Little Tommy Tittlemouse
By 1908 the teddy bear had become a very popular toy in Britain. Several of the existing toy companies realised the importance and significance of this new toy and began to produce it in large quantities.
Children throughout the country wanted a teddy for their birthday or for Christmas. One such boy was James Gowan and in 1908, he got his wish. The bear was very small and had probably been made in Germany. It has long limbs, a long body and a pronounced snout - all German teddy characteristics.
Most teddies start life without a set gender and have to wait for their owners to confer one. This bear was obviously male and James called him Little Tommy Tittlemouse, a reference perhaps to the nursery rhyme, first recorded in 1844.
Little Tommy Tittlemouse
Lived in a little house;
He caught fishes
In other men's ditches
Tommy was very well loved by his owner and over the years his plush fur became more and more worn until there was hardly anything left. Tommy must have been very well made as he did not suffer any major injuries such as the loss of a limb, eye or ear.
James and Tommy Tittlemouse can be seen in this Gowan family photo. We think James is the young boy in the middle of the photo. Tommy is sitting on the lap of the woman in the centre of the picture, wearing a white cap.
James grew up but Tommy remained his constant companion until 1965, the year that he was given to the V&A Museum of Childhood. Mr Gowan had such a happy time with Tommy that he wanted to share him with others. He was very keen that the Museum have Tommy on display so that others could enjoy his bear.
Even though he had given Tommy to the Museum, James Gowan still loved him and thought about him. He sent a card to Tommy every year for his birthday on 24 November. The cards were always signed 'Father' and usually contained a little message. In 1982 the message was 'Glad they did not close your home up!', a reference to the threatened closure of the V&A Museum of Childhood earlier that year.
In 1984 the card was a little late because James had 'flu. In 1986 the card was a few days late because, sadly, James had died. He had bought the card ready to send but was unable to sign or send it. Instead the card was signed by his wife and children 'with fond remembrance from those who loved him'.
Tommy's story has now become well known as he has appeared in several books. In the early 1990s he started receiving birthday cards again. Over the years these have come from Germany, Australia, Switzerland as well as Britain. James Gowan would have been very happy knowing that Tommy is still getting cards and that he is loved and admired by so many people.