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Joy Toys : History of Australian Teddy Bears
The oldest and most prolific of the Australian soft toy manufacturers, Joy Toys is known for its quality. Highly sought – after by collectors, Joy Toys teddy bears command high prices on the Australian market.
Early Days – 1920s
The teddy bear industry began in Australia in South Yarra, Melbourne. Joy Toys commenced business in the early 1920s, as teddies became popular, and as WW1 meant a ban on teddies being imported from Germany, and disrupted shipments from Britain. Established by George Kirby and his wife, the company flourished.
The earliest bears produces were fully jointed, from fine quality English mohair, stuffed with wood wool, and had twill pads with four foot claws. Eyes were glass, of the best quality. As German bears had been the predominant imports, these early Joy Toys bears resembled German bears.
The company continued its success, with the bears becoming distinctly Australian in appearance, but with British characteristics. Necks became immobile, and arm pads were tapered and made of cotton, including twill. The distinctive Joy Toys nose appeared, in which an outer stitch on each side was extended up, and with a “Y” shaped mouth. Kapok ( soft, silky fibre from the seed pod of a tropical tree) was used as the stuffing. Often the eyes are missing from these early bears, which appears to have been a fault in the production.
In 1935 Joy Toys acquired the licencing rights to produce Walt Disney character toys and this helped the company to grow. Mickey Mouse was a popular toy, with pie-crust eyes, and similar to the original rat-like “Steamboat Willy”.
In 1946 the British firm of Tri-ang took over the Joy Toys Ltd firm in Whangerie, N.Z. Tri-ang was originally founded by the Lines Brothers in 1850, and which also owned Pedigree.
Dolls were produced, often of felt with buckram (cloth mask) painted faces. Good examples still exist though they are a favourite with moths and so some damage is usually present!
Joy Toys teddies of this period often display a distinctive smile! Happy bears are appealing and sell well! In the 1950s they had jointed (though stumpier) arms and legs, made from mohair/synthetic plush, velveteen or, later in the 60s, synthetic plush. Paw pads were often from a similar fabric, sometimes reversed. Crumbed rubber was also used for stuffing during this period, which deteriorated over time and so many of these bears have an unfortunate lumpiness!
During the 1960s, with the introduction of machine washable synthetic materials, the company developed a distictive unjointed teddy, with outstretched arms and straight legs. Pads were of a similar fabric. The same sweet smiling face, glass eyes and embroidered nose and mouth, could be seen in a range of animals that were also produced, such as pandas and dogs. Stuffing was plastic foam moulded into the shape of the body.
Golliwogs were made at this time, with smiling vinyl faces, short fuzzy black hair, cloth bodies and jacket “tails”. These toys are highly sought-after.
Another distinctive toy of the 60s and early 70s was the long-legged range. These included golly wogs and poodles. Each “stood” three feet tall with long dangly arms and legs. Stuffed with foam, gollies had flat cotton faces, whereas poodles had shaped faces, curly “hair’ and a tail.
In 1966 Lines Bros (Tri-ang) took over the company, though it continued to operate under the Joy Toys name.
Teddies produced in the early 1970s were of the unjointed shape. Produced from synthetic materials, they still generally had the beautiful glass eyes that Joy Toys was renowned for.
A vast range of soft toy animals also continued to be manufactured at this time, including giraffes in various sizes, dogs and cats. Giraffes, as they had been since the 1950s, were made from artificial silk plushes, giving them a lovely satiny sheen.
In the late 1960s, and into the early 1970s, tariffs were removed by the Australian goverment on imported toys. Consequently, the market was flooded with cheap imports from Asia. This made it impossible for Joy Toys to compete successfully. After attempting to stay in business with a range of cheaper quality toys, it closed in 1976.
The labels attached to the toys varied according to when they were made, though the time periods given are approximations.
1920s-40s-green embroidered “Joy Toys/Made In Australia” on white cotton label.
1950s-early 60s-green printed “Joy Toys/Made in Australia” on white cotton label.
1960s-70s-red or purple printed “Joy Toys/(Made In)Australia” on white label. Ocasionally labels simply said “Made In Australia”.
Swing tags accompanied each toy, though these are now hard to find intact.
Value depends on many factors, including the generally accepted market determinants: rarity; age; condition; and appeal.
The increasing use of the internet has affected values in recent years, as it has opened up the global market to buyers and sellers. Many prices have fallen, whilst others have remained steady.
The following prices are an approximation only, and reflect the differences in values from those expected at a market, through to those expected at auction, private sale or antique shop.
1930/40s – $250-$1,200
1950s - $80-$250
1960/70s – $30-$100
1940/50s – $45-$110
1960/70s – $10-60
1960s – $80-$300
1970s – $50-150