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Guide to the Keppler Family Papers
1840 - 1957
  MS 346

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Kit Messick

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on October 25, 2011
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the personal and professional lives of Joseph F. Keppler and his son, Udo J. Keppler. The papers give insight into life in New York City in the late nineteenth to twentieth centuries, as well as describing the creation, management and eventual sale and demise of Puck Magazine.

Joseph Keppler was born in Vienna in 1838. Although he studied art, publishing his earliest political cartoons in the Austrian magazine Kikeriki, his initial goal was to become an actor. He performed in various plays in Austria, but his acting career was never particularly successful. He emigrated to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1867, where he became active in the German-American community, and fell in with a group of journalists, writers, and artists. With fellow émigré Adolph Schwarzmann, he tried his hand at publishing satirical magazines, an enterprise which culminated with the creation of  Puck Magazine.

Joseph Keppler's papers include both his personal and legal papers, from a smallpox vaccination certificate dated from his infancy, to his fiscal records of his work at Puck Magazine. School papers, correspondence, theatrical contracts, passports and naturalization certificate are included, as are books and plays in German. Letters to his wife Pauline, from various correspondents, are also contained in the collection.

The collection also contains many materials dealing with the history and operation of Puck Magazine, one of America's first political satire and humor magazines. Initially published with Adolph Schwarzmann as a German-language weekly in St. Louis in 1871,  Puck faired badly and quickly folded. The duo successfully reprised the magazine in New York City in 1876, with an English-language version first appearing in 1877. At first, the English-language version fared poorly and its publication was supported almost entirely by the German-language version, but later years saw the subscription rate of the English version soar as the magazine took on such controversial local topics as Tammany Hall corruption, and national issues like Ulysses S. Grant's attempt to win a third term as President. Joseph Keppler served as co-publisher and chief cartoonist for the magazine until his death from heart disease in 1894. His political cartoons were notoriously biting, garnering much attention for  Puck, and he was one of the first artists to use color lithography for caricature. Son Udo, born in 1872, joined the staff of Puck in 1891 as a political cartoonist, and assumed control of the magazine after his father's death.  Puck was ultimately sold to William Randolph Hearst in 1917, who ceased publication of the magazine in 1918. Materials in the collection relating to  Puck Magazine consist of business, legal, and financial papers. Included are accounts, cancelled checks, legal contracts, and correspondence. Ephemera relating to  Puck Magazine, such as broadsheets, advertisements, original magazine issues and  Puck stationery is also included.

Joseph Keppler's son Udo is more thoroughly represented in this collection, and the bulk of the materials contained in the collection deal with his personal and professional life. Materials relating to Udo Keppler's involvement with Puck include correspondence, memos, accounts, land assessments and a closing statement for the sale of the Puck Building, all of which can be found in Box 1, folder 5.

Udo became active in Indian affairs around the turn of the century, and remained an activist for Native Americans until his death. In 1899, he was made an honorary Chief of the Seneca tribe and given the name Gy-ant-wa-ka. The collection contains material dealing with his Indian activism, including news clippings, personal correspondence, and letters acknowledging bequests of Indian artifacts from Udo Keppler to various museums.

The bulk of the material relating to Udo Keppler in this collection takes the form of personal correspondence. Letters from other artists and cartoonists like Joe Scheuerle and Art Young are included, many containing original drawings, as well as a number of letters from miscellaneous authors. The correspondence spans the late 19th century through Udo's death in 1956, and contains an extensive collection of sympathy letters written to Keppler's wife Vera upon his death, as well as other memorial materials and obituaries. A group of letters to Vera Keppler from Draper Hill describes the development and writing process of his dissertation on the life and career of Udo Keppler in 1957.

After his father's death, Udo legally changed his name to Joseph Keppler, Jr. and many of the items in the collection are addressed in this fashion. In personal correspondence, he is often referred to by a variety of nicknames, including "Kep" and "Chief." There are also items addressed to his Indian name, Gy-ant-wa-ka.

Miscellaneous materials belonging to Udo Keppler filed at the end of the collection include a commonplace book and a large quantity of newspaper clippings relating to Puck Magazine, obituaries of family members and fellow cartoonists, and an assortment of prose and poetry.


The collection is organized into the following seven series:

  1. I. Joseph Keppler: Business and Legal Papers
  2. II. Puck Magazine: Business and Legal Papers
  3. III. Joseph Keppler: Miscellaneous Materials
  4. IV. Udo J. Keppler: Papers
  5. V. Udo J. Keppler: Correspondence
  6. VI. Udo J. Keppler: Memorial Materials
  7. VII. Udo J. Keppler: Miscellaneous Materials

Material is arranged by family member and type of material. Items within the folders are chronological, with undated material at the end.