The Care and Feeding of the Antique Teddybear


smdannyboy.jpg (5259 bytes)           When I was making a list of categories in my Collection, I probably should have made a separate listing for vintage/antique bears. There is a valid reason for doing so, in that many of the older bears require special care and handling.

         They have been around for many years and because of their age, have some needs that the rest of a collection probably will not have.   For instance, their materials can be, and are quite likely to be, somewhat fragile. Cleaning them, other than a very gentle dusting, should only be attempted with the greatest of care. If you are not a patient person (and boy, I am not), hire someone or trade services with somebody who is willing to spend several hours, or several days to give your vintage bear a "bath".

         I use the term "bath" very gingerly, because I want to make it VERY CLEAR that I do NOT mean that your dingy little friend should ever get really near to a bath tub, basin or any other container of water and suds. NEVER, NEVER IMMERSE THE  TEDDY INTO WATER....NOT EVEN ONE LIMB....NOT EVEN ONE TOE!!


         What is required, instead, is to make a sudsy concoction, dampen a washing cloth with the suds and carefully and SLOWLY --- working on a very small section of Teddy's fur (or skin surface in certain cases) clean that area thoroughly before moving on to another area. It is painstaking work, requiring patience, great care and respect for fragile fur, plus lots of clean, soft towels or cloths. You definitely don't want to use any material that will be abrasive to the fur fibers, as you want to preserve the absolute integrity of whatever fur the old Teddy has left.

         As for the actual cleaning agents, it will depend on the source of your cleaning advice and instruction. Some restorers recommend various mild, regular soaps. Others say to use one of the special products on the market which are for this purpose and (according to their proponents)  suppose to be safer to use. I would recommend that you find a good book at the library or get a good search engine to find the details of the whole cleaning process on the WEB.


         Read ALL of the instructions BEFORE you begin. MAKE SURE you completely understand exactly what the instructions are telling you BEFORE you begin. And always heed this advice that my Mother gave me:   "Sometimes Less is More."   Okay, that may not make much sense to you, but what my Mother and I are saying is:  It will serve you well, when cleaning antique teddybears, to not "over do" any action. Start with less water, less suds, less scrubbing than you think necessary. Be gentle, slow, meticulous....this is a process of hours or days and you cannot rush or hurry it to conclusion without risking harm to a darling old Teddy who, you will remember, is a lot OLDER than you!

         All of the preceding paragraphs are exactly WHY I do not attempt this myself. In my case, I am most fortunate that my daughter, Debbie, is willing to tackle this painstaking work. She has bathed at least two "old fellows" for me. One came to me with fur so dirty that he most resembled patent leather. There really was very little nap on his body and we though his color to be shoe polish dark brown tinged almost kahki green. How I wish we had taken his picture "before" as the transformation was dramatic in 'Danny Boy's' case. Turns out that he was really a medium golden color and had much more fur than we originally thought he possessed.


          I had taken Danny Boy to a respected collector/appraiser when I first got him, to have him appraised as to his actual value so I could pay his original owner a fair price. My friend Rosemary, told me that an old gentleman she knew was selling a lot of items from his many collections and that he had an old childhood teddy bear that he wanted to sell and would I possibly be interested? I was so excited about the possibility of adding an antique to my collection and visions of 'beautifully preserved Steiff' danced in my head as I drove to Mr. Shawnessy's house.

         Mr. and Mrs. Shawnessy graciously welcomed me into their home and it was like stepping into a rather cluttered small town museum. I could have spent a couple of days looking at all the lovely old furniture and well dusted bric-a-brac in their front parlor and dining room alone. Danny Boy was wrapped in tissue and resting on a lamp table. Mr. Shawnessy said something like "Well, he's been up in the attic for years and I'd like to let him go to someone who will appreciate him" and as he's speaking, he is unwrapping this dark, rusty brown, almost slick looking little guy. No more visions of fluffy Steiff swirling in my brain. I did recognize the general shape of an American bear, barrel shaped body, shorter, stubbier arms and legs, a fairly large head and two rather dusty shoebutton eyes. Mr. Shawnessy told me he had been a Christmas present in about 1917.


         Danny Boy was my first antique bear and I really didn't have any idea what he might be worth. Mr. Shawnessy did not have a clue as to how much money he wanted for his old plaything but he did want the money---as he and his wife told me: 'We have too many things and no one to leave them to, when we pass.'

         Since I was purchasing him from the Friend of a Friend, I wanted to be sure that I was not paying way too little to this nice old gentleman so I suggested a down payment price and told him about my Teddybear appraiser friend and that whatever Bill said was a fair price I would gladly pay. This was more than okay with the Shawnessy's. So Danny Boy went home with me that day.

         When Bill saw him, he confirmed that he was American and said that I had paid pretty much to the top limit of what he was worth in my down payment price. I telephoned Mr. Shawnessy and we finalized the sale.

         Danny Boy then spent 30 days in a well sealed, plastic freezer bag in my freezer, which is suppose to rid older items of any creepy crawly things, before mingling them with your other bears. Shortly, thereafter, Debbie suggested that she would be interested in attempting to clean his fur and I agreed to let her try.


         He surely got a new lease on life with that careful cleaning and I was so thrilled with the end result that I took him back to Teddy Bear Club several months later to show how nice he had cleaned up. Everyone, Bill included, was amazed. Like I said before, I sure wish I had taken a picture of Danny  "before" so I could have actual proof of his transformation. He hardly looked like the same bear.

         I own three antique teddies now. I keep them in a glass-doored case, out of direct light, as much as possible. They sit on blocks of aromatic cedar to discourage moths. I am not sure I am suited for their care, being in most things a little too casual and I have worried that protecting these Seniors may be more responsibility than I really want to have. However, I do love all three and would miss them, were I to send them to new homes, so, for now they will continue to live with me and I'll continue to worry about whether I am taking good enough care of them.

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