Although I mostly collect dolls and Naomi mostly collects bears and other stuffed toys occasionally she buys a doll and I buy a bear. As our collections will be displayed together in our new home it doesn’t seem to matter who actually owns what so much. Farley is an Alpha Farnell bear we spotted on eBay recently and I bought him. He is about 38 cm or almost15 inches tall and made of a nice golden mohair. Farley has worn away his paw pads revealing white stuffing which the eBay seller says is Kapok. His paw pads were probably Rexine, a type of artificial leather often used in upholstery. Farley was most likely made in the 1960s which is why he appealed to me. He looks like our childhood bears.
Farley will be getting some new paw pads which I can do myself and we will show you how he turned out once the job has been done.
A Bit of History
We love to know where our dolls and bears came from so when we get a new one we do a bit of reading about them. Here is what I’ve learned about Alpha Farnell.
The company was formed in Notting Hill, London in 1840 by John Kirby Farnell, a silk merchant, to make various textile products such as tea cosies, pin cushions and pen wipers. After John’s death in 1897, the company was taken over by his son Henry. The first teddy bears were made by John’s daughter Agnes around 1906 -1908 at their new factory in Acton. They were the first British made teddies and by 1910 the famous Harrods department store was featuring them in its catalogue.
During World War I Farnell produced miniature soldier bears that were given to soldiers for good luck. The little bears were often carried in their owners’ top pockets.
Due to the large demand for bears after the war the company built a new factory beside the existing one in Acton in 1921. This was known as Alpha Works. It was at this factory that designer Sybil Kemp created the Alpha Bears. These bears wore tags with the Farnell name. One of them went on to become famous as the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh after author A.A Milne bought an Alpha Farnell bear for his infant son Christopher Robin Milne. In 1925 the company registered the Alpha Farnell trademark.
Typical characteristics of Early Farnell bears:
The Teddy Bear Museum website has this to say about the early bears.
• Eyes – large bears, clear glass – small bears boot button.
• Ears -large cupped ears either at the corners or less usually, the side of the head.
• Muzzle – usually prominent and shaved.
• Nose – vertically stitched with long upward end stitches.
• Mohair – long and silky of very high quality.
• Pads – felt or cotton Claws – webbed paw claws. 5 stitches on both paws and pads.
• Hump – rounded. Arms – long and curved. Legs – thick legs with narrow ankles.
• Quite often big, long feet. Seam – Front final seam.
As with all these things, there are many bears with only some of the above features and some with hardly any. It was generally accepted though that Farnell bears were of good quality with long soft silky mohair.
Despite gaining international success as manufacturers of high-quality bears Alpha Farnell suffered bad luck over the years. The stock market crash of 1929 badly affected their overseas sales. In 1934 their factory burned down but was rebuilt, only to be destroyed again during the Blitz on London in 1940 and rebuilt for a second time. A nice little story about Alpha Farnell during this period is that they designed miniature teddy bears that would fit on to the back of children’s gas masks making them seem a bit less scary and less likely to be forgotten and left somewhere by a child.
Henry Farnell died in 1944 and like many toy companies, Alpha Farnell struggled in the 1960s as cheaper imports from Asia became available and demand for soft toys slowed. Farnell moved their whole operation to Hastings, Sussex in an effort to cut costs and compete in the international market but sadly the company went out of business, ceasing production in 1968. Merrythought took over the name in 1996.
Three companies formed by ex Alpha Farnell employees were Pixie, Twyford and Invicta. The bears made by these firms somewhat resemble the Alpha Farnell bears.
More Alpha Farnell
- http://www.blueribbonbears.com/farnell.htm Note: A couple of dates in the first part of this are probably misprints unless J K Farnell was a Time Traveller.