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RMS Titanic commemorative bear released by Danbury Mint

Kathy Martin

Posted on 29 Feb 2012

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In this, the age of the collectable teddy bear, any noteworthy anniversary can be relied upon to produce at least one or two limited edition commemorative bears. With the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic fast approaching, 2012 is likely to see a veritable deluge of Titanic teddies hitting the marketplace. Already announced is a limited edition black bear made by Steiff exclusively for Danbury Mint (pictured top right), and this surely represents – with apologies for the pun - just the tip of the iceberg. And if, as I suspect, arctophiles are going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to Titanic commemorative teds, they will perhaps be encouraged to know that there is a genuinely strong historical connection between the RMS Titanic and the teddy bear.

Gaspare Gatti’s bear
Documented accounts exist of two toy bears that survived the Titanic disaster. The first belonged to Gaspare Gatti, the catering manager on the ill-fated White Star liner. A small golden mohair teddy, believed to have been made by Bing, it was given to Gatti by his son Vittorio and was with him when he embarked on the Titanic. Sadly Gatti was among the many that lost their lives when the ‘unsinkable’ liner struck an iceberg. But, against all odds, his bear was recovered, apparently tucked inside his coat pocket. It was later returned to his widow, Edith Gatti, and subsequently dodged destruction a second time when Mrs Gatti’s house was struck by a bomb during the Blitz. Fortunately, the Gatti family also survived this incident.

From 1990 to 1995 the bear belonged to the Ribchester Museum of Childhood but following the closure of the museum it was bought by an anonymous collector. However, in 1992, to mark the 80th anniversary of the disaster, English toy manufacturer Merrythought produced a limited edition Titanic Bear that was inspired by Gatti’s bear. Presented in a special display box, it was produced in a limited edition 5,000, a very large edition that nevertheless sold out quickly. Today Merrythought’s version of Gatti’s bear is highly sought after on the secondary market.

Titanic polar bear
The second ursine survivor of the Titanic was a Steiff polar bear that belonged to a young American boy called Douglas Spedden. His wealthy family travelled a great deal and were returning to America from France aboard the Titanic on the fateful night of 15th April 1912. Unlike many, the Speddens were lucky enough to be put in a lifeboat. At this point Douglas still had his beloved bear with him but somehow it was left behind when the family boarded the rescue ship. Fortunately, the young boy was later reunited with his bear.

His mother, Daisy Corning Stone Spedden, wrote a charming and detailed account of the traumatic event, told from the bear’s perspective, for the benefit of her young son. Very sadly, he was destined to die young despite surviving the Titanic disaster and the story of ‘Polar the Titanic Bear’ lay dormant until a Spedden relative discovered it in an attic and had it published in 1994. Still available today from Amazon and certain specialist book dealers, it is well worth seeking out.

The following year, FAO Schwarz issued a 101/2in Steiff replica of Polar in a limited edition of 1,000, while three years later Steiff themselves issued a slightly smaller version in a limited edition of 5,000.

'Mourning' bears
Although the Gatti and Spedden bears actually survived the sinking of the stricken liner perhaps the most famous bears with a Titanic connection are the 494 black ‘mourning’ teddies created by Steiff for the British market shortly after the tragedy.

When Sotheby’s auctioned a very fine example in 1990, Ian Pout, owner of Teddy Bears of Witney, paid over £24,000 in order to make the rare bear called Othello his own. A decade later, when another of the black Titanic bears came under the hammer at Christie’s, the price was even more extraordinary.

This particular example created a stir because of its fine condition – apparently the original owner had not cared for the bear and had relegated it to a wardrobe, thus preserving it for posterity.

Apart from a small hole in a foot pad and a slight thinning of the fur on its head, it looked virtually pristine and it was this, combined with the prevalent craze for all things Titanic that led Christie’s teddy bear specialist Daniel Agnew to predict an exciting sale.

PICTURED LEFT This black Steiff mourning teddy, c.1912, sold at auction in 2000 for over £91,000.

The catalogue estimate for the bear was £15,000 to £20,000 but Daniel was quietly confident that it would do better than that, although even he was probably unprepared for the end result. As it was, condition, rarity and the Titanic association combined to create a saleroom sensation. After some frantic bidding between a telephone bidder and someone in the saleroom, the hammer came down at over £91,000 (with buyer’s premium included) and a new record had been set for one of the ‘Titanic’ bears. Since then Steiff has produced a number of replicas of these mourning bears in different sizes and editions. Check with specialist Steiff retailers for availability and look out for them on the secondary market.

This article was first published in Collectors Gazette's March 2012 issue. To see which issues of Collectors Gazette are available to buy online, click here

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