Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Antique Electric Eye Circus Bear

I like old circus and carnival items for their color, their vibrancy, their novelty and historic appeal. But a sad presence in circuses of days gone by (still seen in some places today, I'm afraid) is the dancing bear. For centuries, traveling showmen have trained captive bears to dance at the end of a chain connected to a ring through the bear's nose. This of course, was cruel in the extreme, and nothing can excuse such a practice. From a historical standpoint, however, rare antique teddies designed as circus bears are quite desirable.

 This one dates to around 1906-1908, and is an American-made electric eye bear. His eyes are actually tiny lightbulbs. Inside his torso is a battery pack, which caused his eyes to flash when the switch hidden inside his ear was squeezed. Like most electric eye bears, he is quite large (23 inches tall) and has unjointed legs. 

These electric eye bears were a huge fad back in their day, sort of the 1900s equivalent of the 1980s Cabbage Patch Kid craze. Even so, they are hard to find today, especially with their fragile glass eyes intact. This one still has his nose ring and collar (which causes many visitors to quizzically ask if he's a punk rocker bear) but has lost his leash.

After his hard life in showbiz, he now lives comfortably in retirement at my house, where he regales the other bears with tales of life on the road.


  1. Beautiful bear and a great find!

  2. Thanks: he's a really special guy. I just recently found an antique photo of a little girl with this same bear, the first time I've ever found this style of teddy in an old pic. I'll post it soon!

  3. how much is the bear worth cuz i just found 1 in an old chest i would like to talk thanks scott

    1. Hi Scott,

      It really varies, and depends on a lot of factors: whether the bear still has its original electric bulb eyes, and if so, whether they still work; how much mohair fur remains, and what color it is (some colors are rarer and worth more); whether the joints still work or are broken; if it still has its original collar or other old accessories, etc.

      Electric eye bears in worn condition, with replaced shoe button eyes, have been selling in the $300+ range lately. In good condition, with working eyes, they go for closer to $500. A rare black version with original eyes recently went for $750 on eBay. Good luck with yours!