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Teatime in the Workshop: Missive No:4

A Christmas Bear Hug

Well only a few days of 2020 left and along with the rest of you we are hoping for a much, much better year ahead.  That said, we have experienced extraordinary kindness and a real sense of common purpose through this world-wide crisis.  Within the ‘Canterbury Bears Family’ (subscribers and customers) we have a new group who are our ‘Thank You Bear’ community, all profits from those bears were and still are, donated to NHS CHARITIES TOGETHER, we were championed by the lovely Philip Schofield and found this charitable effort went far beyond raising funds … it allowed us to continue to employ our outreach workers, place orders for fur, thread, stuffing and glass eyes with our British suppliers, kept our family focussed and above all connected us with our customers across the world. New bear owners took to social media in droves sharing pictures and videos … it was lovely, thank you to you all!

And so thoughts turn to gift-giving, the teddy bear has been carefully boxed and wrapped at this time of year, with pretty papers and Christmas bows, for more than a century. No matter how many electronic wonders fill our children’s bedrooms there is always a place for a bear and if it is a Canterbury Bear, it will last a lifetime.  Of course it is the parents, guardians, carers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and neighbours who choose to gift a bear to a child, we are all vulnerable to their charms. Perhaps it is nostalgia, but Christmas is a nostalgic time and the comfort that a teddy bear brings is unrivalled among children’s toys and collectables.  So enjoy the feeling that looking at a bear face brings, it engenders kindness and we all need that right now!


Bear Fact of the Day …

The Annual Teddy Bear Toss is a Christmas tradition that began in 1993 at the ice-hockey stadium in Kamloops, Canada.  A celebratory goal prompted fans to throw hundreds of bears onto the ice.  The tradition spread quickly through the Canadian Hockey League, and around the world, with bears being tossed onto the ice in December events and distributed to charities in time for Christmas.  In 2019,  the ‘Hershey Bears’ claimed a world record of 45,650 stuffed toys collected in a single game and they were distributed to over forty Pennsylvania charities.  Of course it might have been expected that 2020 would curtail the Annual Teddy Bear Toss, but not to be perturbed Ice Hockey clubs from Canada to Australia have found inventive ways to collect and redistribute our furry friends.  There have been ‘socially distanced donation lanes’, drive-through and drive-by teddy tossing, kerbside collections and all manner of creative means to get those bears to their new homes … it seems the power of the teddy bear is as strong this year as ever, although we do recommend that you always handle a bear with care!

The Bear Team are taking a festive break and will return to the workshop on 11th January 2021 … Any orders placed now will be fulfilled after that date … Merry Christmas to you all!

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Teatime in the workshop: Missive No:3

A Little Bear Artistry

It’s teatime in the workshop and with only a week to go until our order deadline for Christmas we are finding it more and more challenging to grab a moment to ‘paws for thought’ but in this extraordinary year, those moments have never been more important.   Today we’ve been thinking about what it means to make a bear in the way that we do.  The artistic interaction of the team results in some of our most creative designing as we work together on different stages of production. From those first designs that are translated into paper patterns, to choosing the exact mohair for a particular bear, to cutting the fabric, stamping the wooden joints (we have a Victorian press that makes our lovely joints from sustainable English wood), to finally sewing by machine and by hand until they are ready to be stuffed, trimmed and plumped.  The process requires patience, expertise and love – its why they last a lifetime! 

We know from members of the ‘Canterbury Bear Family’ (our customers and subscribers) that our artistry is understood and celebrated. 

Kelly Murphy is an artist herself, often painting the much-loved bears, rabbits and pets of her clients.  But she recently took the time to paint her own favourite toy.  Mustard was bought for Kelly by her grandparents forty years ago and sent to Saudi Arabia where she was born. She told us that: “He has literally been everywhere with me, he came to uni with me, he was even in my hand luggage on my honeymoon and in my hospital bag for the birth of my 2 daughters…please don’t laugh! Since having children however he has been where they are…if either of them are poorly or can’t sleep or have a bad dream they take Mustard from his place on our bed which makes them feel better! It’s amazing how such a small bear can have such an effect!”  We think her beautiful artwork has captured everything that makes Mustard so special. 

A more recent bear to sit for a portrait is just beginning his journey as a treasured friend. When Jacqui Page called to ask for a Cedric Bear on the birth of her new grandson, she decided that 2020 was a year when it was important to connect with people, to mark special occasions and to that end she commissioned artist Adalia Mynett to draw Cedric sitting in the tree outside her house: a very special piece of art to accompany Cedric into Rowan’s new nursery.  Perhaps we will hear from him in forty years’ time with news of Cedric’s adventures.

Cedric Ted

We have been featuring bears and their owners on our social media with the hashtag #bearsathome, if you have a Canterbury Bear, old or new, we’d love to see pictures of them at home or out and about.  You can see our friends on Instagram, Facebook and we have just launched a ‘Canterbury Bears at Home’ page on Pinterest.


Bear Fact of the Day …

In 2002 the New Museum in New York opened a major multi-floor exhibition called ‘The Keeper’ which explored what it means to collect.  So many of our customers are arctophiles (bear collectors) and truly understand the significance of ‘collecting’. We wonder if any of them visited this exhibition, because at its centre was an installation by Ydessa Hendeles’ entitled ‘Partners’ comprising of 3,000 early-20th-century family photographs, all containing a teddy bear; alongside a selection of exemplary antique bears. The museum explained, “Hendeles’s project establishes the teddy bear as a metaphor for the consolatory power of artworks and images and underscores the symbiotic relationship that ties people to their objects of affection.” We couldn’t agree more!


A short ‘Christmas Message from the Workshop’ before we embrace the festive season and swap the customary cup of tea for some mulled wine!


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Teatime in the workshop: Missive No.2

‘Presidential Delights’

It’s teatime in the workshop and although it isn’t quite December we are already indulging in a mince pie or two.  The end of the lockdown is in sight and we are looking forward to getting on with the uplifting business of Christmas.  A merry bunch of workshop elves packaging up our festive bear orders; and we have also been working with some inspirational people to create very particular bears, both private commissions and for some extraordinary brands.  Nurturing relationships, old and new, is such an important aspect of a family business and this month we have been making a ‘hug of bears’ (yes, it is the official collective noun) for the wonderful folk at the Welsh woollen duvet company Baavet; we also have shipped bears to ‘The Chocolatier’ Aneesh Popat that echo his extraordinary branding, more on that to follow; and we’ve been creating our lovely patchwork friends for Firmdale Hotels. This month, iconic lifestyle and hospitality brand Thyme have featured an interview with our own Kerstin Blackburn in their online magazine, ‘Thoughts from Thyme’ talking a little about the lovely lambs we make for them. You can read it here.

We’ve been feeling quite nostalgic about past commissions and writing in our last missive about President Roosevelt and the origin of the ‘Teddy Bear’, against the exciting backdrop of the elections in the United States, brought to mind Canterbury Bears’ own Presidential Commission.  In 1992 the Blackburn Family were contacted by the Smithsonian Institute in New York.  Bill Clinton had just been elected to become the next President of the United States and we were advised that clothier Ben Silver of Charleston had been engaged to make an inauguration silk to celebrate the occasion. They wanted us to make two very special bears– one for the new president and one for his vice president, Al Gore.  John Blackburn set about designing a traditional bear that would incorporate the silk and the team excitedly got to work doing what they do best. These historic bears were presented to Clinton and Gore in January 1993, the week of their White House Inauguration. This week we spent an indulgent hour or two looking through old boxes of photographs and look what we found …


Bear Fact for the Day …

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In 1907, five years after the creation of the first ‘teddy bear’, American composer John W. Bratton, wrote “The Teddy Bear Two-step.” Which we have come to know and love as “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. It was an instant instrumental hit … you can hear a fabulous recording of it being performed in the year it was written by the Black Diamond Band, listen here .

Twenty five years later, the Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy added the lyrics that we are so familiar with and it was recorded by popular thirties songster Val Rosing and The Henry Hall Orchestra.  Since then it has been recorded by many stars of screen and stage … but our favourite is the 1950 version by crooner Bing Crosby … enjoy!


We’ll be looking into a little bear artistry: ours, our customer’s #bearsathome art and a little meander through bear-art history!

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Teatime in the workshop: Missive No:1

‘A bear is for life, not just for lockdown’

So we are a week into a new lockdown in England, this time round we are perhaps not as bewildered as before; we are lifted by hope for a vaccine and if nothing else we know how important positivity is for us all. So with a little fancy footwork, we have outreach workers making bears from home and the ‘family bubble’ in the bear workshop: stuffing, stitching and finishing bears to be sent far and wide.

Smiley Workshop Bear

Having put our ‘bears in a row’ (we don’t make ducks … yet), we thought we would reach out to our followers, friends and members of the Canterbury Bear family (our mailing list) with a teatime message, when time allows. The aim is simply to connect, share a little bear news, have a cuppa and a biscuit … to shine a light when it may feel a little dark (it really is dark around teatime here in the Kentish Countryside afterall).

We shared an instagram post this week with the caption ‘childhood just wouldn’t be the same without a teddy bear or two’ and one of our followers commented ‘neither would adulthood’ … its an interesting thought don’t you think … what makes a teddy bear so special?

There is an impressive body of scientific work focussed upon what researchers rather coolly refer to as ‘transitional objects’, exploring why the human-bear bond is such an important part of how children grow emotionally.  Simple, open-faced, soft, portable and above all reliably comforting… they often give the young that little extra strength to navigate what might otherwise be daunting.  And those of us who love a bear know that there is nothing ‘transitional’ about them.

We receive so many pictures and letters from adults sharing news of Canterbury Bears who are still companions to them, those images are being shared on social media with our hashtag #bearsathome along with our new friends who have a bear for life. We’ll be sharing some of those stories in our teatime missives too.

During the first lockdown, to keep us afloat in so very many ways, we created the ‘Thank You Bear’ with all profits donated to NHS Charities Together.  Were those bears bought exclusively for children?  … not at all!  They were of course sent to new babies, to missed-grandchildren and to be opened on lockdown birthdays; but they also went to staff in hospitals, to the elderly (longed-for grandparents and those who were simply lonely), to teens and adults without children in their lives, and those who just wanted a symbol to put in their window as an expression of support.

We believe that everyone who received a Thank You Bear was compelled to do one thing … give it a hug!  So one week into lockdown 2.0 we are sending you a bear-hug and looking forward to the next teatime that we share.


Bear Fact for the Day …

Let’s start with the most basic of Teddy Bear facts, a story undoubtedly known to all arctophiles (bear collectors) but we would be remiss if we didn’t start our ‘Paws for Thought’ with this one.  In  1902, President Theodore Roosevelt purportedly refused to shoot a bear that had been tied up for him, newspapers carried cartoons of “Teddy” and “The Bear”. Which inspired a gentleman named Morris Michtom to create a stuffed plush “Teddy Bear” for his shop window display.  Of course, soft bears were being created elsewhere at the time (not least of which in Europe), but without the story we wouldn’t be calling them ‘teddies’.


We’ll share Presidential tales of Canterbury Bears in the White House, in times a little less turbulent than today but not quite as far back as Teddy Roosevelt!