IT would be fair to say that technically, Winnie-the-Pooh (and his hyphen should always be respected) is due two birthdays. The first is 1925, when he appeared under this name in the London Evening News, in cartoon form by J H Dowd, accompanied by a Christmas story.
The second would be 1926, when the first book by AA Milne invited us into the delightful, sunshine-filled world of Pooh and his friends with ‘Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday, Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself under the name of Sanders’.
He was wandering, in-the-fur, later wearing an ill-fitting top, the signature red shirt being a later addition by license holder, Stephen Siesinger who marketed Pooh in the US and Canada in the 1930s.
An instant celebrity illustrated with such charm by EH Shepard, there doesn’t seem to have been a time when the earnest, steadfast Winnie, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Owl and Christopher Robin were not part of our world.
The only Latin book to every make the New York Times bestseller’s list, was Winnie-illue-Pooh (1958) while Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet remain respected little tomes for philosophy students.
Milne ultimately wrote his stories to amuse his son Christopher, basing the tales on a group of stuffed toys led by Christopher’s comfort teddy, Edward.
Winnie’s inspiration, made by JK Farrell in 1921, is still in existence and on display in the New York Public Library.
He was named after a real bear, Winnipeg (Winnie), the Fort Garry regimental mascot, and Pooh, a black swan christened by Christopher Robin Milne.
Loving, sociable, greedy and prone to delightful feats of sideways thought (and quite respectable poetry), this very English little bear, with his foibles and open heart, carried a universal wisdom regarding loyalty and friendship for adults and children alike.
Who else could deliver a gem like: ‘If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear’. (Winnie-the-Pooh 1926).
Once Disney got its hands on the commercial honey pot of Pooh in 1961, the mass marketing of Milne’s characters truly began, outstripping even Siesinger’s early efforts with plush dolls by Agnes Brush, board games and knick-knackery which was said to be worth the bouncy flouncy fun, fun, fun total of some €50m in 1931.
The pre-Disney years are the hunting ground for true Pooh devotees, with rarity pushing prices into four figures for a good early edition of the first book, Winnie-the-Pooh (Methuen, October 1926).
The American first edition was published by E P Dutton. The dust cover is an important part of these editions, and its loss will influence price.
An Agnes Brush plush toy from the 30s and 40s starts in the low hundreds depending on condition and character, with Heffalumps hunted feverently by collectors.
Early prints (rather than reproductions or reprints) from the 1930s of EH Shepard line drawings are affordable and charming.
An original by Shepard ‘for a long time they looked at the river beneath them’ set a record for a book illustration, selling for £100,000 at Sotheby’s London in 2014.
Period prints of Shepard’s work start at €30-€50 with a certificate of authenticity.
Later coloured prints from the 1950s start at €50. Try collectorsprints.com.
Memorabilia, known as pooh-furphenalia by fanatics, can be really poor, cutesy rubbish, and I would include some of the late 60s, and early 1970s designed figurines by Graham Tongue and Albert Hallam for Beswick here.
Early figures rarely achieve more than €50, due to the high numbers in which they were produced.
They have a very ‘easy to decorate’ brief on their dull design for Tigger and Christopher Robin in particular.
Royal Doulton released their own line, including the much-loved baby feeding dishes and beakers.
Dishes survive with various amounts of wear and are priced according to rarity more than date.
Beware when you go down to the woods, of the hundreds of thousands of cheap, unnamed soft toys and ‘limited editions’ licensed to Disney, most of which are worthless.
Even early Sears-Roebucks bears in velveteen, stuffed with original wood chip, have an unfriendly look.
Buy commonplace Pooh pieces because you enjoy them, not for their investment value.
Ebay.com offers finds from the humungous American market of German-made dishes, bedroom pieces, books, money banks, lamps and more.
Finding Winnie, the beautifully illustrated story of the real bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh written by Lindsey Mattick and Sophie Blackall (Hachette). €15.75, €4.99 for the Ebook. Easons.