Published 20 March 2017
Guinness World Records 2017 Blockbusters! enters stores this week* and to celebrate we are sharing exclusive interviews with some of the book's stars.
Today Deb Hoffmann (USA) reveals what drives her to collect and what it’s like living with the world's Largest collection of Winnie the Pooh memorabilia.
As of 18 October 2015, Deb had amassed an incredible 13,213 items related to A. A. Milne's much-loved stories.
Tell us how your love affair with Winnie the Pooh began…
A lot of the time you get into a character because of your parents, and sure enough, Mum and Dad gave me my first Winnie the Pooh. I loved that toy and I dragged it everywhere! Like most normal people, I grew out of a childhood character, but then in my 20s, Disney started putting him in different costumes, so I thought I had to get those. And then it just kind of snowballed.
What attracts you to Winnie the Pooh?
It’s the simplicity. All the characters personify a personality trait that is unique to the person but that everybody has. So you have Piglet who is insecure. You have Eeyore who is gloomy. You have Rabbit who is very task-oriented. Then there’s Tigger who’s a little over-the-top. And then there’s Pooh, who sometimes doesn’t think things through, but his soul is sweet and he’s a great friend. Everybody has those characteristics to varying degrees.
What are your rarest items?
One of my rarest items is a Piglet from the 1940s that I found online. The styling back then was very different from what you see today; quite honestly, he was pretty ugly! One of the things that attracted me to him was that it was formerly owned by the daughter of Vincent Pryce.
Another piece I particularly love is a picture of the actual bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh. It’s a photo of a black bear cub sitting on a Harley [motorbike]. It’s a very rare item because it’s an original and this is the very start of the story of Winnie the Pooh.
A lot of people don’t know that the history of Winnie the Pooh started in Canada. Vet Lieutenant Harry Colebourn [1887–1947] of the British Army adopted the bear in White River, Canada. Naming her Winnie – after Colebourn’s hometown of Winnipeg – the bear became the troop’s mascot; she was very tame and everyone loved her. When Colebourn got called into duty, he donated Winnie to London Zoo, which is where Christopher Robin fell in love with her, and AA Milne started writing the stories.
Where do you keep your collection?
It started in one room, called the “Pooh Room”. But it’s grown and now takes up three rooms. When the Guinness World Records team came out to photograph the collection, they walked in and said “Oh my God!” I thought, if Guinness World Records says “Oh my God!”, then it’s got to be pretty impressive! We took all the toys and laid them out on the lawn – it took a long time to position them so they were all looking at the camera. It was so much fun to be surrounded by thousands of Winnie the Poohs. It’s a day I’ll always remember.
How does it feel to be a GWR title holder?
Quite honestly, I feel like a celebrity. It’s so amazing because everybody knows Guinness World Records. Everyone has one of the books. I’ve actually had people ask me for my autograph! It always makes me feel so honoured to be like the Winnie the Pooh ambassador.
How often do you get sent new items?
Now that I have a website showcasing my GWR collection, I have people communicate with me every week. Many times they are looking to find a Winnie the Pooh themselves, maybe they’ve lost part of a collection, or maybe they want something valued. Other times, someone will send me a collection. Maybe they’re moving into a space that can’t accommodate the collection, or they feel they’ve outgrown it.
One time, there were three huge boxes sitting on my doorstep from a gentleman who collected Tigger. He had 80 Tigger items and he wrote me a note saying, ‘I could have donated these to a child or a thrift store, but these meant a lot to me. I wanted someone to appreciate them as much as I do, would you please accept these?’
I’m always amazed at how passionate people are about Winnie the Pooh. It’s just heart-warming. If something like Winnie the Pooh can bring the world a bit closer in a friendly sort of way, then he’s done his job.
When will you stop collecting?
When I don’t have a pulse any more, I’ll be done. When I’m at the big honey pot in the sky, they better have a really big museum, because they’re going to have a truckload of Winnie the Poohs coming up!
*Guinness World Records 2017 Blockbusters! is out now in the US and launches in the UK, Ireland and Australia on March 23.