Teddy bears are no longer child’s play – these cherished toys have become very collectable

This Christmas, many children will be unwrapping a teddy bear, which will become a much-loved companion, often over a lifetime. However, these cherished toys can sell for thousands. In 1994 a 1905 Steiff bear named Teddy Girl sold for a record £110,000. It was surpassed in 2000, when a Steiff complete with its own luggage and clothes by Louis Vuitton sold for 2.1 million dollars.

The teddy was created in 1902 from a cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt, after he refused to shoot a brown bear. Sue Pearson has been trading them for over 40 years, and she also offers a restoration service. ‘One lady had slept with her bear for 60 years. I said: “I don’t think he ought to sleep with you any longer.”’

Collectors are all ages and include men too. ‘It brings out the best in people, you look at a bear and it always makes you smile; it brings back memories.’ She advises people to collect what they love. ‘You have to connect with a bear and love it, be it an old one or a new one.’

If your knowledge is limited then there is no substitute for buying from a reputable dealer and it’s worth researching online and in books. Vintage Steiff, Gebruder and Bing will command a higher price. Popular British brands include Dean’s, Farnell and Merrythought.

‘The vintage Steiff are beautiful quality and they are one of the earliest bears. Even without the button, you can’t mistake it,’ says Sue. ‘A Farnell was Christopher Robin’s bear, which became the inspiration for AA Milne. With its recent royal connections, Sue predicts Paddington Bear will become more collectable.’

Vintage bears very rarely have their original labels but will always be more highly prized. ‘Don’t ever put your teddy bear in the washing machine,’ she advises. ‘And watch the moths. Moths love vintage bears; they taste nice apparently.’

You can buy vintage bears from £20 or pay £2,000-£3,000 and anything in between. ‘Most people fall in love with a bear’s expression and face. It’s what motivates them to buy. There are some really nice 1950s and 1930s English bears coming on the market as collectors are getting old and retiring.’

If provenance or a story is attached to a bear and can be proved it can boost its value. ‘Often bears have interesting stories and, even better, a picture of the owner with the bear always adds value. There are some really interesting ones as many of them have come through two world wars,’ she says.

Bunny Campione, antiques expert on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, gives one word of warning – never leave an unlimited bid when buying at auction. In 1994 at a Sotheby’s teddy bear auction, two separate agents asked her advice on a particular bear. ‘I told both of them that it shouldn’t make more than £3,000. But both sides had been told just buy it. In the end it went for £55,000 to an American couple who called it Happy Anniversary. The Englishman who was buying it for his son for Christmas said to his secretary when she told him it went for £55,000: “Thank God you didn’t get it!”’