The Early Days
Until the turn of the 20th century, toys and their production was more or less something parents and grandparents did for the children of the day. America was the first country to appreciate a vast untapped market in the 1890s and Britain and Germany soon followed. Within a five year span at the turn of the century, Brittains began making their model soldiers, Harbutts began to make their plasticine and in 1902, Dean's began to make their rag books. Dean's had been around for almost 200 years at this time, producing books of all types and were well known for producing Debrett's Peerage. Two of the directors of the company followed the American example at the close of the nineteenth century and started a firm in London's east end, Dean and Green, producing printed cotton sheets of dolls and animals. In 1902, they experimented with the production of a child's book printed on calico, a simple idea but one which meant that the book could be washed. The success of this experiment, even though the books cost 6/- each (about £25 in today's currency) persuaded some of the directors of Dean & Son, to form a new company specifically for the production of printed cotton books and toys and so it was that on 8th August, 1903, Dean's Rag Book came into existence with an address of 160a Fleet Street, London.
Deans Rag Book Company
The original rag book had been a single colour print with a two colour printed cover and tied with a green ribbon. Rag books flowed almost immediately from the Fleet Street company, by now in full colour. The print runs were high and the costs were greatly reduced, enabling rag books to be within the financial reach of everyone. Postcard albums and scrap albums were also produced and the company began not only to print doll material but also to have them stitched and converted into rag dolls. Other products followed. Wall hangings for the nursery were produced, dressing up clothes - particularly those of a militaristic design - and in 1908, the Swimeesy Buoy was first produced. This would allegedly save the life of anyone wearing it when in water. It was simply two pieces of very fine cotton material sewn together with a valve in the middle for inflating the product. (we know them better as water-wings) We suppose they must have worked as many tens of thousands were produced until the outbreak of WW11.
The War Years
Dean's Rag Book Co. outgrew their Fleet Street premises (which they had shared with Dean & Son) and moved in 1911 to the Elephant and Castle where they were to remain until 1936. By now Dean's were known world wide, employing hundreds of operatives and the building had one of the first illuminated neon signs in London which was to be a landmark in the south bank of the Thames. During World War 1, the imporation of German toys ceased and Dean's took advantage of this to produce a range of mohair plush toys. These were in a separate catalogue entitled "Kuddlemee Toys" which came out in 1915 and included the first catalogued bears Dean's produced. However, this range of toys did not last and it was not until 1922 that the first Dean's branded mohair bear was produced. Since that time, there has always been a bear included in Dean's portfolio. Perhaps it is appropiate to mention here that the bear is not the longest serving member bearing a Dean's label, that privilege goes to the Golly which made its appearance as 'Lulu and Pete Coon Doll'
Teddy Bear Development
The development of the Teddy Bear originated in Germany in 1902 and the development of mohair material coincidentally happened at the same time The technique of jointing occurred at this period and by 1904, the Teddy Bear as we know it was more or less complete. There is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that Dean's, who made jointed dolls in the early 1900s, were producing unbranded jointed mohair bears for a particular importer as early as 1906. Over the years, many different types of fabric for Teddy Bear plush have been the subject of experimentation including rayon in the 30s (Art silk),cotton and nylon in the 50s and acrylic in the 70s up to the present day. However, nothing has approached the popularity of mohair material, even though it is by far the most expensive and all the bears at auction which reach high prices are made of mohair. The current trend, especially in Britain, for acrylic bears is unlikely to topple the popularity of mohair. The evidence is that if you want a bear for posterity, mohair is the way to go! All manner of toys, dolls and animals were developed in the 1920s with Dismal Desmond being the most famous. The very first representation of Mickey Mouse as a toy was a Dean's creation in 1930 with the likes of Donald Duck, Popeye, Pluto and Lucky Oswald following in the next decade. In 1936, Dean's moved from the Elephant and Castle to High Path, Merton near Wimbledon where it remained throughout the war years.
After the War Years
Times were difficult for Dean's after the war during the period of austerity and in 1956 the company moved to Rye in Sussex on the south coast of England. By now, Teddy Bears were a major part of the Dean's collection and many of the toys were produced by Gwentoys, a newly formed company operating out of Pontypool in South Wales. The two companies merged in 1972 and the headquarters were moved to Pontypool where they remained until 2005. By the time the current owners of Dean's, Neil and Barbara Miller acquired the company in 1988, toy manufacture had been taken over by the Far East and from the eary 90s, Dean's concentrated on making collectable bears. The Dean's Collectors Club was formed in 1994 to provide a focal point for all collectors interested in Dean's products. Today, there are still well over 2000 members of the club, many of whom joined in its inaugural year and who eagerly look forward to receiving the new club bear with each year's subscription. Dean's relocated to the wilds of Herefordshire in 2005 from where the business is now run.
About Deans Teddy Bears
The Deans Rag Book Company (1903) is Britain's oldest toy manufacturer.They provide a range of specialist collector bears including miniatures.Most are manufactured is small editions of between 10 and 100.
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