J K Farnell, a family business,
was established in Notting Hill, London by John Kirby Farnell.
They made items such as tea cosies and pin cushions.
Following John Farnell's death his son, Henry,
and his daughter Agnes leased an 18th century house, called
"The Elms", in Acton where they began producing
||The first teddy bear is believed to have been made.
||Registered as a Private Limited Company. A new
factory, Alpha Works, was built alongside The Elms.
||Alpha was registered as a trademark.
||T B Wright joined the company as a sales representative.
||Anima wheeled toys introduced.
||Agnes Farnell died on 25 January. A showroom was
opened in New Union Street, East London.
||Louis Wolf & Co was used to distribute Farnell toys throughout
USA and Canada.
||The Unicorn range of cheaper soft toys was introduced.
||An agreement was reached with William Bailey (Birmingham)
that one sales team sell both companies products.
||A major fire destroyed the factory and stock.
||A new single storey factory was opened. The Alpha
and Teddy series were re-introduced along with new lines Che-Kee,
Alpac and Joy Day dolls. A larger showroom opened again in New
Union Street, East London..
||The factory was destroyed in the war but was then
||Henry Farnell died.
||The trademark was redesigned. New showroom opened in East
||A second smaller factory, employing 100 staff, was setup in
Hastings, Sussex - this later became known as Olympia Works
and most of the bears produced there were exported.
||"Mother Goose" was registered as a trademark for
a range of washable nylon toys.
||Due to cheap imports the company downsized and all production
was moved to Hastings, A subsidiary, Acton Toycraft, took over
the lease of Alpha Works and renamed it "Twyford Works".
||Farnell was sold to a finance company. Production ceased.
||The Farnell company name was bought by Merrythought
who now produce replicas of the original Farnell bears.
Farnell's earliest bear designers were Agnes Farnell and Sybil
Kemp and the Alpha bear, first produced in 1908,
proved very popular and continued to be made until the company was
sold. Having said that, the Alpha bear underwent some design changes.
In the 1920's: the muzzle was left unshaven and the webbed claws,
on the larger bears, disappeared. In the 1950's, due to the cost
of materials, the body became less portly, the limbs shorter and
the feet smaller.
Farnell made a number of musical bears and in the late 1930's introduced
a range with a Swiss Thorens "stop and go" musical movement
to which Farnell had exculsive rights. The Alpac
range, was introduced circa 1935 for babies and was made from alpaca.
Chubby bear, who had a cup and spoon, was another
One of the most famous Farnell bears is Toffee,
a character from the BBC's Listen With Mother program. Toffee was
made in 1960, he was 25cm tall and made from gold mohair, he had
a flat muzzle and large bulbous forehead characteristic of Toffee.
He was dressed in a red woollen hat and scarf. N.B. Farnell's Toffee
can be confused with the Chad Valley version which was made in 1953.
|| 1930's Farnell
||Rare White Toffee
These are just a few examples, visit our Vintage
Bears where, depending on availability, you may see more Farnell
- A round card swing tag, attached to the chest, reading "Alpha
Make" was introduced in 1925
- In 1926 a white and blue embroidered label was fixed to the
foot, this was used until 1945: -
- In the 1940's, after the war, a satin label, with "Alpha" in a shield
was used: -
- During the 1960's another satin-like label, using the same colours
was used but it read "This is a Farnell Quality Soft Toy;
Made in Hastings, England" - the original Alpha trade name
was dropped. The label was often placed in a side seam: -
A R N E L L
Made in Hastings, England
- Eyes: small, early bears had black button eyes, larger bears
tended to have glass eyes which were painted brown on the backs
- although that paint usually wears away to leave clear eyes
- Nose: vertical stitching in a wide rectangular shape, elongated
outer stitches extended upwards. In the 1930's the shape became
more square without the elongated outer stitches and in the 1940's they became more bulbous.
- Early bears can be confused with Steiff bears due to the pronounced
shaved muzzle, humped back, long tapering arms with upward curved,
spoon-shaped paws and large feet.
- Pads and claws: pads are usually felt (lined with cardboard until 1920) but rexine was introduced in the 1930's and it's use grew until, in the 1950's, most bears had rexine pads. Larger Farnell bears, made before 1930's, often had five long
webbed paw stitches.