Sale of original Winnie the Pooh map sets world record
1926 map of the Hundred Acre Wood was unseen for nearly half a century
Map of the Hundred Acre Wood, at €487,000 the most expensive book illustration ever sold at auction
One of the most famous maps in children’s literature became the most expensive book illustration ever to sell at auction this week. The original 1926 map of the Hundred Acre Wood from AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh rocketed past its pre-sale estimate of €115,000-€170,000 to make €487,000 at Sotheby’s in London.
Unseen for nearly half a century before it came under the hammer, the sketch by Ernest Howard Shepard featured on the opening end-papers of the original 1926 book. Nearly half a century later it played a starring role in the Disney film Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, when it was brought to life as an animated opening sequence.
The map introduces children to Milne’s magical world and its characters. Eeyore is shown in his “gloomy place”, Roo bounces towards the “sandy pit” and Winnie the Pooh sits looking across the wood to his friend Christopher Robin. Several locations are childishly misspelled - “Nice for Picnicks” and “!00 Aker Wood” - and the sketch is signed “Drawn by me and Mr Shepard helpd”.
“I suspect that there isn’t a single child who wouldn’t instantly recognise this wonderful depiction of The Hundred Acre Wood,” said Dr Philip W Errington, director and senior specialist in printed books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s. “In this group of original drawings, you can see the real skill of the artist, the skill of the strokes of his pen.”
The map is one of five Shepard illustrations which made a combined total of just over €1 million at Sotheby’s sale of English literature, history, science, children’s books and illustrations.
Three of the drawings depict the famous game of Poohsticks, in which the characters throw twigs into the water on one side of a bridge - then rush to the other side to see whose stick emerges first. Sold as a pair, two drawings of Pooh and Piglet peering over the bridge, and Eeyore floating underneath it, made €127,350. A third sketch, featuring Christopher Robin, Piglet and Pooh, made €198,100. The previous record for a book illustration was held by the original Poohsticks drawing, which made €398,000 when it was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2014.
A fifth drawing, of Christopher Robin and Pooh walking hand in hand to “an enchanted place at the very top of the Forest” to say their final goodbye, sold for €226,401, more than doubling its top estimate of €100,000. It served to illustrate the final lines of The House at Pooh Corner: “. . .wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place in the top of the Forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing”.
It’s a moment of perfectly poised literary poignancy. In reality Milne, annoyed by the way his four children’s books had eclipsed his other writing - and disturbed by the amount of unwanted attention their success had brought to his son Christopher - had deliberately killed off his famous fictional creations.
Though he never wrote another word about the Hundred Acre Wood and its inhabitants, the damage was already done. The adult Christopher Robin Milne, who had a difficult relationship with his parents, would one day write that his father “had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders” - a conclusion which makes that €226,000 drawing as cautionary as it is cute.