German teddy bears from the early 1900s can be worth thousands of dollars

Q: Can you tell me the value of my 39-inch-tall honey-colored plush teddy bear with movable joints, made in 1935 in Sonneberg, Germany? It's in excellent condition and never has been repaired.

A: Your teddy bear could retail for about $400 to $650 because it's large and in good shape, said dealer Barbara Lauver, Harper General Store, R.D. 2, Box 512, Annville, Pa. 17003, (717) 865-3456, who will be participating in the Eastern National Antique Doll, Toys, & Games Show, at the Gaithersburg Fairgrounds, Saturday and next Sunday. (For show information, call [410] 329-2188.) Worldwide collectors' interest in teddy bears remains strong, according to Ms. Lauver, who recently returned from a successful teddy bear show in Japan.


Well-preserved German-made bears by Steiff, from the first decades of this century, still dominate the market, generally starting in the low thousands, she said. Relative bargains are early-20th-century American-made bears, distinguished from their German cousins by their football-shaped bodies, long arms, type of mohair, glass eyes, and nose stitching. Vintage American teddys still can be bought for a few hundred dollars, depending on size and condition.

The auction record for a teddy bear was established in 1989 at Sotheby's, in London, where a 24 3/4 -inch-high frosted Steiff "Petsy" bear dating from circa 1920 sold for $88,000.


For $10 annually, serious teddy bear collectors can subscribe to the quarterly Teddy and Toy Review Ms. Lauver publishes.

Q: How much is my mechanical bank shaped like Santa Claus with a sack on his back, standing next to a chimney, worth? At the push of a lever, the blue-coated Santa deposits a coin down the brick-red chimney. The paint is somewhat worn.

A: Your Santa bank by Shepard Hardware of Buffalo, N.Y., cost 40 cents new in the 1889 Montgomery Ward catalog. Today, it's worth around $1,500 to $1,800 as is, according to vintage bank expert Steven Weiss of Gemini Antiques Ltd., 927 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10021, (212) 734-3262. Because Shepard didn't prime before painting its cast-iron banks, most surviving models have well-worn painted finishes. Be wary of reproductions of Shepard's Santa Claus bank on the market, generally recognizable by poorly finished seams and a rough cast finish. Because the copies were cast from old banks, not the original molds, they usually measure around a quarter inch smaller than the antiques.

Shepard began making mechanical banks around 1882, and a decade later sold its bank business to J. & E. Stevens Co., of Cromwell, Conn., the most prolific American maker of early cast-iron mechanical banks.

Q: During my travels to Damascus, Bombay and New York, I've been collecting early-19th-century Chinese porcelain made for the Persian market. I now own over 50 examples, including a teapot, tea bowls, plates and bowls of various sizes, mostly decorated in cobalt blue and red, with floral motifs. Is there a big American market for this type of porcelain?

A: Chinese export porcelain made for the Near Eastern market generally does not bring strong prices in this country, according to Letitia Roberts, head of the porcelain department at Sotheby's in New York. Many collectors consider its quality poor, and the political climate in the Mideast doesn't enhance its popularity.

A dinner-size plate usually fetches between $30 and $50, and would be sold among inexpensive estate property in Sotheby's Arcade division, according to Ms. Roberts. But she adds that for collectors on tight budgets, this type of Chinese export porcelain can bring much pleasure since it's old, decorative, plentiful and likely to remain inexpensive.



Auction prices

Recent auction prices (including any applicable buyer's premium) at Richard Opfer Auctioneering Inc., 1919 Greenspring Drive, Timonium, Md. 21093, (410) 252-5035:

Two G.I. Joe dolls by Hasbro, one with "Kung Fu Grip" and "life-like hair" in original box, the other marked "1964," includes belt and accessories, excellent condition, 11 1/4 inches high, $60.50.

Rapid Transit Trolley, by Marx, 1940s, lithographed tin with battery-operated headlights, in original box, excellent condition, 9 inches long, $715.

Howdy Doody Watch, by Ideal, 1950s, Howdy and friends on face, blue leather band, in original display box with Howdy cutout, includes instructions and guarantee, runs haltingly, excellent condition, $357.50.

Have a question about an antique or collectible? Write to the Solis-Cohens, P.O. Box 304, Flourtown, Pa. 19031-0304, enclosing a clear photo of the whole object and all marks. Photos can't be returned. Although personal replies are not possible, questions of general interest will be answered in this column.