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Fuss And Bother Over Pooh Bear British Official Seeks Return Of Animals From N.Y. Library

Thu., Feb. 5, 1998

Oh bother.

The British want Winnie the Pooh and his four friends to come home.

A member of Parliament says the original stuffed animals on which A.A. Milne’s beloved stories are based should be taken from a display case at the New York Public Library and returned to England.

“I saw them recently and they look very unhappy indeed,” Labor Party legislator Gwyneth Dunwoody said. “I am not surprised, considering they have been incarcerated in a glass case in a foreign country for all these years.”

Pooh, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore and Piglet - lovingly tattered and faded - could be in for another adventure - and this one wouldn’t be in the Hundred-Acre Wood. “Oh bother,” Pooh might say of this tempest in a honey pot. “Oh dear, oh dear,” Piglet would add.

Dunwoody is asking what plans Britain’s culture secretary has to arrange for the stuffed animals’ repatriation after half a century.

“Just like the Greeks want their Elgin Marbles back - so we want our Winnie the Pooh back, along with all his splendid friends,” Dunwoody said.

The New York Public Library is treating the sticky issue very cautiously. “Until we get a specific request, we’re not commenting,” spokeswoman Caroline Oyama said.

But a more combative Diane Powers, associate chief librarian at the Donnell Library Center, the branch where the stuffed toys are on display, said Wednesday: “If England returns the Elgin Marbles to Greece, we might consider returning Pooh.”

Dunwoody’s comments - a day before Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to Washington on Wednesday - posed no threat to relations between the two countries. The British Consulate in New York called The Associated Press to insist the prime minister’s office knew nothing about Dunwoody’s proposal.

The Winnie the Pooh Five, along with early editions of their books, have resided in a large display case in the Children’s Room of the Donnell Library Center since 1987.

Their sojourn to the United States began in 1947 when American publisher E.P. Dutton and Co. invited them for a national tour to promote Milne’s books, said Tim Moses, publicity director at Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin, Putnam Inc.

Insured for $50,000, Pooh and friends toured the United States for about 10 years, Moses said. The publisher then held onto the animals, turning them over to the library in 1987.

Moses said Milne had given the toys to Dutton permanently as a gift.

“There isn’t any question about the legal ownership of Winnie and his friends,” Moses said.

The hugely successful books center on the adventures of Pooh, the honey-loving bear of little brain, and his friends: the gloomy donkey Eeyore, the excitable Piglet, bouncy Tigger and maternal Kanga (with her baby, Roo). Milne began the series in 1926 for his son, Christopher Robin, who figures prominently in the stories.

The stuffed animals, which Milne bought for his son at Harrods, were the basis for the books’ original line drawings, by Ernest Howard Shepard.

“They are part of our heritage and they want to come home,” Dunwoody said. “And it is about time we got them back. This is where they belong. They plainly want to come home.”


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