Teddy bears have been popular toys since the first one was created in 1902, but the story about Teddy Roosevelt and the bear cub was a myth.

In November 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt went hunting for bears in Mississippi. The others in his hunting party shot some bears, but he had not seen one. So the hunters found an old, sick bear and tied it to a tree for the president to shoot. He declared it was "unsportsmanlike" and did not shoot.

The story got to the press and a cartoon showed Roosevelt refusing to shoot the old bear. Later cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter.

That same year, a candy-shop owner put two of his wife's handmade bears in the window and was given permission by the president to call them "Teddy's bears." In 1903, the Steiff Co. of Germany made some toy bears and soon heard about the American Teddy bear, so they sold theirs with that appealing name.

Over the years, the bears have changed to a younger look, with short arms and turned-up noses. But the name remains.

Today, a collector can find a vintage Teddy with glass or plastic eyes, and brown, white, tan or even red fur of mohair or polyester. Some are small and hold a perfume bottle; some have eyes that light up, and some are more than 5 feet tall.

A bidder bought a 1930s red mohair "electric eye" Teddy bear for $448, even though it was worn and the eyes didn't work.

Grain Belt beer sign

Q: I'm trying to find out the value of a Grain Belt beer sign. It's metal with porcelain paint and is 5 feet wide and 22 inches tall. There's a picture of a bottle cap with the words "Grain Belt" on a diamond on top of the bottle cap and the words "The Friendly beer" next to the cap. I think it's from the early 1940s.

A: Grain Belt beer was first made by the Minneapolis Brewing Co. in 1893. It was advertised as "The Friendly Beer with the Friendly Flavor" after Prohibition ended in 1933. The company was sold several times. Grain Belt beer is now owned by August Schell Brewing Co. of New Ulm, Minn. Beer signs sell at advertising shows and auctions. Large enameled metal signs sell for a few thousand dollars if old, more if the decoration is interesting.

Lead in plates

Q: While in Europe in about 1975, we bought 24 lead plates. We used the plates for 10 years. What is your opinion of our exposure to lead?

A: Are you sure your dishes are made of lead? Lead dishes would be heavy. The dishes probably are pewter, which is safe to use. If the dishes are pottery with a lead glaze, there is some risk. Lead can leach out of the glaze if acidic foods are cooked, served or stored in the dish. Brightly colored glazes used on some handmade pottery from South America and Asia are more likely to contain lead. In 1971 the Food and Drug Administration set limits on the amount of lead in dishes. Rules were updated in 1993.

Dishes that contain lead have to be labeled "Not for food use." If you still have the dishes, you can test them. Lead-testing kits are available online and at some hardware stores.

A blood test can determine if anyone has lead poisoning.

A.J. Johnson furniture

Q: Can you tell me something about the furniture maker A.J. Johnson & Sons? We have a china cabinet with a paper label that reads "A.J. Johnson & Sons Furn. Co., Chicago, Ill."

A: A.J. Johnson & Sons Furniture Co. was established in Chicago in 1869. The company made dining and bedroom furniture. It was in business until at least 1912.

Terry and Kim Kovel will answer as many letters from readers as possible through the column only. For return of a photograph, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope. Write to: The Kovels, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. The website is kovels.com.

current prices

Prices are from shows nationwide.

Advertising sign, Fairy Soap, Little Sweethearts, boy giving girl flower, frame, 1901, 23 by 31 inches, $30.

Bronze sculpture, dog, Scottie, standing, ears up, tail straight up, cast, Art Deco, about 1940, 8 inches, $90.

Porcelain holy water font, beige, white, figure on flower, Gothic style arch, about 1910, 15 by 8 inches, $180.

Pan to poach fish, copper, brass, interior aluminum lift-out tray, 1900s, 5 1/2 by 27 1/2 inches, $185.

Toy tractor, trailer, power shovel, Hubley, box, 1960s, 21 by 9 inches, $225.

Sterling-silver trophy cup, Skegness Xmas Fat Stock Show, Best Black or Cross-Bred Black Pig in the Single Classes, William Hutton & Sons, England, 1931, 7 3/4 by 4 inches, $360.

Armoire, Belle Epoque, ormolu, parquetry, mahogany inlay, mirrored doors, about 1900, 87 by 80 inches, $550.

Peking glass vase, hexagonal, pink and white, reserve, court lady, about 1800, 7 3/4 by 4 inches, $675.

Lamp, electric, art nouveau, tole, elephant ear plant base, morning glories and bird vining, about 1900, 63 by 17 inches, $2,705.