Ever since I was old enough to know what antiques were, I longed to go on an antiquing trip to England. Here at home in the United States, we just don't have anything to compare age-wise with England's 500 year old pubs, medieval cathedrals, or ancient castles, and our antique stores are filled with Beanie Babies, not Georgian tea caddies.
As a teddy bear lover, the pickings are similarly slim in the States. Great Britain seems to have as many teddy bear shops per square mile as we have McDonald's. (Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but only a small one.) The UK is also home to several teddy bear museums and manufacturers, although their numbers have recently begun to decline.
About 28 years ago, a couple from Chesaning, Michigan began leading collectors' tours of Great Britian. Terry and Doris Michaud were antique toy dealers, who actually started out selling and restoring dolls. They became two of the earliest teddy bear specialists, wrote several books, lectured all over the world, and eventually founded a museum and shop housed in a beautiful Victorian mansion in their historic small town. As antique bear prices soared in the 1980s and '90s, Terry and Doris began making more affordable replicas of their bears to sell, and the Dean's Company in England, an historic soft toy manufacturer, also helped with production and distribution for a period. When Walt Disney World decided to host its first teddy bear conventions, the Michauds were two of the experts it consulted, and a unique partnership ensued.
An anniversary trip to England inspired the Michauds to begin taking groups of teddy bear collectors there, where they used their expertise and connections to provide access to factories, museums, and artisans. Each tour also included a sampling of Great Britain's historic sights, like castles, cathedrals, gardens, and picture-postcard villages.
This year I was fortunate to finally get to go on one of the Michaud's tours, rumored to be their last. Our ten day itinerary included London; Henley-on-Thames; Dover with its white cliffs and famed castle; the antiquing paradise of Lewes; Tenterden; Canterbury, with its legendary cathedral; the Victorian seaside resort of Eastbourne; Rochester, birthplace of Charles Dickens; and the medieval market town of Faversham.
It was really the trip of a lifetime for me. I climbed to the top of a castle; wandered through an English manor house garden; had several cream teas; visited a teddy bear maker's workshop; had lunch in a centuries-old pub; saw ancient treasures at the British Museum; browsed in a toy shop founded in 1760 (!); and found lots and lots of fabulous old things, which I'll show and tell in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out these links to magazine articles about past tours to get a glimpse.