Memories Become TreasuresNov 01, 2015 08:00AM ● By Jason Huddle
Memories Become Treasures
The teddy bear. It’s almost a rite of passage for a child to grow up with one. From taking it to bed for comfort when darkness takes hold, to toting it to daycare, it’s a friendly, soothing companion.
Toy bears may have been made by hand for children before the turn of the 20th century, but the name Teddy came by way of President Theodore Roosevelt. On a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902 that had thus far been unsuccessful, Roosevelt refused to shoot a defenseless bear that had been tracked and wounded and tied to a tree by guides. He, instead, ordered the injured bear be put down.
Garnering attention throughout the U.S., the incident became a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman and was printed in the Washington Post. When Morris Michtom, a Brooklyn, NY candy shop owner saw the cartoon, he asked his wife Rose to make two fabric stuffed bears for display in the front window. He also asked President Roosevelt for permission in calling them “Teddy’s bears.”
Another very similar version of the bear was being manufactured in Germany by seamstress Margarete Steiff in her family’s factory. Modeled after drawings done by her nephew Richard, Steiff designed the toy bear to have a friendly look. It was covered in brown mohair, stuffed with excelsior (packing material consisting of wood shavings) and had hinged joints. The bear’s moveable head, arms and legs allowed it to be put in a sitting or standing position. Shoe-button eyes, an embroidered nose, cloth soles and felt claws completed the toy.
Shown at a German toy fair in 1903, the Steiff bears were spotted by an American toy buyer. He ordered 3,000 and the worldwide teddy bear craze began. These bears – now worth tens of thousands of dollars – are treasured by collectors, if they can find them.
Today, one of the most loved and collected bear lines is Boyds Bears. Founded in 1984 by Boyds, MD antique shop owners Gary and Tina Lowenthal, they initially sold antique reproductions. After coming upon a Chinese line of 100 percent Merino (breed of sheep) wool bears, Lowenthal designed one of his own – 12 inches tall with moveable joints – and named it Matthew, after his infant son.
With its company moved to Gettysburg, PA, the 1990s saw Boyd resin collections of bears, other animals, santas, Faeriesprites, treasure boxes, etc. In 2008, giftware company Enesco bought the rights to Boyds, maintaining Boyds craftspeople that created limited edition items.
According to beaconsglow.com, “All of these pieces are truly sought after by Boyds Bears collectors. Once a certain number of cold-cast resin figurines are poured, the mold is never used again and is destroyed.”
If you have any of these pieces, you might want to hold on to them. Boyds Bears were put into hibernation by Enesco at the end of last year; they are no longer produced.
A great place to find these collections, as well as sports memorabilia, dolls, and characters from Walt Disney, The Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh – basically anything that conjures up thoughts of childhood – is at Classic Art Gift Gallery in Concord. Owners Joe and Susan Panko have surrounded themselves with an inventory that boggles the mind and fills the senses.
Referring to how nostalgia plays into a purchase, Joe Panko says, “Folks play on fond memories of gifts from their family. The men remember and obtain things that remind them of their past. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve acquired a professional team…football, baseball. And most everyone remembers the games they played such as Candy Land, Monopoly and Dominos.”
Panko has a few of his own memories, too. “I remember one Christmas when I got three wonderful toys and none of them worked…no batteries. I got a plane that you put fuel in then start the propeller. It flew around twice and caught on fire. I got a pair of roller skates that fasten to your tennis shoes. I fell three times and thought my parents were trying to kill me.
“My favorite is, I got a ping-pong set…paddles and balls but no table. I went to the Beardsleys’ house for Christmas dinner with some 15 people, and after dinner they cleared the table and, lo and behold, it was my ping-pong table.”
So Panko understands the personal importance of finding that sought-after piece. “There are still many men that know their wives collect certain items. Donna – with her 6’5” tall husband Jerry – comes in with her list of ‘I need these’ items. Jerry walks out pleased that the items have been found and Donna’s happy to get what she wanted.”
Local shoppers aren’t the only ones with a wish list, either. “We get calls from all over the country asking if we have such-and-such a bear item – plush or resin – ‘because my husband broke it and he’s not allowed to sleep in the house until he finds one.’ It’s very rewarding if you find a replacement for a gift that was lost or broken from their younger days.”
At holiday time, Panko says favorites include angels and Jim Shore resin sculptures. Throughout the year, Disney, Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, and Charles Schultz’s Peanuts characters are crowd pleasers.
Not surprising, with technology has come a change in gift-giving trends. “Children today are split: 75 percent electronic and 25 percent other gifts,” Panko explains. “Friends who have children say, ‘Johnny wants something electronic.’ After they get their electronic gift, they get very excited about a piece of sports memorabilia. However, the girls love getting a soft friend for their collection. We’re more and more filling needs for non-electronic gifts.
“People feel that their children aren’t interested in their Hummels. However, if the parent has collected something neat like baseball cards, auto memorabilia and Coca-Cola, then the younger folks seem to enjoy acquiring it. And add to it.”
And while shoppers in the 1990s collected Boyds Bears, sports collectibles and Beanie Babies, “Today, the stuff that has stood the test of time are Boyds Bears, Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Kids and Coca-Cola items,” Panko says. “The most popular in our store today are still Boyds Bears and Jim Shore items…and when the Panthers are winning, Panthers memorabilia.
“When you look at the commodities of items that have been collected over the years – the gift area – Hummels and Cabbage Patch Kids are more valuable; however, any Disney item is appreciated. In the sports arena, the most phenomenal increase in value are the baseball cards of the 1950s…low production and many destroyed offers a minimum of $200 for most any card in good condition. Items from the 1950s and ‘60s that are still in the box have become very expensive.”
Regardless of what’s popular in 2015 or may increase in value over the years, what seems to strike a cord are the items that evoke memories of loved ones, and days that we didn’t realize were so simple until they were gone. But a visit to see Joe at Classic Art Gift Gallery could certainly make for a trip back down Memory Lane.