What is there about a clown that puts a smile on our face?? Actually, some clowns can be pretty scary to little children, but on the whole, a clown is a sure way to entertain children of all ages, big and small, young and old. A clown (or toy, doll or teddy bear represented as a clown) brings back a flood of memories to adults who recall attending the circus with Mom and Dad.
I actually remember spending time at the site of a visiting circus and "being recruited" to help unload equipment and and get the tents erected. We got yelled at by the guys in charge, and we didn't make a dime for our efforts, but what a thrill it was to be a part of this once-a-year event in our small town. I don't recall how old I was at the time, but I spent a good number of years following with plans to run away and join the circus. The clowns, of course, were the highlight of the circus, as they were guaranteed to produce strong laughs that came all the way up from the toes.
A very rare clockwork clown by Cramer, circa 1929
The history of clowns dates all the way back to ancient Egypt. Court jesters as early as 2500 B.C. entertained Royalty, and if they were good, their life way spared! The Elizabethan theatre was resplendent with clowns as evidenced in Shakespeare's comedies. The first circus clown is reported to have made an appearance in England as early as 1768. In America, the circus clown followed a path to vaudeville, with clowns appearing in comic acts. From there they went on to entertain in silent movies, then "the talkies." Today's baby boomers can also enjoy fond memories of some great entertainment on television, including the likes of Clarabell the clown on the popular Howdy Doody series. Clowns have also made strong impressions in the commercial world, as attested by McDonalds trade mark clown Ronald McDonald.
1928 Steiff teddy clown, 10 ½ inches tall
Clown collectors can go many directions to build a collection. The 19th century Penny toys, primarily produced in France and Germany, frequently used the clown as the theme for their delightful toys. Today these charming toys command a top price with collectors. Another toy that capitalized on the popularity of toys was the famous Schoenhut toy company of Pennsylvania. One of their most popular sets was the Humpty Dumpty circus set of wood figures, marketed in the early 1900s. The clowns were featured with performing animals or with circus props.
German toy makers were quick to join the parade of clowns, crafting windup tinplate clowns performing a variety of movements. It is safe to say that toy makers produced delightful clown figures in a variety of materials, including wood, cast iron, tinplate, papier-m ¢ch© and just about anything they could mold, shape or form into a clown. Doll makers were not to be left behind, and clowns made an appearance on the doll market in all the popular materials commonly used, from china and bisque, wood, cloth and a host of other materials.
This delightful Steiff Roly Poly stands 10 ½ inches (26.5 cm) and dates to 1910. He may not be a teddy bear, but I would guess he would find a happy home with any teddy bear collection
For the teddy bear collector, clowns make a wonderful theme. Seeing the warm face of an ordinary teddy bear is reward enough, but dress him as a clown and one can't help break into a wide grin. All the top teddy bear producers from the earliest years right on up to the present time have offered some truly wonderful clown designs. Today's teddy bear artists have also been inspired to craft some amazing clown bears, from miniatures to teddies that you can barely get your arms around. If the clown bear you have your heart set on dates to the 1910 era and has that magical Steiff button in his ear, you may want to get a second mortgage on your home, as the bear is guaranteed to command a 4 figure price, whether at auction or offered by a dealer. If you are like many of us and have to weigh the price against your weekly allowance, there are a number of modern day teddy clowns that are most affordable. If you have some sewing talents you can even buy some delightful teddy clown kits and build your very own!
This 18 ½ inch Steiff clown dates to 1910
There is one dark cloud on the teddy clown horizon, and that is, you will find yourself competing with people who collect clowns of every kind, which unfortunately is likely to include teddy bear clowns. This may put your choice at a premium price, or it may leave the shelf at a show before you have a chance to consider it. But don't despair. There is an absolutely heart warming teddy clown just around the next corner that has outstretched arms, saying "take me home!" The odds are probably 10 to 1 that you will indeed.
Tags: Bears and Soft Toys