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Kurt Werth papers

Identifier: Coll 100

Scope and Contents

The Kurt Werth papers represent a major portion of Werth’s body of work produced as an illustrator and author of American children’s literature. The collection is comprised of original children’s book illustrations and manuscripts, other artwork and manuscripts, personal papers, artifacts, personal and professional correspondence, and papers of his wife, Margaret Werth.

The children’s book illustrations and manuscripts series primarily includes original artwork created by Werth for children’s and juvenile books between the 1950s-1970s. The artwork represents a variety of stages in the illustration process and includes preliminary sketches, dummies, cover art, press-ready color-separated artwork, and proofs. It also includes typed and handwritten manuscript drafts for children’s books written by Werth, as well as manuscripts written by other children’s literature authors that Werth collaborated with including Rosalys Hall, Sid Fleischman, Millicent Selsam, and Lilian Moore.

The other artwork and manuscripts series primarily represents Werth’s early works and includes artwork and writings for non-children’s literature created between the 1920s-1940s. Materials include original and printed political cartoons published in American and German periodicals including Common Sense, Free World, Harper's, New York Times, Querschnitt, and Simplicissimus. It also includes artwork and cover proofs for publications, original woodcut prints, greeting card designs, landscape drawings and portraits, story fragments, playscripts, and writings in German.

The personal papers and artifacts series includes biographical information, notes, clippings, memorabilia, artist’s tools, relief printing blocks, and a family scrapbook from Europe dated 1926-1938.

The correspondence series contains personal and professional correspondence, including two large files of correspondence with children’s literature archives at the University of Minnesota and University of Southern Mississippi. The Margaret Werth papers series includes personal notebooks, literary manuscripts, and poetry created by Margaret Werth.


  • 1919-1983


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Kurt Werth was born September 21, 1896 in Leipzig, Germany. He entered the State Academy for the Graphic Arts in Leipzig in 1913 and studied there for two years before being drafted into the army. When not in action, he filled sketchbooks with scenes of the life around him and illustrated a copy of Rilke's The Cornet Rilke. All of these sketchbooks have been lost.

After the war he returned for two more years of study at the State Academy, leaving in 1921 for Munich where he began illustrating limited edition books which included Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, and books by Euripides, Pushkin, Kipling, and the German authors Wasserman and Kleist.

In 1924, Werth began drawing satirical cartoons for the Munich magazine, The Jugend, and the Swiss magazine, Nebelspalter. Four years later he and his wife Margaret, an actress, moved to Berlin where she became part of the City Theater. Here, Werth created satirical cartoons for the Berliner Tageblatt, and the magazines Querschnitt and Simplicissimus, among others.

With Hitler's increasing power, the magazines folded, and Margaret Werth, who was Jewish, was not allowed to work. In the 1939 the Werths emigrated to the United States where Werth found employment illustrating a Sunday column in the New York Times Magazine.

When the United States became involved in World War II, Werth began drawing cartoons for a number of the new magazines that had appeared on the political scene: Common Sense, Free World, The New Republic, Tomorrow, as well as Harper's.

The bulk of these publications disappeared with the war's conclusion, so Werth returned to book publishing, illustrating textbooks for Oxford University Press and other publishing houses. One of his first attempts at illustrating a picture book for children, Rosalys Hall's The Merry Miller, received favorable notice and opened the door to requests from other authors and publishers of children’s literature.

Kurt Werth died in New York City on August 25, 1983.


24.5 linear feet (17 containers) ; 2 record storage boxes; 1 manuscript box; 5 (16x20") boxes; 3 (12x15") boxes; 2 (11x17") boxes; 2 (21x25") boxes; 1 (7x10") box; 1 (9x11") box

Language of Materials




Kurt Werth (1896-1983) was a German-born illustrator and author of American children’s literature. The collection consists of original children’s book illustrations and manuscripts, other artwork and manuscripts, personal papers, artifacts, personal and professional correspondence, and papers of his wife, Margaret Werth.

Arrangement note

The collection is arranged in five series: 1. Children's book illustrations and manuscripts, circa 1940s-1970s; 2. Other artwork and manuscripts, 1919-1970s; 3. Personal papers and artifacts, 1926-1983; 4. Correspondence, circa 1941-1981; and 5. Margaret Werth papers, circa 1930s-1968.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Kurt Werth, 1969-1982.

Existence and Location of Copies

Selected items are available online in the Kurt Werth Papers, 1919-1983 in Oregon Digital.

Separated Materials note

Books in this collection are cataloged and stored separately in the Children's Literature Collection.

Photographs in PH020

The Kurt Werth papers include a scrapbook of photographs previously assigned photograph collection PH020.

Processing Information note

Collection processed by Mike O'Day and Caroline Quinlan, Manuscripts Processors, February 1987. Revised by Alexa Goff, 2019.

Guide to the Kurt Werth Papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Alexa Goff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Funding for publishing this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a division of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA