Teddy collectors across the UK have been disappointed to learn that the toy department at Christie’s South Kensington is closing but before the axe falls, they have one very special sale to look forward to.
Arden’, an early English teddy bear. Estimate £1,000 – £1,200 Christie’s Images Ltd 2007
On Wednesday, September 19th 2007, 300 lots from the world famous Teddy Bear Museum at Stratford-on-Avon will go under the hammer at Christie’s South Kensington. It will be an emotional occasion, partly because the museum has been much loved by arctophiles from all over the world but also because the sale will be the last teddy auction held by Christie’s. Following the sale, the toy department will close permanently.
The bears (and bear-related items) that are being sold are the personal collection of the museum’s owners, Gyles Brandreth and his wife Michele. However, all the bears that were loaned or given in trust to the museum are taking up residence at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon where teddy enthusiasts will be able to visit them. Money raised by the Christie’s auction will help the theatre display and look after the bears.
For Gyles and Michele, it solves the problem of what to do with the museum they founded 19 years ago now that they are too busy to give it their full attention. “Although they like the bears, our now grown up children said they are not going to look after them – one is a barrister, one an economist in Whitehall, and the other lives in Canada,” Gyles commented. “Relocating the bears is sad for Stratford but it’s a solution that everyone is happy with. William Shakespeare left Stratford at 18 to go to London to seek a life in the theatre. Now many of the museum’s bears are ending up on Broadway; Wimbledon Broadway, home of the Polka Theatre!”
‘Barle’, a Steiff cinnamon centre-seam teddy bear, circa 1909. Estimate £5,000 -£8,000 Christie’s Images Ltd 2007
It is a place Gyles knows very well as he is a Patron of the theatre and lives nearby. It is a registered charity and offers the bears a permanent home with plenty of space. The plan is to use it as a place for children and adults to visit as well as watch a play. “The good news is that Polka is the ideal place for the bears and they have the room,” he enthuses. This is an important point since over the years the museum has been given or bequeathed a large number of bears. For example, Pauline Grattan’s collection of 700, mostly costumed Hermann bears will go to Polka, as will Mike Read’s Sooty and Dame Barbara Cartland’s ‘Prince of Love’. There will be too many bears to display all at once, so the idea is to have a rolling exhibition, giving visitors a good reason to return again and again.
Magic at the auction
The sale at Christie’s on 19th September promises to be the auction of the year – and maybe even the decade – for teddy bear fans. For one thing, it’s going to be unlike any other teddy bear auction, thanks in part to the presence of the Tigger-ish Gyles Brandreth himself, who will be there to sign souvenir catalogues and offer Winnie the Pooh connected handshakes to anyone who’s interested. “I was befriended by Christopher Robin Milne,” he explains, “having written a play called ‘Now We Are Sixty’ with music by Julian Slade. Christopher Robin Milne liked the play and visited the museum, and we became friends. At the sale, people will be able to shake the hand that shook the hand of the man who held the paw of Winnie the Pooh!”
Fozzie Bear, the original puppet from The Muppet Show. Estimate £10,000 – £15,000 Christie’s Images Ltd 2007.
At the time of writing, Gyles was even negotiating with Christie’s to be allowed to give out ‘magic jelly beans’ which ensure that whoever eats them never cries again. Whether he gets his way with that one remains to be seen but even without the jelly beans the sale will offer plenty of magic. Many of the 300 lots will contain multiple items, and the museum’s amusing fixtures and fittings will be included so attendees will have a chance to bid for amazing items such as Vincent Van Bear’s self-portrait, minus ear, and even one of that famous Tudor queen, Anne Bearlyn. Quirky items aside, there’s no shortage of tempting lots for serious collectors with rarities such as Steiff Rod bears, mechanical teds, Schuco bears and various hard to come by novelties up for grabs. The original Fozzie Bear is expected to be sold, on the proviso that he is put on display somewhere, and there will be a number of Peter Bull items in the sale. “He gave us lots of lovely items including signed books,” Gyles remembers. “He was teddy bear royalty, the Queen Mother of the show!”
Amidst all the glamour, however, Gyles and Christie’s Associate Director Daniel Agnew are making sure that there are plenty of modestly priced items included in the auction so that budget-conscious buyers will be able to take away a part of this historic sale.
“In some ways it is heart rending to lose our personal collection and I know I shall have a tear in the eye on the day,” Gyles concludes.
There’s no denying that the closure of the Teddy Bear Museum is a great pity for visitors to Stratford-on-Avon but the removal of a large part of its contents to the Polka Theatre does at least ensure that arctophiles can still enjoy some of these wonderful bears. As for Gyles and Michele’s personal collection, thanks to the sale at Christie’s we now have a chance to see and enjoy it one last time and maybe, if we’re lucky, take home a piece of the magic to keep forever.
A rare Chiltern Skater bear. Estimate £800 – £1,200 Christie’s Images Ltd 2007.
About The Teddy Bear Museum
Broadcaster, writer and former MP Gyles Brandreth founded the Teddy Bear Museum in Stratford-on-Avon with his wife Michele nineteen years ago. “We were living in Stratford and had a collection of bears,” he recalls. “We found we had people from Japan and America asking to see our bears so we found a Tudor house in the middle of Stratford and opened it as a bear museum. We filled it with a mixture of bears – all own collection plus some that were borrowed and some that were left to the museum.”
The Gyles Brandreth Teddy Bear Collection goes under the hammer at Christie’s South Kensington on 19th September 2007 at 2pm. For further details telephone Daniel Agnew on 020 7752 3335 or email [email protected].
Following the recent announcement that they are closing their toy department, this will be the last teddy bear sale ever to be held at Christie’s so it promises to be an emotional as well as exciting occasion.
Visit www.polkatheatre.com for details about The Teddy Bear Museum Collection and general inform ation about Polka Theatre.
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