Christopher Robin’s Toys


It is well known that Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories were inspired by his son’s stuffed toys. The small collection were played with by Christopher Robin who used to make up stories and voices for each of them, giving his father the idea to create stories from them.

An interesting fun fact is that when Shepard first illustrated Milne’s poems, he hadn’t seen the bear in which the poems were based on, so he instead based his design on his own son’s bear, Growler. This remained through all the stories, even after Shephard had seen the original toys.

Another fun fact I read was that Eeyore was made gloomy in the stories because of how the toy looked. The stuffing and support around the neck was failing and it made his head droopy. This led to Milne making Eeyore gloomy with his head hanging low. If his head was raised more we may have had an entirely different Eeyore!

The toys have become almost as famous as the stories, with the original Harrods purchases being as loved today as they were back when the books were published. The toys have had a fascinating life. After being used for inspiration in Milne’s stories they travelled to America in the 1940s at the request of the publisher who published the American edition back in 1926. Milne sent the toys over and even sent along Winnie the Pooh’s official birth certificate to authenticate him. Pooh was often treated as a VIB (Very Important Bear) when he travelled and he received a lot of attention. The toys were insured for $50 000 USD (over $1M AUD today) and they travelled around the country for an extended period of time.

The collection stayed permanently in the States in 1956, housed in the lobby of the publishers. A few trips were made back to England, once for an exhibition honouring E. H. Shephard’s 90th birthday, and once to participate in Methuen’s (the UK publisher) 50th birthday activities.

In 1987 the toys were presented to the New York Public Library. The five toys: Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga and Tigger (Roo was lost long ago), were placed on permanent display, attracting over 750 000 people per year. Interestingly, in 1998 a British MP named Gwenyth Dunwody raised the issue to have the toys returned to Britain, but after a few days of hype and drama the topic vanished and no changes were made. It’d be interesting to learn if there was a reason the toys weren’t returned, or at least borrowed for a period of time.

 The toys are still in New York on display. They were recently restored back to near original condition; holes were sewn and patches placed over worn bits. It must have been a very stressful task, I can only imagine if something went wrong the trouble you would be in. The repairs took more than a year and were done by a textile conservator. It’s rather incredible that the toys have lasted so long, though with the early and impressive fame of Pooh and the rest the toys have been cared for from the very early days.

You can see in some of the pictures from the New York Public Library the condition the toys were in before being repaired. They look almost brand new again and ready to last another 95 years. The repairs included neck alignment, clavicle repair, snout adjustments, protective mesh, and something delightful called butt steaming and fluffing which I love, all of which helped restore the dolls to their original selves. Eeyore was the hardest, he had the most work and he was the oldest, but even he looks as good as new after nearly every patch on him removed, cleaned and resewn on again.

I love seeing pictures of the original toys. One day I may be lucky enough to go to the New York library and see them for myself, but until then I’ll have to be satisfied with pictures. Below I’ve added the pictures of what the toys looked like before and after. Some definite improvements I say! You can read more about the restoration here and here.

Before and after pictures of the restoration process

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