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Jolly Good

Jolly Good

Wood, Scott

While name-brands play a key role in the teddy bear world, enthusiasts have long fancied bears produced by a wide range of companies. Bears from less known companies sit beside bears from the big, world-famous firms. Wendy Boston, Pedigree, and The House of Nisbet are three companies that have held favorite places in the homes of collectors for decades.

Wendy Boston and her husband Ken founded their company in South Wales in 1945. Due to the general scarsity of toys in England after World War II, Wendy Boston grew quickly and enjoyed notable success. However, as competition crept back into the marketplace, Wendy and Ken realized that they needed to distinguish their company by creating something completely original. They succeeded in spades. Today, Wendy Boston is remembered in the teddy bear world for inventing two manufacturing innovations that are now standard throughout the industry: screwed-in, molded nylon eyes, a giant step toward safety improvement, and wholly unjointed, safe, machine-washable bears.

From the first decade of the 20th century, almost all bears incorporated three to five joints composed of metal rods, screws, or pins and wooden discs. Some bears had secure unjointed heads or unjointed legs, usually to establish a sitting pose. Others had unjointed “begging” arms. The Wendy Boston bears from the 1950s had arms sewn at right angles to the body and legs connected to the torso with a line of stitching, producing a fold, as it were, which enabled the bear to pose in a sitting position. Because the design was comparably simple, it could be manufactured quickly, easily, and inexpensively. Thus the unjointed-or rather, jointed by seam-design became the typical mass-produced bear from the 1950s through the 1990s.

Now about the eyes. The first eyes for bears were buttons. According to most histories, by the 1920s, glass eyes were commonly used. Around 1948, “safety eyes,” which were made of nylon and were screwed, rather than sewn, into the face, appeared on the market. Wendy Boston’s eyes not only approximated the glimmer of the old glass eyes, but, most importantly where young children were concerned, could not be plucked out and, inevitably, popped into the mouth and choked upon.

Wendy Boston’s company was taken over by Denys Fisher Toys in 1968 and ceased production in 1976, but kids the world over pay tribute to her innovations daily when they hug their child-safe teddies.

Pedigree Soft Toys Ltd. was founded in London in the late 1930s as a subsidiary of Lines Brothers Ltd., the biggest toy company in the world from the 1930s to the 1950s. In its salad days, Lines Brothers had factories in England, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.

During the 1950s, the company made 400-500 jointed mohair teddies per day, plus unjointed bears and other toys. The mohair bears were handstitched and -finished, and partially hand-stuffed, by specially trained workers. Production was closely monitored to ensure that all bears were of the highest quality. Even Pedigree’s bears made from synthetic fabrics and stuffing in the 1960s and on were of exceptional quality.

Lines Brothers was reorganized and renamed during the late 1960s and eventually collapsed in 1971. Pedigree moved their production to Canterbury, England, where they made toys until they closed in 1988.

Typically, Pedigree bears have a classic round head with a modest snout; some have a triangular segment on the front of the head that makes the snout jut out a little farther. Also characteristic of Pedigree bears are a vertical seam across the head and another seam running perpendicular to the first, along the top of the head where the ears are attached. Pedigree registered its trademark in 1942. The company’s labels read “Made in England” if the bear was made before 1955 and after 1966. The label reads “Made in Ireland” if the bear was manufactured between 1955 and 1966.

Copyright Cowles Enthusiast Media Jul/Aug 2002

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