Boys and their toys

Boys and their toys

There’s a saying “You’re never too old to have a happy childhood”, and maybe it was a combination of hearing this, and my partner Claire introducing me to her vast cuddly toy collection from childhood that prompted me recently to start collecting teddy bears. In the past I’ve enjoyed collecting vinyl, wristwatches and chairs. Being a ‘collector’ may seem a bit old-school to some, but the things I love most about it are the thrill of the chase when you really set your heart on something and go after it, and when you finally nab that particular item at the right price (like my dear old Mum, I’ve always loved a bargain).

With the vinyl, I used to buy and sell records, mainly jazz soul and funk, which subsidised trips to the US, where I bought the records. Having lived in New York back in 1984 I was exposed to black music primarily by a Haitian couple who had a little junk shop below my apartment, and when I got back to my home-town, Dublin, I started buying practically any record with a black person on the front. When I moved to London in 1990 I got a lot more clued up by going to clubs, and hanging out in record shops in Soho like SoulJazz, Mr Bongo, and Reckless. I still love this kind of music, although I listen to a much more diverse selection these days.

As for the watches, in the early nineties I had a girlfriend, who lived in Bethnal Green, who introduced me to Brick Lane. Of course it was very different in those days, not very trendy and quite downbeat. Fortunately this meant there were bargains to be had, and I used to schlep off down there for about 7am with a dispatch bag on my shoulder to buy all sorts of rubbish (clothes, vinyl, candlesticks, videos and other bric-a-brac). On Bacon Street a bunch of mainly older codgers used gather with old wristwatches to buy, sell and show off to one another.

Much of it was nothing special, but there were a few guys who’d always have something more desirable and I picked up many characterful mechanical watches for £10-25. I became particularly pally with one of these gents, who repaired watches also and lived near me in Finchley, which was handy. Of course eBay came along and it proved fertile ground for searching out many other time pieces (military, divers, chronographs etc). I did plan on buying myself a nice watch for my fiftieth, but brought it forward and congratulated myself on finishing the Knowledge of London with the purchase of an Omega de Ville watch with a power reserve feature which is basically like a petrol gauge!

Then it was chairs which started to take my fancy. Currently I have enough seating in my house for about fifty people and will be doing a clearout soon. Leather and wood are my main interests. I now possess all the Ercol pieces I’ve ever wanted – these include the Chair-maker’s chair, the Love-seat, the Day-bed Studio couch, the 427 Easy chair and a nest of Pebble tables (beware of “Ercolism” – addiction to Ercol). I found most of these on Gumtree or eBay… everything turns up on eBay at some stage (Claire’s goth sis recently bought mouse bones on there!).

And now to the teddy bears… The world of teddy bears is vast and varied and began just before WW1 back in early 1900s. Most of the bears I’ve bought recently are traditional jointed bears made in the last 20 years and in perfect condition. Strangely it’s the well knackered ones that fetch big money. Some of these are “one of a kind” or “OOAK” as they’re referred to. One of my purchases was a “yes-no” bear who has a little tail that you wiggle to move his head, which was similar to the only bear I remember from childhood. Help Empty My Attic trades on eBay and this has been my source of most of my collection. It’s amazing what you can buy for £20 or so. Claire and I are thinking of getting a dog sometime in the future, and we’re looking at the Bichon Frise variety in particular. And I’ve realised there’s a curious likeness between these dogs and a lot of the bears I’ve been buying, so maybe they’re just a stop gap! Whatever my motivation for this new interest (and Claire has proposed a few, the trainee psychotherapist that she is), a few teddy bears around a house certainly give it a warm fuzzy feeling and start a few conversations with visitors.

When it comes to collecting, I shudder to think of the amount of hours, days… maybe weeks I’ve now spent now on eBay trawling the 24/7 carboot sale of the world. If I’d spent a fraction of this time on my guitar, I reckon I could be down The Royal Festival Hall entertaining you all. But there has been a lot of fun along the way, getting that “You’ve won” email and then a few days or weeks later our lovely postman Nick knocking on the door like Father Christmas.

And one big benefit is that, if I’ve been rubbish and forgotten to buy someone a birthday present, I usually have more than a few collectibles on hand to use as quality gifts! Just don’t tell my family…

Photo features teddy bears sitting on a Hans Wegner Wishbone chair wearing a Fossil watch designed by architect Frank Gehry around his waist.

  1. Highly amusing M. I’d better not get a teddy bear for Christmas

  2. I don’t know whether you know where it is, but Kensington Town Hall has a Teddy Fair on Sunday, 9th September (it’s in Hornton Street)

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