Mohair and More

Bears Inside and Out

Mohair! Mohair! Mohair!

That's what most people want their old bear to be made of and nothing else will do for some collectors. Well, they don't know what they are missing.

Mohair has been the most popular material used for making teddy bears for 100 years and this is the fabric we all associate with them.

Before the birth of the teddy bear craze a lot of soft toys were made from real fur but with the introduction of the teddy bear, manufacturers looked for an alternative that would not stain easily and be soft to the touch yet still retain the look of real fur.

They came up with Mohair, a plush fabric woven from the wool of Angora goats. Also at this time other manufacturers tried alternative materials probably to try and keep the price of the bear more realistic. Burlap was one of these materials, closely woven with almost a sacking like appearance, made from jute and cotton to provide a hard wearing fabric. This proved less popular than mohair because it was not soft to the touch and made bears less attractive. Some of these burlap bears are still around today but mostly in Museums and they seem to have much character with great faces and are prized by serious collectors.

Most manufacturers used wood wool (straw stuffing) and kapok a soft natural material that resembles lambs wool to the touch but comes from the inside of seed pods. Other manufacturers tried cork granules but again this was to prove less popular.The joints of the bear were usually made of a type of compressed cardboard or metal or even both together and joined with a split pin.

Paw pads were predominantly made of felt and many of the quality bears made during this period would have two layers of felt to reinforce the pad, sometimes the under layer would be of a different colour. The first eyes found in bears were black boot button eyes called so because they were also used on ladies boots made in this period. Boot button eyes were made from wood and some early bears have also been found with metal boot button eyes.

Noses were mainly hand stitched with thread previously used for embroidery, and the shape and style of a bear's nose is one way of identifying the manufacturer and date of a bear as it is almost like a trade mark. Many early American bears have cloth noses.

Some other early bears had noses made of a natural wax type substance called Gutta-Percha. This was obviously quite fragile and came off relatively easy over the years no doubt swallowed by some children. Few examples of a Gutta-Percha nose exist today in tact with the exception of a few early Steiff bears.

In the 1907/10 period manufacturers introduced bears that growl or squeak. The noise was made by wind passing over a reed inside the bear by squeezing or tilting the bear. These growlers and squeakers were made of cardboard, wood and oilcloth so it is no wonder that they tended to give up after a few years of wear and tear from children.

As time moved on Mohair came in many different lengths and types and during the 1920/30s manufacturers tried a wide range of colours from vivid pink to emerald green to make their bears stand out from the crowd. Coloured bears faded very easily and if you see a bear for sale today with its original bright colour you can be sure that it will demand a high price.

Beware when buying an old bear with a bright colour that it has not been re-dyed as I have seen a few of these bears done to try and achieve a higher price.

Eyes changed at the start of the 1920s with clear glass eyes with black pupils on metal shanks became popular. These eyes were often painted on the rear to give the eyes colour and today when buying an old bear you can sometimes see the colour peeling off the back. As bears became even more popular in the 1920/30s mohair was woven with silk and synthetic fibres to produce a different appearance to bears.

Bears growlers continued to be popular during this period and became more robust as they developed and wind up musical mechanisms were introduced playing a variety of tunes to comfort a child as they sleep.

In the 1930's paw pads were also made of cotton, velveteen, and a new material called Rexine a type of oil cloth with a hard but supple surface that looked like leather. Rexine became the favoured paw pad finish for many British bear Manufacturers and can be found still in good condition on bears of the 1930-50s today.

During the years of World War 2, few bears were manufactured as factories were used to produce uniforms, blankets and other items needed in the war. When the war finished, materials were short and this gave us a period of interesting bears. As manufacturers started up again they used anything they could to get teddy bears back into production. Bears were made out of Sheepskin, cotton plush and even woollen blankets left over from the war were used. Bears were also produced dressed to save on using large amounts of plush.

Stuffing in bears during this period also changed and saw the introduction of sub or flock, the leftovers from fabric mills. This and kapok were now getting more popular than wood wool as it didn't attract insects and was more hygienic. As we know you should always check you old bears have been treated for insects when you buy them.

By the late 1950's through to the 1960/70s there was a whole range of new synthetic fabrics being used on bears. As the toy manufacturing safety standards increased, no longer were glass eyes on wire shanks deemed suitable for a child's toy and in came plastic safety lock in eyes and the famous plastic Chiltern dog nose.

The use of chipped foam as stuffing allowed the first machine washable un-jointed bear many of which were made by Wendy Boston and now an affordable and collected bear.

So as you can see over the year's bears have developed from inside out literally and continue to do so. When you next visit a bear fair and are searching for a new bear for your hug, stop to consider those who were not fortunate enough to be made of mohair, as they can be real characters and have a place in history.