For nearly a century, a motley group of animals has enchanted readers around the globe. The lovable Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and the rest of the gang were created by AA Milne, who was inspired by his son’s toys. Those original toys can be found today far from the Hundred Acre Wood, in the heart of the concrete jungle, in the New York Public Library’s permanent collection.
The model for the rotund cheerful Pooh was a teddy bear that Milne purchased from the Harrods store in London and gifted to his son Christopher Robin for his first birthday, in 1921. The boy’s toy collection grew to encompass a donkey, a piglet, a kangaroo, and a tiger, among other things.
Milne and his illustrator friend EH Shepard began creating a series based on these animals, and the characters made their first appearance in a newspaper story published in 1925. A book followed a year later and since then the series has been been read by millions of children around the world, and was even adapted into a movie by Disney.
The toys with whom it all began became celebrities in their own right and toured the United States in 1946, and were later donated to the New York Public Library in 1987. They became the subject of some controversy in 1998 when a British MP called for their return to England, but the attempt failed.
The five dolls—Pooh, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore and Piglet—are displayed in a special case and have undergone conservation treatment to maintain them in their authentic condition. Being honest, they look well-loved and threadbare but it’s nice to see the original objects that you’re so familiar with.
It is worth noting that the illustrated Winnie was never the actual Winnie. After an initial sketch, Shepard decided that Winnie was a little “too gruff-looking” and substituted his son’s bear Growler, an altogether more portly and friendly looking bear.