The word jumbo is defined as a very large person, animal, or thing. And that is exactly what a jumbo teddy bear is: a very large thing. It’s a good thing ‘jumbo’ exists at all or else we would not be lucky enough to be able to experience the sheer joy of having a jumbo teddy bear. While one might think a jumbo teddy bear is a little too excessive when a much smaller one would do, they obviously have not had the pleasure of having one that’s bigger than even an imagination could dream up.
When teddy bears were first created, they certainly were not jumbo size. In fact, the first real plush toys for the public were animal pincushions made of felt that had been admired by children whose mother’s owned them. In order to better understand the evolution of plush toys and how they became jumbo sized, going back to the beginning is a great place to start.
Apollonia Margarete Steiff was born in 1847 and for the first 18 months of her life she was a healthy baby, but then she contracted polio a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord. She was left with a a weakened right arm, a paralysed left foot and a partially paralysed right foot. With these disabilities, she had to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Margarete’s diary indicates she was a happy and secure child who received enormous support from her family. Every effort was made to try and find a cure for her but by 1857, when she was 10 years old, Margarete had begun to accept her disability. She began to study the zither and when good enough, started giving lessons which eventually afforded her the opportunity to buy a sewing machine because she found hand-sewing too difficult. In 1877 she opened a felt store which produced felt petticoats and children’s clothes. Margarete followed the latest trends through magazines one of which published do-it-yourself patterns that she often followed, including one of a small elephant she produced in felt as pincushion for herself. She liked them so much she made them as gifts for friends and family.
Most toys for children at the time that Margarete lived had been manufactured out of hard materials, such as wood or tin. Dolls were popular, but their papier-mch or porcelain heads and bodies stuffed with horsehair, were not comforting to cuddle. When children saw their mothers’ felt pincushions, they claimed them for themselves loving their size and tactile qualities. By 1880, Margarete had received so many requests for the pincushions, she started selling them. The first batch were snapped up and soon soft toys, including dogs, camels, lions, monkeys and donkeys formed the majority of her business. By 1892, after having moved the business into larger premisses, the company began to produce a catalogue displaying the company’s entire range. After applying for a patent ‘for the making of animals and other figures to serve as playthings,’ the first Steiff bear was created. The Steiff bear had begun the journey that would see him perfected and established at the world’s most popular plush toy.
It is inevitable that over the years, as teddy bears continued to dominate the plush toy market, larger teddy’s seemed a natural progression for these iconic stuffed toys. Since children and adults alike had already fallen madly in love with teddy bears, making them as big as possible was undoubtedly going to be embraced just like the bears themselves. And voila: from big to jumbo teddy bears, there is something for everyone’s tastes. But of course, for anyone that is a true die-hard lover of teddy bears, only a jumbo teddy bear will do!
Angeline Hope is a collector of jumbo teddy bear toys. You can view a selection of jumbo teddy bears including stuffed panda bear toys at MyBigPlush.