It was love at first sight and you could tell instantly that the woman standing starry eyed at the end of the collectors’ fair stall was never going to be able to resist the two plush Teddy bears waiting to be taken home. The deal was struck and money swiftly changed hands, but it was what happened next that was the most intriguing.
The stallholder handed the woman her purchases, having shoved them somewhat haphazardly into a plastic shopping bag. One Teddy was up, the other one was down with his head somewhere at the feet of his companion. Clearly for them it was going to be an uncomfortable journey home.
Not a bit of it. Here was a collector who cherished Teddy bears and their lives under her care were obviously about to improve. She walked a discreet distance away from the stall and then had her partner hold the bag so that she could rearrange its contents. When she had finished, both Teddies were the right way up and with their heads sticking out of the bag, their new owner having ensured they could see where they were going!
But then Teddy bear collectors are like that. When they buy an addition to their collection, it becomes a new member of the family. They give it a name and like the woman with the shopping bag, they ensure that its comfort and well-being are not compromised. I know one collector who gives each of her Teddies its own individual little chair.
The best known, and arguably the most important maker of collectable Teddy bears was the German company Steiff, founded in 1880 by Margarete Steiff, followed by next best known: Gebruder (brothers) Bing. British firms Chad Valley, Merrythought and Dean’s came to the market later but their products are no less charming and often valuable.
The name Schuco is not among the first Teddy bear makers that comes to mind. The company was founded in Nuremberg in 1912 by Heinrich Muller, a former employee of Gebruder Bing, and Heinrich Schreyer, and ex-furniture salesman. Instead of Teddies, the company is probably best known for a selection of novelty tinplate mechanical toys.
The First World War proved to be an early setback to Schuco when, in 1914, both partners were conscripted and the factory closed. Another setback came shortly after resumption in 1918 when Schreyer left a company because he saw no future in toy making!
He was replaced by new partner, Adolf Khan, a wholesaler who understood the toy market and how to achieve the best results. Muller was the mechanical brains behind the business and it was he who both invented the toys and developed the tooling that would produce them.
They included a clockwork Charlie Chaplin figure wearing his famous Little Tramp outfit and carrying his trademark walking stick. Wind him up and he would walk with the familiar wobble, twirling his cane just like Charlie did.
Charlie’s signature gait was caused by an ingenious asymmetrical governor in the clockwork mechanism and similar devices featured in a boxer with a punchball; soldiers and sailors drinking out of beer steins and other figures playing violins or drums, juggling or climbing ladders. Interestingly, some of these were wound by turning an arm rather than a key.
In the 1920s and 30s, the firm also made a dancing mouse, a trotting dog which for some reason wore a cape, a so-called “Turn Back” car which could detect the edge of the table and therefore never fall off and a “Steerable Driving School Car” which had rack and pinion steering and its own miniature toolkit.
Another amusement which appeared in the mid-1930s was a “Father and Son” toy based on a famous German strip cartoon of the day. The figures had celluloid rather than tinplate heads and could be made to hold hands and dance together.
The first Schuco Teddy bear appeared at the Leipzig toy fair in 1921. Christened the Yes/No Bear, the creature’s head could be moved up and down and left to right by pushing and pulling a lever in its tail.
It was produced in six sizes and different mohair fabric, the smaller ones containing squeakers, while the larger ones were fitted with growlers. A similar toy was reintroduced in 1950 and called the “Tricky Yes/No Bear”, some of which were fitted with Swiss musical mechanisms.
Another charmer was the so-called Bellhop Bear which dates from 1921. Very rare today, it is a very lucky collector indeed who finds an example like the one illustrated wearing the livery of a hotel bellhop: red tunic, black pants, pillbox hat and a leather bag for carrying his messages.
The bear is fully jointed, while his tail can be moved to operate his head. He was also fitted with a squeaker inside his chest and along with policemen, clowns and performing circus bears, examples are sometimes found with roller skate on their feet, which were delight for the children who played with them.
Interestingly, Schuco also made a roller skating bear toy that was probably inspired by Alice Teddy, a real-life bear whose skating party trick wowed audiences in the United States before the First World War.
Another favourite was the Janus bear, made in 1954, which has two faces — one ugly and sticking out his tongue, the other smiling and genial. A small brass knob at the base of its body moves the toy’s head when it is turned from side to side.
By necessity, collectors of Schuco toys are a rare breed. The Charlie Chaplin figure is itself worth £1,000, while the Bellhop Bear could make two or three times that, particularly for an example in mint and boxed condition. However, because only the finest materials were used in the manufacture of the toys, a surprisingly large number have survived. So keep a look-out for the unmistakable trademark name and written in script.
Main picture shows: Schuco’s Bellhop Bear. This one is in excellent original condition and worth £1,500-2,000. Note the trademark label on his chest. The mark shows a chubby faced boy, but this later changed to the name in script
Clutching at a fortune
Ladies’ fashion in the Roaring Forties dictated that handbags should be tiny, small enough to be clutched in the hand, hence the name clutchbag.
The problem then was where to keep all the stuff that women carry around with them.
Schuco had the perfect answer when, in 1942, they produced the novel little Teddy bears and monkeys like the ones pictured here.
Concealed within their tiny bodies, which hinge open somewhat disconcertingly, are a powder compact, a mirror, and a lipstick which pops out of what would have been the creature’s neck!
Others open to reveal a perfume atomiser, or even a minute bottle of whisky — another essential, specially when there is a nip in the air!
These amusing little creatures — they measure about 3 1/2 inches in height — were made in brightly-coloured short, bristly mohair around a metal body and were retailed by Schuco in a line called “Piccolo” bears. Today, they’re each worth £300-500. Photo: Byrne’s Chester