SAS’ Daniel Agnew Talks Teddy Bears

Rebekah Kaufman
Published on

Special Auction Services will present Teddy bears from across the decades in its September 9th sale

Daniel Agnew, SAS’ Doll and Teddy Bear Specialist Consultant. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.
Daniel Agnew, SAS’ Doll and Teddy Bear Specialist Consultant. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.

It’s a Teddy bear’s picnic – literally – at Special Auction Services’ Grandma’s Teddy Bear Museum sale on September 9th, 2020. This playful event will be held right outside of London and features nearly 350 fine ursine pieces, ranging from early 20th century antiques through modern artist editions. We spoke with Daniel Agnew, SAS’ Doll And Teddy Bear Specialist Consultant, to learn more about this sale and bears as a collectible category.

Auction Daily:  Tell us about the consigner in this sale, and why she is selling this collection.

Daniel Agnew: The consignor is Hilary Pauley, who owns a private Teddy bear museum. You can view it at www.teddybear-museum.com. We first met around seven years ago when she asked me to value her collection for insurance purposes. At the time, these bears were housed in one room of her home. Fast forward a few years, Hilary stepped up her buying strategy and was adding early, American, Bing, and mechanical bears, among others, to her hug.

By then, the collection was housed in a large barn. Due to higher-value pieces, everything needed to be protected behind glass, and she just ran out of room to keep collecting. In 2019, we started talking about holding an auction to manage the collection. I visited a few times, and she selected the bears that she could part with. The bears were photographed in and around her home gardens, then transported to SAS for processing.

We did have a hiccup due to COVID-19.  Everything was halted for three weeks. We were finally able to arrange for the sale to be held on September 9th. SAS carefully follows COVID-19 guidelines. Our facilities are more open, we hold socially-distanced viewings, and we’ve improved our online buying platform.  People can’t seem to get enough. I guess during these sad and weird times, there is no better way to cheer yourself up than to buy a Teddy bear!

Lot #337: Steiff Record Teddy. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.
Lot #337: Steiff Record Teddy. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.

Auction Daily:  Give us the scoop on the top lot in the sale, #337, the Steiff “Record Teddy.”

Daniel Agnew: This is really a lovely example of this rare pull toy, which was made from 1913 onward. I guess production was somewhat slowed during World War I, so they are few and far between. He is wonderful and has eccentric wheels. This means that when he is pulled along, he bobs up and down. Not everyone is keen on wheeled toys, as they can be a little hard to cuddle. But to find one in excellent condition is very nice.

Auction Daily: What can you tell us about the role of color in the mid-century Teddy bear industry?

Daniel Agnew: Post-WWI, I think everyone was a little sad and times were tough. By then, the Teddy bear had been around for almost two decades and was established as the “must-have” soft toy for children. In the 1920s, everyone was looking for ways to reinvent things, to make them fresh and exciting – and brighter. For example, the Jazz age, shorter skirts and haircuts, fabulous cocktails, electricity, and faster travel, were all products of the roaring 20s. Even Teddy bears became more colorful, with nearly every maker producing cubs in pink, blue, red, green, and other rainbow hues.  Today, many of these bright colors have faded, as some dyes were more stable than others, while others were especially appealing to moths.

Lot #305: Red Chad Valley Teddy bear. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.
Lot #305: Red Chad Valley Teddy bear. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.

These colorful bears are always popular with collectors, and the brighter the color, the more valuable they tend to be. This sale includes some colorful examples. Premier ones include lot #15, a Moritz Pappe pink mohair musical Teddy bear, lot #21, a Moritz Pappe blue mohair musical Teddy bear, and lot #305, a Chad Valley red artificial silk plush Teddy bear. 

Auction Daily: Of all the brands available through this sale, Steiff is probably the most recognizable. What other lesser-known Teddy bear makers should our readers be aware of through this sale? 

Daniel Agnew: Hilary’s intention was to build a complete Teddy bear museum. As such, this auction presents a full range of Teddy temptations, including examples from smaller, lesser-known manufacturers to those from big names like Steiff. There are several interesting and unusual French bears by Pintel and FADAP, some with their original maker’s metal ID buttons. Early American bears are also well represented in this sale. These are among Hilary’s favorites, so I was amazed she was able to part with them. These born-in-the-USA bears include a BMC (Bruin Manufacturing Company), three Aetnas, and two Heclas. Hilary and I both love labels, and her event features some bears with great labels. These include a GEE tumbling Teddy bear, an Effenbee Teddy, a Koch bear, and an Acton Toycraft Ltd. Teddy bear.

Lot #174: Mr. Burlap. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.
Lot #174: Mr. Burlap. Photo courtesy of Special Auction Services.

Auction Daily:  And finally, as a Teddy bear collector yourself, which of the lots catch your eye? 

Daniel Agnew: I love Hilary’s collection, and there are many of her bears I would love to adopt. But, you can’t have everything you want, all at the same time, as collecting is a slow, evolving process. Here are a few of her auction lots that really call to me. 

* Lot #1, “Jolyon,” a Terry-type Teddy bear, which has a fabulous presentation and a perfect expression.

* Lot #22, a c. 1930s Pappe Teddy bear cub. I think he’s hysterical, and I’d love him to come home with me as he’d fit well in my small bear cabinet. 

* Lot #39, “Sam,” a c. 1920s British made black and grey Teddy bear, is super interesting and has really unusual fur. 

* Lot # 174, “Mr. Burlap”, an early 20th century felt dressed burlap bear, is a really appealing mystery bear. I’ve never seen him before, so he’s really caught my attention. 

Special Auction Services’ Grandma’s Teddy Bear Museum sale will be held on September 9th, 2020. For more information, and bidding options, visit their website.

UPDATE, APRIL 2021: It turns out that lot #337 of this fine sale – the Steiff Record Teddy – was the real-wheel-deal, indeed! Estimated at GBP 1,500-2,000 (USD 2,600-$2,750), it delivered 32 bids and realized nearly $13,000, including the buyer’s premium! Daniel Agnew of SAS Auctions holds two finely-curated Dolls & Teddy Bear events annually; 2021’s sales include one on June 8th and another on November 23rd. 

2021 might just offer the opportunity for some “Teddy hugs” among collectors in person! The annual Steiff Sommer collectors event in Giengen, Germany, will take place right on the Steiff factory campus on August 13th-15th, 2021. Canceled in 2020, the London International Antique Doll, Teddy Bear and Toy Fair in London is scheduled for the weekend of October 23rd-24th, 2021. This event features seminars, programs, meal events, and gatherings for antique toy enthusiasts and has one of the finest salesrooms imaginable. And on the other side of the pond, the United Federation of Doll Clubs is holding its 72nd annual convention on July 19-23rd, 2021, in Baltimore, MD. Steiff bears and dolls will be well represented throughout the event’s seminars, salesrooms, and displays.   

Despite the COVID-19-related global restrictions on travel, gathering, events, and other social activities associated with collecting and collectors, the market for soft, plush items is the strongest it has been in recent memory. This is especially true with fine Steiff bears, animals, and dolls – where the number of buyers and dollars available for spending – seems to far outnumber the amount of merchandise available for purchase. Bertoia Auctions’ November 12th, 2020 sale featured a c. 1905 Steiff apricot mohair center-seamed bear, which delivered $25,000 on its $10,000-15,000 estimate. Meanwhile, Soulis Auctions’ December 5th, 2020 sale included a set of turn-of-last-century Steiff skittles, which doubled its low estimate to make $16,520. And on March 15th, 2021, a lucky collector added a lovely, pink Steiff bear from the mid-1920s to their hug through a  $15,000 “buy it now” purchase on eBay.

Want to learn more from category experts? Check out Auction Daily’s recent interview with Steiff expert Rebekah “Steiffgal” Kaufman on the state of fine Teddy bear collecting.