Collecting Antiques – How To Identify Early American Teddy Bears

The production of American made teddy bears was a cottage industry response to the importation of bears made in Germany in the early 1900s. Working in their homes and small workshops in and around New York City, American seamstresses worked diligently to meet the public demands for teddy bears. It was estimated there were more than 100 makers of American teddy bears by 1907.

Playthings was the single most important trade magazine for toys at the time. The first company to advertise in the July 1906 issue of Playthings was Keystone Novelty Company. Only the largest companies advertised in this publication. Aetna Toy and Novelty Company, Bruin Manufacturing Company, Columbia Teddy Bear Manufacturing Company, Hecla, and Strauss Manufacturing all advertised their products in Playthings.

The Keystone Novelty Company changed its name to the Aetna Bear of the Aetna Novelty Company in the latter half of 1906. The bears produced and distributed by George Borgfeldt were fully jointed and marked with an Aetna stamp on each right foot pad. The bears originally were produced in seven sizes, which later expanded to nine sizes. Other features that characterized these bears included flat foot pad lined with cardboard, medium length mohair bodies, shoebutton eyes, felt pads of good quality material, and noses made of silk embroidery.

It is helpful that the Aetna Bears were marked since many of the early American made bears were unmarked, making it difficult to identify who produced the bear and what year the bear was introduced.

The Bruin Manufacturing Company, also located in New York City, first advertised their bears in January 1907. The bears produced by this company can be identified by a woven label marked “BMC” in gold. This label was sewn diagonally across the right foot pad of the bear. The bears of the Bruin Company were produced of high quality medium length white or brown mohair. The eyes were made of painted glass with black pupils. The noses were crafted of black or brown embroidery. The bears were soft stuffed and had four claws per paw.

Little is known about another New York based company, Columbia Teddy Bear Manufacturing Company. This company produced the very popular Roosevelt Laughing Bear. The Roosevelt bear was made of short, bright gold mohair and had an open mouth. When the tummy of the Roosevelt Bear was pushed in the mouth would open to show two milk glass teeth. The inside of the bear’s mouth was crafted of red cardboard. The bear was made with either glass or shoebutton eyes, thin felt was used for the paw pads, and the nose was crafted with black embroidery threads stitched horizontally. The toothy smile of the Roosevelt Bear was designed to imitate the toothy smile of Theodore Roosevelt.

The Strauss Manufacturing Company produced a variety of toys and was known as the “Toy King.” The Strauss company produced bears that made sounds when shaken or when a handle, coming out the bear’s back and attached to a music box in the tummy of the bear was turned. This bear was crafted from dense, medium length mohair in brown or white, with soft leather paws and footpads. The eyes were shoebutton and the nose was designed with black embroidery.

By 1908 the popularity of the teddy bear had diminished. The companies that had struggled to keep up with the demand for American teddy bears were vanishing from the New York scene. Non-the-less, these American teddy bears are significant additions to a teddy bear collection.