Bears buried in red tape

TOY STORIES: Historian and author Dave Veart is seeking help to tell the history of toys in New Zealand. 
TOY STORIES: Historian and author Dave Veart is seeking help to tell the history of toys in New Zealand. 

Who'd have thought the cuddly teddy bear could cause so much fur to fly in anger.

Historian and author Dave Veart has unearthed the tale of an epic fluffy toy battle, with no fairy tale ending.

Mr Veart has been researching National Archives records as he writes a history of toys in New Zealand.

He found letters detailing a 30-year fight between the North Shore Toy Company in Birkenhead and government officials.

The Onewa Rd company specialised in soft toys including Lullaby teddies. It had up to 20 employees and ran from about 1953 to the 1980s and exported to Australia in the 1970s.

For 30 years Mr B.C Prowse, whose first name is never revealed in correspondence, battled the suits.

Letters dating back to the 1950s give Mr Veart an inkling of the despair the small business owner must have felt.

"I felt like I really got to know him," he says.

"Toys are fun and people have loving memories of them. The other side is there is someone making them and it's a serious business."

He's clearly a thorn in the sides of officials and they even go to rival big toy companies seeking advice about how to deal with him.

"He's one of the few people in this research who emerges as a character. He's sort of stroppy, the others are sucking up. He's just arguing the toss the whole way."

In one exasperating exchange Mr Prowse corresponds with the Industries and Commerce Department for seven years before being told he should be dealing with the Customs Department.

In another he encloses a sample of imported golden fur fabric and blue canvas to make it crystal clear why he can't make cuddly bears from the local fabric they want him to use.

The little toy company that could survived until about 1988 when Rogernomics opened the door to the import boom, Mr Veart says.

There were once about 160 New Zealand toy companies.

The last piece to Mr Veart's puzzle is unearthing stories, memorabilia or photos from anyone who knew Mr Prowse or about his company.

He'd also like to see any of the surviving teddy bears he made but suspects many have been "loved to death".

To contact Mr Veart email or ph 021 385 883.

North Shore Times