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Large Plush Stuffed Animals and Birth of the British Bear
When growing up, just about every child has had the pleasure of having large plush stuffed animals in their lives. While large plush stuffed animals are often pricier than standard size soft toys, that hasn't deterred them from being just as popular as their much smaller 'brothers' and 'sisters.'
Britain was the third most important nation in the history of the teddy bear. By 1908, the craze for bears had spread [to Britain]. While the first bears to appear were imported from Germany, it wasn't too long until the home market developed; in 1906, teddies were featured in the catalogues of J.K. Farnell – a London based manufacturer.
The Farnell family business was founded by John Kirby Farnell in 1840 in London's Notting Hill. The company first began as a silk merchant which focused its production on pincushions, tea cosies, and penwipers (a type of cloth used to clean ink from a pen). When John Farnell died in 1897, Henry and Agnes Farnell, his son and daughter, moved the company to west London. It was here that the manufacturing of soft toys and teddy bears began, with some made out of unusual materials such as rabbit skin. They soon turned, however, to higher quality curly mohair plush and began to produce top notch bears.
The Farnell bears had pointed muzzles, long arms and legs, and humps on the top of their backs. Boot-buttoned eyes (like in Steiff bears) were also part of the design but the company quickly switched to painted glass eyes. The most distinguishing feature of the Farnell bear, however (and which is also specific to British teddies) is its webbed paws; the stitches that formed the claws were linked in such a way on the paws, they produced a web effect.
Farnell went on to produce fully jointed miniature bears during World War I that were made out of golden mohair. These same bears were also available in red, white, and blue. These were given as a good-luck charm to soldiers on the way to the front by their sweethearts. Some of them obviously worked their magic because surviving bears were found intact in uniform pockets more than 70 years later (the bears were made with upturned faces to they could look out of a breast pocket).
Another British firm with a similar history to J.K. Farnell's was W. J. Terry. At the beginning of the 20th century, Terry began producing soft toys that were covered in real fur. After the success of a toy dog called Terry'er in 1909 (based on King Edward VII's dog Caesar), the company went on to open a large factory in Hackney, London. In 1913, the company moved once again and while continuing to develop the Terry'er toy range, it also introduced mohair plush teddy bears. These bears looked much like the ones produced by Farnell – so much so, the two have often been confused. Terry's bears had long silky mohair plush and a fairly straight body with a pronounced hump. Like Farnell, the Terry bears had large glass eyes with painted backs and they also adopted the webbed-claw paws.
It's thanks to companies like Steiff and Farnell, that large plush stuffed animals have continued to thrive today. When the world wide depression hit in the 1930s, the Terry company was deeply affected and production ceased by World War II. Other producers of quality teddy bears had even briefer existences. While large plush stuffed animals may not have been part of the initial production of the first teddy bears, with the teddy's popularity, they soon followed, offering up an entire range of different types of animals.
plush stuffed animals
large plush stuffed animals
Copyright Shelley Vassall, 2010. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
About the Author
Shelley Vassall is a writer and collector of plush stuffed animals
large plush stuffed animals
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