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 A.A. 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.
Milne and his friend, Illustrator E.H. Shepard began creating a series based on these animals, and the character of Pooh first made his 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 adapted countless times for film and television.
The toys with whom it all began became celebrities in their own right and toured the United States in 1947 before being 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—live in a climate controlled glass case in the library’s Children’s Center. Age and affection have contributed to their endearingly threadbare condition.
It’s worth noting that the bear on display doesn’t bare the appearance of the Pooh we’re familiar with. 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.
As of September 2021, the toys are on the display at the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasurers at Gottesman Hall, a 6,400-square-foot marble exhibition space inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building the landmarked 42nd Street library.