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Company History

Date Event
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 soft toys.

1908 The first teddy bear is believed to have been made.
1921 Registered as a Private Limited Company. A new factory, Alpha Works, was built alongside The Elms.
1925 Alpha was registered as a trademark.
1926 T B Wright joined the company as a sales representative.
1927 Anima wheeled toys introduced.
1928 Agnes Farnell died on 25 January. A showroom was opened in New Union Street, East London.
1929 Louis Wolf & Co was used to distribute Farnell toys throughout USA and Canada.
1931 The Unicorn range of cheaper soft toys was introduced.
1932 An agreement was reached with William Bailey (Birmingham) that one sales team sell both companies products.
1934 A major fire destroyed the factory and stock.
1935 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..
1940 The factory was destroyed in the war but was then rebuilt.
1944 Henry Farnell died.
1950's The trademark was redesigned. New showroom opened in East London.
1959 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.
1960 "Mother Goose" was registered as a trademark for a range of washable nylon toys.
1964 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".
1968 Farnell was sold to a finance company. Production ceased.
1996 The Farnell company name was bought by Merrythought who now produce replicas of the original Farnell bears.


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 favourite.

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.

1915 Farnell 1920's Farnell 1930's Farnell 1950's Farnell 1960's Toffee Rare White Toffee
1915 Farnell 1920's Farnell 1930's Farnell 1950's Farnell 1960's Farnell Toffee bear Rare White Farnell Toffee bear

These are just a few examples, visit our Vintage Bears where, depending on availability, you may see more Farnell bears.

Farnell Bear Identification


  • 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: -

    Alpha Farnell shield label

  • 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: -
    This is a
    F 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.





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