Welcome to the wonderful world of bears

It’s six days since All You Need Is Love was released and we’re halfway through the blog tour. I’ve had some absolutely gorgeous reviews and one of the things that makes me very happy is when reviewers mention the bears and how much they learned about them/how much they enjoyed that part of the story.

So today I thought I’d talk about being an arctophile and the wonderful world of teddy bears.

An arctophile is a lover/collector of teddy bears. It is derived from the Greek terms ‘árktos’ meaning bear and ‘philos’ meaning lover/friend. I am an arctophile.

I’ve loved teddy bears for most of my life but I would say I became especially fond of them at around the age of 14. Forever Friends were extremely popular back then and I remember gazing adoringly at them in card shops and wishing they could all be mine. I gradually built up a collection of what is known as ‘plush’ bears. These are typically mass-produced teddies, massively ranging in size and price, and made from synthetic materials. They are soft and designed for lots of hugs.

The photos below show a very small section of my plush collection. Top left are a trio of bears I used to sell in my bear shop and I couldn’t resist taking a set home. They are from the plush range made by German collectible teddy bear manufacturer Hermann Teddy Original and I christened them Caramel, Toffee and Fudge (L-R).

Across the bottom is my very well loved bear Sainsbury (unimaginatively named that because he was from Sainsbury’s), bought for me by my sister in law when I spent most of December 2006 in hospital with hypertension and mild pre-eclampsia before my daughter was born. You’ll likely recognise a Forever Friends bear in the middle. He was also from my shop. There was a range of them in four different colours – this light blue, a deeper sky blue, pink, peach – and I’d have loved to keep one of each but couldn’t justify it!

Bottom right is a Gund bear. I used to stock Gund in the shop and they really do make gorgeous plush bears. This particular one was given to me by my writing collective, The Write Romantics, when my debut book (called Searching for Steven at the time but now repackaged as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) secured a publishing deal. He’s wearing a badge that says ‘Steven Bear’ and his hoodie states ‘A 5* read the search is over’. Isn’t he gorgeous?

And finally in the plush range we have famous bears like Rupert, Paddington and Winnie the Pooh. I do have a gorgeous traditional Pooh Bear (also from my shop) but he’s on the top of the wardrobe at the back and I’d have to remove all the bears to take a picture of him and am far too lazy (and short) to do that! This Paddington was a Christmas gift before I had the shop but Aunt Lucy came from my shop and I used to sell Paddingtons of various sizes. A larger one than him made it into my collection too but I had to draw the line at the 4ft one I used to stock!

Bears featured on my wedding day. The wedding itself had a seaside theme but a Forever Friends bride and groom (from my shop, of course) sat on the top table. We had a Cherished Teddy wedding display for the top of the cake and my cousin bought us a Boyds bride and groom as a gift.

I was in my late twenties when I discovered the world of collectible teddy bears. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my boyfriend at the time took me to a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it was a life-changing moment as I’d never have thought of running my own teddy bear shop if I hadn’t been introduced to them and I’d never have met my husband if I hadn’t opened the bear shop. And without the hubby, I don’t know if I’d have become an author.

Collectible teddy bears will give hugs but they’re not designed to be played with/cuddled in bed and the price tag confirms that! Even if you know nothing about teddy bears, you’ve probably heard of Steiff; the German manufacturer with the distinctive button in the ear identity tag. Vintage Steiff can sell for eyewatering amounts of money at auction but if there are any burglars reading this, I don’t own any of them so nothing to see here!

There are many other long-established manufacturers. Britain’s oldest are Dean’s and Merrythought and my very first bear was a limited edition Dean’s one called Scruff, purchased from that shop in Lincoln. Here he is posing with my books:

Isn’t he completely adorable? He’s made from mohair and is jointed. Most collectible bears are jointed – it’s where they stand out from plush ones – and most are made from mohair which varies massively in colour, texture and price.

When I first set up my shop – Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire – I stocked collectible bears from Dean’s, Merrythought, Hermann Teddy Original, Robin Rive (based in New Zealand) and Cambrian Bears but Steiff wouldn’t touch me. I was too small and they supplied to another bear shop in a nearby town. I was gutted because I lost sales constantly from people who knew nothing about bears but had heard of Steiff so wanted a Steiff for a newborn or for a christening and nothing else would do. In the main, they wouldn’t look at the other bears even though I personally (and perhaps controversially) have always thought that Steiff bears, although lovely, aren’t necessarily the bears with the most personality and appeal.

About a year into trading, Steiff reconsidered when the local shop closed and they allowed me to make a smaller order than they usually demanded (which was still a phenomenal outlay). It was worth it as Steiff were my biggest sellers.

Here’s a small selection of my collectible bears. The large photo is a bear called Daffy from the Isabelle Collection at Charlie Bears. Charlie Bears didn’t exist when I had Bear’s Pad but they later entered the market with a new take on bears – the look of collectible bears by making them jointed but affordability by creating them in different materials. The Isabelle Collection was an expansion into limited edition collectible bears.

Top right are two collectible bears and one artist one called Noah purchased in Belgium (I’ll explain what artist bears are in a moment). The one standing at the back is a Steiff which I called Growler because he growls when you tip him forwards and back. Steiff bears don’t usually have names, being identified instead by size and style. He was my second ever collectible bear I bought. The smaller one sitting down is a Robin Rive limited edition called Faith.

The bottom row starts with a very traditional-looking Hermann Teddy Original bear called Yesterday. The one in the middle with the hat is Robin Rive’s Nautical Neville. These two (and Faith mentioned earlier) were all from my shop. I used to love them all so much and would tell myself that if a particular favourite was still on the shelves after three months, they’d come home with me. I’d then panic when a customer seemed interested!

The Paddington at the bottom was my wedding gift from the hubby and is a Steiff one. I said earlier I don’t love Steiff as much as some of the other manufacturers but I absolutely adore this Paddington. He is divine. Look at his suitcase and marmalade sandwich!

So what are artist bears? These are collectible bears but they are made on a much smaller scale by a bear artist who typically creates an OOAK (one of a kind) or a very small number like three. It’s more likely to be an OOAK although the artist may take that pattern again but use different mohair or clothes to create a different look.

During publication week, somebody asked me how many bears I have so I did a very quick count. It’s about 140 consisting of plush, collectible and artist bears. I used to have a couple of hundred plush ones but there just isn’t the space. When I had my bear shop, I cleared about about 10 binbags of bears to charity (all were immaculate condition as they’d all been sat on shelves and not played with) and I’ve done several more clear-outs over the years which break my heart but needs must.

When I did my count, I was surprised to discover that I had nearly as many artist bears as big-name collectible ones. Initially I only bought collectible ones but I tend to only buy artist ones now. I love the uniqueness of them. I will only buy a bear that ‘speaks’ to me and, as I have a lot of traditional-looking ones in my collection now, I am more inclined to go for something a little bit quirky.

All the bears below are artist bears. The one in the dress is from Loeëtte Bears (from the Netherlands although I bought the bear from Mary Shortle in York) and the purple one is Tammy from J&P Mohair Bears which I bought in Stonegate Bears in York. Franklin (bottom middle) is also a J&P from Stonegate Bears.

The top right one is a Ju-Sea Bear called Mark Elvet. I made him! I learned how to make teddy bears when I had my shop and I sold my second and third in the shop but kept the first one for me as he was my first and therefore very special and I’d named him after my husband and the street where I learned to make bears. You may think Ju-Sea Bears sounds familiar. That’s because I used it for Julie’s bears in All You Need Is Love in the same way that I named her house Bear’s Pad after my shop. Little connections in my stories like that make me happy.

The small purple bear bottom left is from Diane Hanley who used to supply to my shop and bottom right is the most adorable bear dressed for a festival. I can’t tell you her name or make, though, as there was no tag on her. I contacted Mary Shortle in Leeds afterwards and they kindly supplied me with the information which I wrote down and put somewhere safe… You know what that means. Yep, no idea where I put it!

Although I say that Scruff was my first collectible bear, I did have one before that. I absolutely love the Lake District and we had many family holidays in the area when I was younger. My favourite shop in Bowness-on-Windermere was Lakeland Bears. I’d seen the postcards of hiking bears set in the countryside and this was the shop that stocked the actual bears.

I always dreamed of owning a Lakeland Bear and, one year, my parents surprised me by giving me one as a Christmas gift. I had no idea I was getting one so you can imagine my delight. He has his walking stick, his hiking boots and his backpack with a map of the Lakes in it! Isn’t he just fabulous? They even created a booklet of photos of him ‘exploring’ their house and garden which I still have… you’ve guessed it… somewhere safe!

Sadly the Lakeland Bears shop closed down many years ago but you can look at the gorgeous bears and the postcards on their website here. I’ve just had a lovely fifteen minutes procrastinating looking at the pictures and remembering which postcards I used to have.

We’ve looked at plush bears, collectible bears and, within that, artist bears. A devoted arctophile will probably have a lot of other bear-related items in their home too. I have stack of bear-themed stationery, books, pictures and jewellery. Here’s a few items from my collection.

The picture is our bear family and hangs in our downstairs toilet behind the loo itself which hubby doesn’t appreciate when he nips in for a pee as they’re watching him – hee hee! The salt and pepper set came from Canada on our honeymoon (so many amazing bear-themed treats over there), the teddy ornament is from a gift shop in Whitby and the large bear came from Hawes. The teddy bear cushion was a gift but I sold blankets in the same design in Bear’s Pad so I have a pair of cushions and a matching blanket.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little explore into the world of bears and that you’ve enjoyed the pictures. Teddy bears have an amazing ability to make us smile and feel uplifted. It’s rare for me to be in a bad mood and not much gets me down and I think that, in part, it’s because I’m surrounded by teddies all day. Who can feel down when looking at their adorable little faces?

When I had my shop, there were some nasty customers. And I mean nasty. One liked to come in and lecture me about how my business would fail because all businesses before me on that site had failed. She made me cry on several occasions. Another customer asked if I had a toilet her daughter could use. I did have a toilet but it was out the back past my safe and all my spare stock and I wasn’t insured to let the public back there so I had to direct customers to the public toilets which were a one-minute walk away so no hardship. It turned out the daughter was desperate and she wet herself all over my carpet tiles. The woman then told me it was my fault, flung down the items she’d planned to purchase and left me to clear it all up. She never returned so I never even made a sale out of that traumatic episode and, to this day, still feel really sorry for the little girl … but not the mum.

One busy Saturday, a really friendly man asked me to get down a large plush polar bear from the top of the shelving units and save it for him while he went to the cashpoint. When I returned to the till and finished serving a few customers, I realised my mobile phone had been stolen. The police told me two men were working together with a tactic of one distracting the owner by being interested and friendly while the other stole the money out of the till. Fortunately I’d locked my till and had the key on me so they didn’t get away with any money although the phone was bad enough.

There was a tanning salon opposite and customers used to send their fairly young children to “go and play in the bear shop” while they had a tan. Who does that? And the mornings where I’d arrive from work to find someone had vomited in my recessed entrance doorway were the worst ever.

I could write a book about all this. Hmm… there’s a thought!

But, even on those darkest days – and there were many more than I’ve listed above – I always felt so comforted being surrounded by such an enormous hug of bears (a ‘hug’ being the collective noun applied to a group of teddies). I’d have loved to keep my bear shop. Shame I needed customers to make it work!

So grab a bear today, give it a hug, and feel uplifted.

Big bear hugs
Jessica xx

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