Terry and Doris Michaud visit Britain’s teddy bear hotspots.
It seems like it was just yesterday when the first teddy bear entered our lives, but it was actually some 36 years ago when we acquired the first of what was to become a major collection of antique teddy bears. That dates us as old-timers, but we can be grateful that we started when we did, as the hobby was in the early stages of what would become a worldwide phenomenon.
In 1975 we were coming up on our 25th anniversary and decided to make it special by taking a trip to England, thinking it might be a good source for antique teddy bears. How right we were! It was the first of many trips there and we fondly recall, on one of the early trips, returning home with no less than eight additional bags of old teddy bears, dolls and toys.
Our timing was superb, as the craze for teddy bears had not yet reached the shores of Great Britain. But that was about to change; by the 1980s antique bears were rapidly growing in demand throughout Britain, and manufacturers were beginning to produce teddies just for this market. Artist-made bears were beginning to show strong interest as well.
We made four or five additional trips to Britain in succeeding years, and it occurred to us that fellow U.S. collectors might enjoy the hunt in Britain as well. In 1988 we advertised “The First British Teddy Bear Tour” and received a good response. The tours have continued annually, with emphasis on teddies and antiques.
We have managed to locate some of the leading purveyors of teddy bears in Great Britain and include as many shops as we can when we make our annual trek. Most of the shops on the list carry teddy bears of every stripe, from antique teddies to manufactured and artist bears. More often than not they will have editions that have been crafted just for their store. If you have the opportunity to make the journey to Great Britain, here are some of the delightful teddy hotspots to include on your itinerary.
Joan Bland is the owner and operator of two teddy shops in England, one in Eton by Windsor—said to be the world’s first teddy bear shop—and a second in Henley-on-Thames. Her shop in Henley is located in a building that dates to the 15th century.
In addition to stocking all the major brands, along with some of the top British bear artists’ work, the shop carries its own line of handmade Asquiths bears. This line of charming teddies is handcrafted right in England for Asquiths. They are produced in small quantities and each bear is numbered. The complete line, along with other special bears, is found in the store’s catalog. Bland also makes every effort to offer old bears in the Henley store. And, when our tour group visits, we always make a point to head upstairs at the Henley shop for tea and scones in the delightful tearoom.
This shop in Witney may be familiar to many. Ian Pout, the affable owner, is frequently seen at major shows in the United States, Japan and other countries. He gained fame in 1989 when he purchased the now-famous “Alfonzo” teddy bear. Pout has since expanded his collection of famous bears and exhibits them in his shop. Along with Alfonzo, there is “Aloysius” from Brideshead Revisited and the late Peter Bull’s pocket companion named “Theodore.”
In addition to a broad range of antique bears, manufactured bears by all the leading names and teddies crafted by top British artists, Pout has commissioned Steiff to produce exclusive limited editions of a number of special bears, including a centenary edition replica of Alfonzo. Another claim to fame is the shop’s annual catalog, which includes many of its 1,000-plus bears along with the store’s broad range of limited editions.
A leading authority on antique teddy bears, Sue Pearson is the author of numerous books on the subject. She has made many appearances at shows around the world and is frequently a keynote speaker on the subject. In addition, she and her son operate a marvelous shop in Brighton, south of London.
Pearson has been providing antique teddies to collectors around the world from her shop in this seaside resort. Her store also offers a number of exclusive editions by leading teddy bear artists as well as the top lines by manufacturers. Pearson also deals in antique dolls—a fitting companion to a teddy. In addition, the store is known for quality restoration and repair service.
If you travel west from Brighton, you can make a stop at The Dorset Teddy Bear Museum. It’s a great treat for young and old alike, with displays of the earliest teddies to today’s TV favorites.
Jackie Ridley, curator at the museum, explains it is a collection of a prominent citizen named “Edward Bear,” a life-size bear with displays of his collection in every room. Visitors have noted that it is a feast of nostalgia to go through this quaint and charming exhibit. While the shop is not large, it does carry a range of bears by Steiff, Merrythought, Dean’s and other producers, as well as a selection of antique bears and retired modern collectibles.
Britain literally has hundreds of wonderful teddy bear stores throughout the country, and just when you think you have discovered them all, one jumps out at you when you least expect it.
We were making a stop in the charming town of Totnes in the southwest corner of England, and as we rounded a corner on High Street we came upon The Bear Shop. This teddy store has been operating in Totnes since 1992, but it somehow had eluded us until our visit this past summer.
In addition to its selection of bears by the leading makers, we were delighted to discover two Michaud bears, crafted by Dean’s from a series of designs we did for the company some years ago. What a great thrill to discover a new teddy store!
If You Go…
Many of us are prone to consider making such a trip to a far away place, then come up with lots of logical reasons to put it off. Thanks to the advice from a senior collector many years ago, we put aside the reasons not to go and made that first trip. The collector told us that she and her husband had talked about doing such a trip over the years but had put if off. Now their health did not permit them to make such a journey, and she said it was one of the great regrets of her life.
If you decide to take such a trip, here is a bit of advice: Look at the advantages of going with a tour group versus going on your own. A tour group will have everything planned for you, including lodging, an itinerary and travel arrangements. The advantage of going on your own is being able to spend as much time as you want, where you want and when you want. Many of our guests have enjoyed the best of both worlds by taking our tour and then staying over for several days to do their own thing.
Because the teddy bear world of shops and shows changes frequently, do your homework before making the trip. Be sure to contact the shops on your schedule in advance to determine their location and hours of operation.
If you want to organize your trip around visits to a specific area, you can order a copy of Hugglets’ UK Teddy Bear Guide. This astounding book lists shops and sources for new and old bears throughout Great Britain, clubs, museums, bear fairs and a number of activities in the bear world. In addition, the publisher also conducts two of the largest bear fairs in the United Kingdom: the Hugglets Teddy Bear Festivals, held twice a year in London. The Winter Bear Fest will take place Feb. 22, 2009, while the fall show, Teddies 2009, is scheduled for Sept. 13, 2009. With 170-plus booths, it’s no surprise that the shows draw exhibitors and collectors from all over the world.
We can assure you of one thing: We have had a large number of repeat guests on our tours, and they are all thrilled to experience the joy of hunting teddy bears in Great Britain. It may be the journey of a lifetime for you.
British Collector Tours, Terry and Doris Michaud, (989) 845-7881