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"KEYS" to Collecting PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ken Yenke   
Monday, 01 October 2007 00:00

Ken Yenke provides tips on becoming an expert and efficient collector.

The late Jorg Juninger, great-grandnephew of Margarete Steiff, is shown signing some Steiff bears at the Steiff Festival in Toledo, Ohio. Any verified family signature, such as this, or even an original artists’ signature for newer bears, makes bears more interesting and valuable to collectors.It has been many years ago, but I distinctly remember one day when my wife, Brenda, and I drove nearly three hours to attend an auction in Lancaster, Ohio. There was one 20-inch-tall Schuco yes/no teddy bear (the tail is moved up or down to make the teddy nod yes or no) pictured in the auction flyer. It appeared in the flyer to be one from the US Zone period (1948–1953), and that was one size and year we did not have in our teddy bear collection.


Upon our arrival, we quickly did a pre-auction tour of the items for sale. The 20-inch Schuco was just perfect! His long cinnamon mohair and great face spoke to us even without moving his yes/no tail. Bidding was just starting and the bear was up first. It quickly went up to $1,000, which is what I was hoping to pay for it. After a moment of silence, the only other competitive bidder on the bear continued to top my bid prices. Finally, after it went over $1,500, the bidding stopped and we had won the bear. I figured we had already driven three hours and it was worth it to fill a spot in our collection.


I approached the other bidder and exchanged hellos. I asked if he had a collection of Schuco bears and he said, “Oh, no. I recognized you as the bear expert, so my wife and I decided if you would go that high in bidding the bear must be worth a whole lot more as an investment. He is kind of cute.”


Then, my friends, I realized how much respect there is for knowledge and experience. It is powerful, even though in this case my knowledge probably cost me a little more for the bear! I was paying a “collector’s” price, while the competitive bidder was bidding as though it were an investment. (By the way, you may be interested to know the other bidder was a Lancaster resident named Dr. Payne. He and his wife have since become great friends as well as very well educated collectors.)


So, then, how do we become experts and efficient collectors? There are many ways to reach that state, but I would like to concentrate on four simple “KEYS” that have helped Brenda and I build our own treasured collection over the years.

Provenance in any collection puts it on a higher level. Here is a 1905 Christmas photo with a little boy and his bear. If you have the bear’s history, with a photo like this, the value is enhanced greatly.K = What Should We Keep?

There is a tremendous difference between accumulating and actually collecting. We accumulate by simply keeping everything we either receive as gifts or buy for ourselves randomly. A true collection is created by keeping or finding things that complement our scheme or design.


A great collection often begins with a special teddy bear or even a photograph that has been passed along to us. This can be our own personal childhood toy or simply the memory of a toy that stimulates us. I have seen wonderful collections that have only a few items, but they are all unique. On the other hand, I have evaluated accumulations that have hundreds of teddy bears in them and they are indeed just accumulations. Numbers are not important. Be selective and create a collection around something special to you or a loved one. Try not to ask, “How many do you have?” but instead, “What is your favorite?”

E = Education

Farnell’s super rare 1920s mint aqua-teal teddy bear makes a perfect companion for its 1990 limited-edition replica. A great way to collect: Have the original and its reproduction.The single most important aspect to collecting is education. My first advice to anyone who wants to become a collector is to read a good prescribed set of books. Always start by researching. As you collect items, your expertise will develop as a pure result of the research you do before and after each item you acquire. This is most true if you collect vintage and/or antique items. Education also is gained from attending trade shows, consulting with other collectors and subscribing to magazines like the one you are reading right now. Get a reading list from someone you respect who collects what you desire. Knowledge will help you make fewer bad choices.


No two teddy bears are exactly alike, and the more of the differences you can discern, the more qualified you are to efficiently collect. Once you master “characteristics” of what you love, you will be much more comfortable expanding your collection by expending bigger dollars. Don’t neglect peripherals! Bear-related items complement any teddy bear collection.

Yearly checkups of your display cases with help keep your treasures safe. Dust, check for critters and replace your cedar blocks or bags. Y = Yearly Inspection

Inspection of your precious collection is an absolute. Although you can do it daily, you should revisit each and every special piece you own at least once a year. The best reason I can think of is that you get to relive the moment you first found your favorite things—a feeling that will always stay with you.


You also get to check for “critters” and anything that may have disturbed the sacred areas where you keep your special items. Remember, inventory and inspection yearly will help you maintain the special feeling you experienced when you purchased each piece in your collection.

S = Share Your Collection

Here is a perfect 20-inch white Steiff teddy bear from 1912. Always try to collect what you love, and if your bear has a universal appeal, he is even more special.Sharing with anyone who may appreciate it is very important. Help others learn from your own research, which may include joining a local teddy bear or collecting club. Talk, write or simply “show and tell” whenever you can find the opportunity.


In essence, we are all simply the caretakers of whatever we have acquired. We can help prepare someone else for the eventual responsibility that will be passed along to him or her. We have been able to acquire some very special teddy bears over the years, and in many cases it was because the original owners wanted their bears to “go on living, and be seen by others who will appreciate them.”


This final key is the one we can all do more of. Sharing joy is double joy! Brenda and I attend every show we can and speak to groups 25 to 50 times a year. Collecting truly is better when you share.