We all know what toy bears are and we usually associate them with loving, warmth and caring. Many of us will have had one as a child and many of them become whole life mascots. Many of us keep a bear to hold special memories or remind us of someone very dear to us. Do we know the story of the evolution of our beloved bears?
The first toy dolls date back to 14,000 BC in Japan where dolls were, and still are, very ceremonial. The first dolls in Europe date back to around 2,000 BC found in Pantelleria which is actually nearer Africa than Europe.
It wasn’t until the 1700’s and into the 1800’s that soft toy dolls started to become popular and in the late 1800’s they started to be made in the form of various animals. Bears, as we know them today didn’t really emerge until the early 1900’s, and this is why.
In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA, was invited on a hunting trip. At the end of the day they hadn’t shot a single animal so some of the young rangers found a young bear and invited Theodore to shoot it as his trophy. He refused, being a conservationist and also disagreed with killing a captive animal. This became a big news story.
To jump on the story an enterprising couple, Morris and Rose Michton of Brooklyn, made a stuffed toy in the form of a bear. Theodore’s nickname was Teddy, so the Michtons named the bear, Teddy’s Bear. In 1903 the Michtons started a good business line in Teddy’s Bears and the craze spread all over the States and Europe.
In 1880 Margarete Steiff started a business making stuffed animals with the original idea of them being used as pincushions. In 1903 she heard about Teddy’s bear and started to make them and the craze developed across Europe.
An original Steiff Teddy’s Bear (Rod) from 1903
In 1907 two northern mill owners ( Holmes & Laxton ) started a new mill to spin Mohair. Mohair is the wool from the Angora goat which originally came from Central Asia although it is produced all over the world now particularly in Texas and South Africa. Mohair is incredibly soft and is warm in winter, cool in the summer and is great for moisture wicking. It also takes in dye extremely well. In fact the ideal material for making Teddy Bears!
So in 1908 the family firm J K Farnell & Co Ltd made the first British Teddy Bear using this wonderful Mohair.
In 1930 Gordon Homes from the Mohair Mill joined forces with some leading soft toy specialist and founded Merrythought Toys and started to make soft toys including Teddy Bears with their, now very famous, Mohair.
They employed a fantastic seamstress, Florence Atwood, who had lost her ability to hear or speak, but spoke volumes with her capabilities of design and stitching. And so, in 1931 their first Teddy Bear, Magnet, was produced.
Today the Merrythought factory in historic Ironbridge produces some of the most prized and collectable bears in the world and, of course, still using that famous Mohair. It is now still run by the Holmes family, by the two sisters Sarah and Hannah.
Their bears are of the very highest quality and are collected by a huge fan base all over the world.
The very beginning of this story with Theodore invokes the connection between Teddy Bears with compassion and caring as well as expressions of love. This was brought to the fore in the 1980 with film and television promoting the Care Bears which are still favoured today.
An ‘Always With Me’ Bear
It is with all this in mind that Footprints & Whispers started to work with Merrythought to offer a very special, meaningful and caring memory bear called ‘Always With Me’ Bear.
This memorial bear has a deep and loving secret! …In his back is a very secret concealed zipped pocket. In here, he will keep very special memories for you such as hair or ash from someone very close who may have passed away. Maybe a wedding ring. Maybe a special piece of jewellery. He can also conceal a piece of our Memorial Jewellery containing the ashes or hair of a loved one.
He will be there for you in those lonely quiet moments when you can hold him and his deep secrets whilst you remember those very special moments. He will comfort you and he won’t tell a soul about what you whispered to him or about that tear that softly trickled down your cheek.
We are currently running a special offer of 5% off all our memorial keepsakes when bought at the same time as the ‘Always With Me’ Bear.