Iconic E.H. Shepard Drawing For Poohsticks Goes Under The Hammer

E.H. Shepard’s original ink drawing of Christopher Robin, Piglet and Pooh on the famous ‘poohsticks’ bridge, first published in A.A. Milne’s celebrated The House at Pooh Corner in 1928 goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s on 9 December. Having formed the frontispiece for this (and many subsequent) editions, the illustration can be counted among the most familiar, and most loved, cultural references in English literature.

The estimated sale price is £100,000-150,000, the drawing has been in a private collection for almost forty years, and will be sold as part of Sotheby’s auction of English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations on 9th December 2014. The drawing features in chapter six “in which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in”. The game is, of course, ‘Poohsticks’, described by Milne as a game “…which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest”.

The illustration accompanies the chapter’s closing scene when Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet are left on the famous ‘Poohsticks’ bridge by themselves. Suddenly the tone changes from the excitement of playing the game – and tips about how to win – to a more wistful and contemplative mood: ‘For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing, and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon’.

Piglet breaks the silence, volunteering his view that “Tigger is all right, really”, to which Pooh adds “Everybody is really… But I don’t suppose I’m right…” Christopher Robin’s final affirmation that Pooh is indeed correct closes the chapter in a spirit of unified friendship and forgiveness, a message central to A.A. Milne’s books. To this, Shepard has added his own detail and quiet humour: Christopher Robin is leaning over the top of the bridge, Pooh has his paws on the lowest rung and Piglet, too short to reach a rung and a little timid, safely holds onto Pooh making sure he is not too close to the edge.

How to play Poohsticks:

‘Poohsticks’ Bridge By the late 1970s the original wooden bridge, known as Posingford bridge, at Hartfield Farm, Sussex had fallen into disrepair. It was carefully restored and reopened by Christopher Milne (A.A. Milne’s son who provided the inspiration for Christopher Robin) in May 1979. At the ceremony it was claimed that the bridge was “as important a bridge as any in the world”. As visitor numbers increased the bridge began to suffer and in 1999 a complete reconstruction was necessary. Since 1984 the annual World Poohsticks Championships have been held at Day’s Lock on the River Thames.

Mike Ridley, owner of ‘Pooh Corner’ in Hartfield, wrote a very nice booklet about this game, including these rules below. This booklet ‘The official Pooh Corner Rules for Playing Poohsticks’ was written in 1996 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the publication of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’.

• First, you each select a stick and show it to your fellow competitors. You must agree which stick is which – or whose, as it were.

• Check which way the stream is flowing. Competitors need to face the stream on the side where it runs in, under the bridge (upstream). Note: If the stream runs out, from under the bridge you are standing on the wrong side! (downstream).   

• Choose someone to be a Starter. This can be either the oldest or the youngest competitor.

• All the competitors stand side by side facing upstream.

• Each competitor holds their stick at arms length over the stream. The tall competitors should lower their arms to bring all the sticks to the same height over the stream as the shortest competitor’s stick.

• The starter calls, ‘Ready – Steady – Go!” and all the competitors drop their sticks. Note: the stick must not be thrown into the water.

• At this point in the game all the players must cross to the downstream side of the bridge. Please take care – young players like to race across. Remember, other people use bridges and some of them have vehicles or horses.

• Look over the edge of the bridge for the sticks to emerge. The owner of the first Stick to float from under the bridge, is the winner.

Remember: Falling into the water is SAD (Silly And Daft)!

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