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Christie's offers bidders a bearnanza

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HERE she is,'' announces the auctioneer at Christie's, ``all dressed up and nowhere to go . . . . What am I bid?'' ``She'' is held aloft for all to see by a young assistant. He looks as solemn as possible under the circumstances, which is not very. But she takes it very seriously indeed, in her linen smock and blue trousers, with her brown embroidered string nose, large button eyes, plush coat, and long footpads. She wears an expression of profound, well, . . . forbearance . . . mingled with irresistible cuddlesomeness. She is everything a teddy bear should be.

When she was made, all 20 inches of her, circa 1910, who could possibly have guessed she would one day be the star of the world's first soft-toy auction devoted almost exclusively to teddy bears?

Bidding for this nameless bear -- Lot179 -- is keen. It leaps up in tens, soon becoming a tussle between only two bidders. But at last the woman near the back of the hall shakes her head with sad but experienced resignation: She will go no higher. And No. 179 is knocked down to an ``anonymous overseas collector'' near the front. The final figure: 700 (about $1,000, at the exchange rate), 300 more than Christie's top estimate.

This may sound like a lot for a mere teddy, but in fact Sotheby's, a rival auction house, holds the current record for the most expensive teddy bear at 3,400 ($4,890) sold Oct. 1. This more than trebled the record previously set by Phillips last February for a love-worn 80-year-old nicknamed ``Threadbear.'' That bruin, like most of the collectors' teddies fetching high prices today, was made by the much-esteemed German firm of Margarete Steiff. (Steiff is still a leading teddy-bear maker, 82 years a fter the very first teddies were invented.) Threadbear, in his nappy (diaper) and dog collar, fetched 1,100 and set rolling what will have to go down in history as The Year of the Bear.

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