long way short of Steiff."

Agnew says that the price of rare British bears has doubled in the last five to 10 years, with some fetching up to £7,000. Compare with Steiff (for rarities you can add a nought), and there's clearly room for growth.

"The modern Steiff limited-edition bears, particularly those in editions as low as 1,000, are strong sellers now because there are more Steiff collectors than there are bears," adds Kathy Taylor at Vectis Toy Auctioneers. "To be worth top money, they must have their certificates, boxes and tags. In mint condition, they can go for £1,000. People are realising toys are collectables," she says. "The price of more modern toys is going up because they're within people's memories - they want to buy what they wanted in childhood." It helps that teddies appeal to all ages, and to men and women.

For Agnew, while the meteoric price rises of the Eighties are unlikely to be repeated, the outlook is good. "Bears will prove to be fairly good investments but I think that early British will become more appreciated," he says. "Provenance is important - people love photographs, and if you have a nice one of grandma holding the bear, it can double the value."

Christie's : 020-7930 6074; www.christies.com

Vectis: 01642 750616; www.vectis.co.uk

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