Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The great teddy bear shipwreck mystery

n 1903, 3,000 teddy bears were sent by ship from Germany to America only for them to disappear. Some claim the bears were the first ever made and would now be the most valuable in the world. So what happened to them?

In the Steiff museum, in the German town of Giengin, the mystery of the missing bears is explained to the visiting children with a tale that they were lost at sea.

The idea of shipwrecked teddy bears captures the imagination, but is it true?

The company was established by seamstress Margarete Steiff in the 19th Century. In 1880, needing a present for a nephew, she found a pattern for a toy elephant and made it from soft felt. Drawn to how soft and cuddly they were, children in the neighbourhood were soon asking for elephants too.

She started to make the elephants alongside her dressmaking business but it was her nephew Richard Steiff who came up with the idea of a toy bear.

As a student at art college in Stuttgart he used to visit the zoo and sketch the bears. At the zoo they had cross-bred brown bears with polar bears and these became the inspiration for his first life-like toy bear.

"Before the bear, children were playing with porcelain dolls, soldiers, tin toys. They were hard and cold and Richard wanted to give children a companion that they could hold," explains Leyla Maniera, a former bear expert at Christie's and consultant for Steiff.

Steiff's first bear was called 55 PB. The 55 stood for its height, P stood for plush and B for beweglich, German for moveable. (more)