Great teddy bears and British manufacturers of soft toys

Large teddy bears are a staple in every child’s bedroom or playroom. Due to their popularity and ability to transport you back to when you were young, you can also find them in some adult bedrooms. It’s hard to imagine what a childhood would be like without big stuffed animals, and let’s hope we never have to find out.

The Harwin & Co. Ltd. was a British producer of high-quality soft toys. It was founded by GW Harwin in 1914 in response to the ban on importing German products (where the first stuffed animal was produced) after the declaration of the First World War.

Harwin’s early productions focused primarily on felt dolls, which is why his most famous (and memorable) bears were dressed in the finest felt clothing; they were designed by the founder’s daughter, Dorothy. Ally Bears, as they were called, wore the uniforms of the soldiers and sailors of the Allied forces of World War I, along with those of the Red Cross nurses. While Ally Bears were very successful at the time, they are extremely rare today. While there is little explanation as to why, it could be because they went with many of their owners to the Front and, like their owners, never returned.

Harwin and Co. also produced the Scottish bear that was dressed in all the regalia of the Highlands; it was part of the Eyes Right range of bears, which were so named because of their bulging eyes.

Another British manufacturer of the stuffed toy was Dean’s Rag Book Co. Ltd. which was founded by Henry Samuel Dean in 1903. The company specialized in rag books for children that were indestructible. In 1908, the company went on to create printed cloth bears that were part of its Knockabout Toy series. The bear was made of cotton and had to be cut and assembled at home. A teddy bear rag book was also published in the same year. In 1912 the company moved from Fleet Street in London to South East London and three years later they produced their first mohair teddy bear. The bear had pointed ears and long, jointed limbs and was released under the Kuddlemee brand.

In 1915, the Chad Valley Co. Ltd. introduced a line of teddy bears. The company had started as a bookbinder and printer 95 years earlier and was founded in Birmingham by Anthony Bunn Johnson. By 1889, Johnson, along with his three sons who had joined the business, moved to a new factory located in a nearby town called Harborne. It was here that the Chad Valley brand was born thanks to the creek that ran through Harborne. In 1900, the company’s product range was expanded to include cardboard games. They began to increase their toy production, which was aided by the ban on German imports during World War I. This ban sparked the introduction of stuffed toys with the first teddy bears appearing on the scene in 1915.

Some of The Chad Valley’s bears were initially filled with cork shavings, but that problem was solved when in 1916, the company patented a toy stuffing machine. During the war years, Chad Valley continued to manufacture teddy bears, and by 1920, they had opened a separate location for stuffed toys in Wellington, Shropshire.

Large teddy bears owe a huge debt of gratitude to the teddy’s original creator, Margarete Steiff, along with many of the other companies that followed in her footsteps. Without them, who knows where the great teddy bears would be today.

┬ęCopyright Shelley Vassall, 2010.

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