How to... collect teddy bears (understanding the terms of the trade)

12 September 2008
imports_CCGB_kathymartin_69537.gif Kathy Martin
Learn tips from our experts – this month we share expertise on understanding teddy bear artistry. ...
How to... collect teddy bears (understanding the terms of the trade) Images

ANYONE new to the world of collectable teddy bears could be forgiven for feeling slightly bemused by the terminology bandied about by those in the know.

What, for example, is the difference between an antique and a vintage bear? The answer is that an antique bear should be at least 100 years old, while technically vintage bears can be any age other than brand new, although most people tend to classify only pre-Sixties bears as vintage.

Another frequently asked question is, can manufactured bears also be artist bears, to which the answer is no, but they can be manufactured using a bear artist’s original design.

Which brings me to the term that probably causes the greatest confusion: what exactly is the definition of a bear artist?


The simplest answer is that bear artists create their own original designs from start to finish. Every bear starts with a pattern, around which the mohair or other fur is cut out and assembled, and, to justify being called a bear artist a person must devise their own patterns.

Anyone making and selling bears from someone else’s pattern is not an artist, however good their finished work may be.

teddy bear artistry photoThey have the skills to follow the pattern but they do not have the vision necessary to devise a unique creation. It’s the difference between being able to replicate and being able to innovate. 


In today’s competitive marketplace, however, creating an original pattern is not enough. Having developed a particular style, the best bear artists then experiment, tweaking the original design until another unique bear emerges.

They are constantly trying new techniques or altering the position of a bear’s facial elements to discover a new look. Few bear artists are content for their work to remain static – for them the joy of the job is in continually developing and evolving.  


The sheer, breathtaking ingenuity of bear artists deserves far greater recognition than it receives.

When artists want a particular colour that is not available commercially, they hand dye the mohair themselves in order to achieve it. (With top quality mohair costing over £100 per metre, it’s something only an artist sure of their skills can afford to do.)

Many artists like to hand paint their bear’s eyes to make them come alive, and if they don’t want the bear to have a conventional stitched nose they create their own from a variety of materials. 

The price is right

Collectors accustomed to buying limited edition, manufactured bears sometimes look shocked when they see the prices asked for bears created by the very best artists.

Yet if they were buying a framed piece of art, they would expect to pay less for a print than for an original painting signed by the artist, and the principle is the same with teddy bear artistry.

In reality, when the high cost of the raw materials and the countless hours spent developing and creating a bear is taken into account, the prices asked for artist-made bears seem very reasonable indeed.  

Where to see artist bears

Most specialist teddy bear retailers stock at least a few artist bears, but perhaps the best environment to view them in is a teddy bear fair. The annual UK Teddy Bear Guide contains listings of fairs up and down the country throughout the year, and it also gives contact details for lots of talented bear artists.

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