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  • Aaron Carruth

Against All Odds: Aaron's Gold

More than a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt went hunting. Being the President of the United States, he was entitled to certain perks. He could grant pardons, had veto power, and when he was having trouble finding an animal to kill, his mates would improvise. On this particular day, they stalked a bear, exhausted it with hounds and clubs (yikes). Then they tied it to a tree. The whole thing was terribly cruel, not to mention insulting to Roosevelt. His compatriots thought so little of his marksmanship that they figured the only way to ensure a successful kill was to tether the poor creature to a willow. The fabled hero that he was, Roosevelt cried foul. He refused to shoot the animal on principle. The bear was in such a miserable state that they killed it anyway, which makes the story a lot less admirable. My question is: How well did Roosevelt know the men he was hunting with that day? That’s the big’un. If they knew him well, the tale is quite damning.


Like: Eff me, Jerry, if Ted doesn’t kill something on this trip we’re never gonna hear the end of this. Remember St. Louis?


The Washington Post celebrated the moment with this political cartoon.

A man named Morris Michtom saw it and created a children’s toy. Of course! A real bear was chased by a team of trained dogs and hunters, captured, abused, then tied to a tree and shot (though, not by Roosevelt) and someone thought: You know, children would love to hold a smaller, stuffed version of that. The Teddy Bear was born. That’s not exactly how it went. According to ancient lore (Wikipedia), Michtom created the first bear as an act of patriotism. He was proud of how Roosevelt conducted himself. The bear was hung in the window of Michtom’s shop as an act of solidarity. People loved it. Orders came in by the thousands. A timeless toy was created by accident.


Unless, you ask Margarete Steiff. She made her stuffed bear on purpose. And, according to Steiff’s website, she made hers first.


Maragarete was an incredible woman. She battled polio from age four. Paralysed from the waist down, she was brought to school in a wheelbarrow. Despite having chronic pain in her arms, she completed training to become a professional seamstress. Margarete made felt clothing from a workshop in her home before she made her first children’s toy, the elefantle, in 1879. By the 1890s, she had created all kinds of stuffed animals: monkeys, donkeys, horses, camels, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, rabbits, and giraffes. But, no bear. A patent for a stuffed bear wouldn’t be filed for another twelve years; right around the time Michtom created his.


It could be a coincidence.


History is littered with examples of honest, independent invention. The world wasn’t as connected in 1902. I doubt Michtom had Twitter.


Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything highlights many of these kinds of simultaneous discoveries. He reflects on how painful it must have been for certain inventors to reap financial rewards and historical adulation, while others faded into destitute obscurity. It seems Maragarete won the historical battle. Her name has echoed longer and louder than Michtom’s. Steiff is synonymous with stuffed animals and quality. They’re in business today, and have positioned themselves as the world’s last premium toymaker.


If you find an antique teddy bear, it’s probably worth something. If it’s an older Steiff, it’s almost certainly valuable. Rare examples have drawn ridiculous sums at auction.


This little guy, PB28 (not the cutest name), was made in 1904.

He recently sold for $168,000. That’s a lot of money. You could buy a parking spot in Toronto for that.


The bear I bought on Saturday was not made by Steiff. Without a label, I typed “two faced bear” into Google and discovered that it was made by another German company, Schuco. They started making bears a decade after Steiff. Then I watched this clip. Excuse the quality, I could not embed the video to save my life.

Five to six hundred dollars? American? What now? [1]

No way. It can't be worth that much.


Pump the brakes. It’s just an appraisal. No need to freak out. Appraisals tend to be high and rarely indicative of what an actual market might pay. Plus, this video is a decade old. I used to think that if an antique got older, it’s value could only increase. It turns out that antiques are a bit more like stocks; subject to rise and collapse depending on the demand of the market.


I searched eBay and congratulated myself for my guarded approach. I found other examples of my bear struggling to sell for three hundred dollars. One sold in June for two-fifty. Still, the bear was worth approximately two hundred dollars more than I had hoped. Maybe Phil was luckier than I first believed.


[1] I'm ready to admit that this guy isn't as cute as I thought. Got a bit of a Regan from the Exorcist (on meth) thing going on.


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I had zero success finding anything on the paintings. I tried searching for watercolour (and watercolor) + Peggy’s Cove. I found just shy of a billion works. Each had nearly photographic similarities to mine. My eyes glazed after the eleventh page. There were only a dozen paintings of Decew Falls, none of which looked like mine. I even tried typing excerpts from the story labels on the back of each painting. Nothing.


Feeling a bit hopeless, I stood up, tucked both paintings under my arm, and walked to my parents’ place. They live just down the street from me. I found my father seated at the dinner table, carefully inspecting a golden pocket watch with a single-lens loupe.


I showed him the paintings.

“What did the net say?” he asked.


I told him I couldn’t find a thing.


He set the pocket watch down and opened his hand, silently requesting a closer look.


“These aren’t paintings. They’re prints.”


Prints? It was worse than I thought. Prints are generally worthless things. I thought for sure these were watercolours.


“These are Hornyanskys. Did you even check the net?” He didn’t wait for me to respond. “These are normally ten dollar prints. That’s on a good day. Except people like Hornyansky. They’re signed in pencil, too, which is huge. There’s his name," he said pointing. "These are worth a lot more than you think. Leave them with me.”


Then, something strange happened. The rarest of occasions. He remembered something. And, he remembered something in the moment. He shot up so quickly, it startled me and I jumped back, bracing my hand against the wall. I hadn’t seen him move like that since he volunteered to play goalie for my friends and I during a road hockey game. [1]


[1] The game ended prematurely when he re-tore what remained of the ligaments in his right knee.


“Ann! Ann, where is Aaron’s gold?”


I had left my jewelry here Saturday afternoon. If you read my previous post, they were the fifty cent earrings that I paid a dollar for. The ones that previously belonged to the Beware of Dog twang-lady.


My gold? I thought. Holy crap. They’re real gold?


“Dad, my gold is... gold?” I asked, chasing him out of the kitchen.


“Ann?” he called, again, stomping towards the den. I followed, underfoot.


“Yes?” My mother was sitting in bed, knitting and listening to an audiobook.


“Have you seen his gold?”


“Nope.” I waved at my mother and she smiled and went back to work.


“Dad, talk to me.”


“What’s up?”


Really. What’s up? That’s all ya got?


Sigh.


“Are my earrings actually gold?”


“No.”


The nerve.


“Why did you insist on referring to it as my gold?” I asked, more annoyed than angry. He literally could’ve called it anything else.


“Where is Aaron’ fake gold?”

“Where is Aaron’s crappy jewelry?”

“Where is Aaron’s hot garbage?”


Anything. Anything but what he said.


“Funny story, the earrings you took a picture of…?” He had a twinkle in his eye. I’d seen it a thousand times. It’s his “I’m on the verge of laughing hysterically (usually at your expense) twinkle”. His favourite twinkle.


“Yes.”


“Not gold,” he repeated, smiling.


There might be a day when I can put my father in a headlock and avoid lethal recourse. Today was not that day. So I continued to play along.


“You mentioned that.”


“But,” he said, letting the word hang in the air as he poked through a wooden box on his desk, “you missed these.” He extended his hand in silence.

“These were in your bag and you didn’t even know it. They’re 10 K.”


“So, it was gold,” I said. Vindication!


“No, the stuff you bought [at least intentionally] was fake. You got lucky.”


Lucky?


LUCKY!


TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOW [1]


PHIL!


WE DID IT!


[1] Sung with eyes slammed shut.


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