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Rose Cecil O'Neill letters to Mr. and Mrs. William Curtis Gibson


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

O'Neill, Rose Cecil, 1874-1944

Rose Cecil O'Neill was an American children's book author and illustrator. O'Neill was born in Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania. Her family later moved to Taney County, Missouri, where her brother built a large family home which they named Bonniebrook. In 1893 O'Neill moved to New York and sold illustrations to many of the prominent periodicals. Her work appeared in such magazines as Collier's, Truth, McClure's, and Harper's. She also worked as a staff artist for Puck magazine. It was at Bonniebrook in 1909 that O'Neill created the Kewpie doll, a roly-poly elf with a child's body, small wings, and a turnip top head. The Kewpies made their first public appearance in Women's Home Companion in December 1909. They were immediately popular and quickly became a large merchandising industry. O'Neill was commissioned for her Kewpie designs for magazine stories, paper dolls, and advertisements appearing in Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal, as well as other periodicals, and as a comic strip for The New York Journal in the 1930's. Popular at this time were the "Kewpie Kutouts", the first of its kind double-sided paper doll. The first Kewpie children's book, The Kewpies and Dottie Darling, appeared in 1910, followed by two more in 1912, and the last one, The Kewpies and the Runaway Baby, in 1928. The Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street in New York was the site of a Kewpie musical production in 1919. O'Neill's sister Callista, whom she mentions in her letters, worked as her business manager.

The collection consists of sixteen illustrated autograph letters, four note cards, and a postcard from Rose O'Neill to Mr. & Mrs. William Curtis Gibson. In the bulk of the letters, addressed to William C. Gibson while he worked for Good Housekeeping and as art editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine, O'Neill discusses her Kewpies characters, publishing contracts, her life, her travels, and other daily activities. She often addresses him as "Dear Gibbles" or "Dear Gibbons" and addresses Mrs. Gibson as "Dear Girl" or "Dear Fannie." Most of the letters are in O'Neill's very distinctive script and style in which she also uses baby talk, and they all contain original drawings of her Kewpies, birds, and other characters. In some of her letters she uses a rubber stamp of the Kewpies next to her signature. Included is a typed letter from an unidentified person on Cosmopolitan Magazine letterhead, dated 2 October 1913, about wanting to publish three pages of Kewpies each month in Good Housekeeping Magazine. Also included is a photograph of O'Neill by Paul Thompson, N.Y., and a clipping of a family of birds with annotations in ink by the author.

Material is organized in one folder by date.

The collection was formed as a result of a Departmental practice of combining into one collection material of various accessions relating to a particular person, family, or subject.

Gift of Robert Van Valzah, Princeton Class of 1936, on June 9, 1982.

Folder inventory added by Nicholas Williams '2015 in 2012.

No appraisal information is available.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Collection Inventory

Letters with Illustrations to Mr. and Mrs. William C. Gibson and a Photograph of O'Neill, 1912-1914. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

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