55PB is the first movable toy teddy bear Steiff made. It is designed by Richard Steiff, a nephew of Margarete. Richard got the idea through his regular visits to the zoo in Stuttgart. There he studied and drew various animals, especially the brown bears.
In 1902 he made the first teddy bear, on the basis of his sketches, which was codenamed 55PB. 55 was the size of the teddy bear in centimetres, the P stood for ‘Plusch’ (plush) and B ‘Beweglich’ (movable). The bear looked like a real bear, arms and legs were attached to the body by means of string that was fastened with a knot just below the plush. This allowed the arms and legs to move, something that wasn’t possible before. Until then, the bears were usually on four legs, which couldn’t move.
The teddy bear was first shown to the public at the Leipzig Spielwarenmesse in 1903, but at first, the bear was not very successful. The story goes that at the end of the day, Richard was packing the teddy bears when Hermann Berg walked by, a buyer for Borgfeldt, New York. He had walked around at the fair all week, but had not found anything to bring back to America. When Richard showed him 55PB, he was hooked immediately. Hermann Berg bought all 100 teddy bears present and ordered another 3,000 more, for 8 German Marks each.
The teddy bear craze was born, but also a mystery. We’re sure that 3,000 teddy bears were ordered and made, there are documents of that in the Steiff archives. There are patterns and even pictures of this bear, but not a sample was kept. There are examples of the boxes they were shipped in to America and papers of loading and shipping. But not one 55PB has ever surfaced.
In the Steiff Museum in Giengen the story is told to children that the teddy bears sunk in a shipwreck. A fascinating story, which was told for the first time in 1953 during the 50th anniversary of Steiff, and unfortunately is not more than a story.
Why hasn’t a 55PB surfaced in an attic or at an auction? Steiff’s theory is that this is due to the construction of the teddy bear. The arms and legs were secure with string, making them very fragile. The teddy bears just didn’t survive. Should there ever be a 55PB found, it will surely break all records, because the 55PB is the ultimate possession for a collector.
How would you recognize a 55PB teddy bear? He has a very dark colour, he doesn’t have the usual cute, charming looks of the current Steiff teddy bears and he doesnt have a button in his ear, because Steiff began using buttons in 1904.
The 55PB lasted just one year, before a new model was made. Both Richard Steiff and his aunt weren’t satisfied with the 55PB and in 1904 they mad a new and improved model: 35PB. At the World Fair of 1904 in St. Louis, America, 12,000 teddy bears of model 35 PB were sold. Margarete Steiff and Richard were given the gold medal. The arms and legs were still tied together with strong string. Later they used twisted wires and rods, but nothing sufficed. In 1905, Richard designed the cardboard discs and metal pins, a system that is still used in teddy bears today.