Mary Meyer Vintage

Monthly Archives: November 2010

Mary Meyer Stuffed Toys was founded by my Mother and Father in 1933.  I joined the company full time in September1955 and I have many great memories of our early days.

During World War 2 Hans Meyer, my Dad, had a difficult time buying fabrics to make animals pin cushions and stuffed toys.  Businesses that were working for the war effort had a priority to buy materials, which is the way it should be.  Mary Meyer was not making anything for the war effort, so Dad had to pick up cotton fabric where ever he could.

I was 12 years old about that time and I heard a lot of business conversation at the dinner table.  Similar to the talk conversation my children heard, when I was managing Mary Meyer.

The conversation I remember was in regard to the fabric that the camouflage teddy bear was made from.  I am sure camouflage fabric was not a standard cotton material offered on the market.  If it was available it would go directly to a factory making army uniforms.

This was fabric left over after an order of army camouflage uniforms was finished.  When making 10,000 camouflage shirts and pants the maker would receive extra fabric in case of imperfections in the fabric, end of the rolls of fabric and many other reasons to have pieces left.  Dad bought these remnants and gave them to Mother, who then made them into teddy bears.

The pattern for the Camouflage Teddy Bear is a fairly standard pattern of what the stuffed toy industry calls a “cuddle body” with a bear head.  This has been a fairly standard pattern for the past 50 years.  The legs bend at the bottom of the body by not stuffing that area too densely, allowing the legs to flop back and forth.  The whole body is stuffed softly to create a soft, cuddly stuffed toy bear.

The eyes are each composed of 2 pieces of felt – Black in the front and Red in the back, with a French knot as the center of the eye.  The nose and mouth are also sewn on or embroidered with Black embroidery floss – a Black yarn made especially for embroidering details on a toy or embroidery.

The bear was stuffed by hand with cotton, through an opening in the back of the body.  This was then sewn closed by a running stitch.  Beverly, an older Mary Meyer employee of the late 1940’s through 1980 recently told me about how Mother, Mary Meyer, taught her this special stitch  to close the opening through which the toys are stuffed.

About 1946 Beverly started working for Mary Meyer.  She remembers the date well, because her husband, Wendell was just coming home from World War 2.  Her job was to sew the animals closed and attach the eyes and noses and embroider the mouth.  Though an excellent sewer, she asked Mother for pointers on the best way the close the opening through which the toys were stuffed.

Relying on her training at the Manhattan Trade School For Girls in New York City, she showed Beverly a new stitch.  Beverly had never learned this stitch before and she taught all the women she worked with for the next 30 years the stitch that Mother had taught her.

Finally a Red satin neck-ribbon is tied around the neck to make the teddy bear a finish product, ready for shipment to a retail store.

I am always looking for early Mary Meyer products, especially from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  If you have ever seen one of these pictured above, please email me at walter_meyer@marymeyer.com .  I would really like to hear from you.

Mary Meyer Elephant Pin Cushion

My name is Walter Meyer and I have been writing about my experience working with my Mother, Mary Meyer and the stuffed toy business. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s Mary Meyer manufactured animal pin cushions and oil cloth covered stuffed toys.

The two products – animals pin cushion and oil cloth covered stuffed toys are very similar in design.  The major difference is the outside covering of the animals.  Pin cushions are made of cotton percale fabric, so pins and needles can be pushed through the fabric.

Oil cloth covered stuffed toys are made, so that they may be washed or wiped clean after a child has gotten them dirty.  The outer covering resists water, but it is not soft and cuddly as toys are today.

In the 1930’s and 40’s the oil cloth was practical as it could be washed many times.  In the 1930’s and 40’s kitchen tables were covered with oil cloth, as it could be easily wiped clean, when kids spilled food or milk.  For that same reason it was practical to use in the making of stuffed toys.

During that period Mary Meyer made pin cushions in the form of Scotties, Lambs, Horses, Ducks, Cats and other animals.  These exact same designs could be made with oil cloth and became stuffed toys.

So, animal pin cushions and oil cloth stuffed toys were very closely related.  The stuffing material for both was cotton stuffing, as washable foam rubber had not been invented yet.  That only came along in the mid 1950’s.

The Elephant Pin Cushion pictured here was made in the early 1940’s.  The exact same pattern was use through the 1930’s.  The ears were made of felt as was the tail and in this case the centerpiece that covered his forehead.   Again this pin cushion was stuffed by hand with cotton through an opening in its belly, which was sewn closed after the stuffing operation.

The eyes were sewn on by making a French knot as the center of the eye, inserting the needle through a Black felt circle for the eye and sewing through the elephant’s head and coming out where the second eye should be, adding the second Black felt eye, adding another French knot for the second eye, and then inserting the needle, make a few blind stitches and then cutting off the thread.

The final work on the Elephant was tying a ribbon around its neck and tying a bow on the back of its head.  When tying the ribbon a tiny spool of thread is tied into the neck ribbon, more to make the animal more attractive than for practical use.  Finally 5 brass safety pins are pinned on the Elephant to complete its decoration.

Sad to say there were no name tags saying made by Mary Meyer.  The only people who recognize these animals are few and far between.  Hopefully a few animal pin cushions may surface, if enough people read this blog.

My name is Walter Meyer and Mary Meyer was my Mother and I grew up in the stuffed toy business.  Today Mary Meyer stuffed toys is located in Townshend, VT, where  I live also.

Mary Meyer’s business began in New York City in 1933.  In those days we were at 3 West 29th Street, on one of the upper floors, which was just off Fifth Ave.  behind the Marble Collegiate Church.

In 1937 the family and business the moved to Cranford, NJ and in 1945 we moved to Vermont, where we are today.  My Dad, Hans Meyer, had stomach ulcers from the stress of business and wanted to live a quieter, lower stress life.

In the late 1930’s Mary Meyer was designing, manufacturing and distributing their line of animal pin cushions and oil cloth covered stuffed toys and selling them to major department stores like Marshall Field in Chicago and JL Hudson in Detroit and chain stores like Woolworths, Kresge and WT Grants.

In the 1930’s and early 1940’s Dad, being the company’s salesman, would travel all over the eastern USA as far west as the Mississippi River by train calling on his customers.  I still have the accounting journals that show all the customers, shipments and the amount they bought in 1935, 1936, 1937, etc. – up to 1944.

Being based in the New York City area at the time, he also visited the buying offices of the chain stores.  At that time buying offices were places where manufacturers and salesmen could show their products to representatives of the department stores, who then pass their advice on to the head buyer and to the stores.

In the late 1930’s Mary Meyer’s main products were animal pin cushions.  The assortment of pin cushions we made included a Scotty, a Cat, an Elephant, a Duck, a Lamb, a Horse and later a Camel.  Mary Meyer also made a doll pin cushion, which was not as popular, but we have bought 3 of them during the past 5 years on the internet.  I believe the Pin Cushion Dolls were made in the late 1930’s – about 1938.

In 2007 my daughter Linda found one on the internet and purchased it for our Mary Meyer museum.  It was from Kansas.  About 6 months later she found a second one, which she purchased for her own collection.  A friend found a third one for her Mary Meyer collection.  The dolls were not as popular as the animal pin cushions.  I do not believe we manufactured more than a few thousand pieces but 70 years later we have found 3 dolls.  Possibly there may be more out there.

I know the dolls are ours because I remember them as a youngster.  They also have a Gold foil string tag on them that says “Mary Meyer – Pin Cushion – Hand Made”.  The photo of the pin cushion doll we have is shown here along with an enlargement of the Mary Meyer Gold foil hang tag.

The silk-screened faces came from Crescent Hill Novelty Co. in New York City, a supplier we used for many, many years.  Mother and Dad used them in the 1930’s and 40′s and I used them in Vermont from the 1950’s until the early 1980’s.  They supplied doll and monkey faces and other toy parts to the toy manufacturing trade.

The body was made from colorful cotton percale  and the body parts were cut with an up-and-down knife cutting machine or a cutting machine with a circular blade.  The garment industry used these same cutting machines to cut out all types of clothing.  The sewing was done on a commercial sewing machine and sewn wrong side out.  The toy is sewn wrong-side-out, so the seams won’t show after the toy is turned right-side-out.   An opening for turning and stuffing is left in the back of the toy in an inconspicuous place.

The stuffing was the next operation and done by hand.  The cotton used was usually garneted cotton, which made from cotton fabric scraps left over from the weaving or manufacturing trades.  These scraps and pieces are accumulated and purchased by a company, who shreds pieces of fabric. This brings the cotton back to its original, fluffy condition, as though it had been just picked from the cotton plant.

The opening is located in the upper back of the toy.  The cotton is stuffed into the toy, filling first the lower legs, then the body, then the arms, the head and finally the chest.  The opening is then sewn closed by hand.  A ribbon is tied around its neck and tied in an attractive bow.

Being a pin cushion there are usually 5 brass safety pins attached.  In this case the Gold foil tag and the felt cap are attached with two of the safety pins.  Besides the safety pins a small spool of thread is ually attached to the neck-ribbon as a further indication it is for buyers who sew.

The doll pin cushion are then ready to be shipped to the stores that were Mary Meyer customers for resale to women who were making their own cloths and needed a place to store their pins and needles.