Skip to main content

David Low papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 96

Scope and Contents

The David Low Papers contain correspondence, manuscripts of books and articles, illustrated lectures, letters to the editor, speeches, radio and television scripts, published drawings, Christmas and menu cards, and personal papers that document aspects of the life and career of Sir David Low, world-famous political cartoonist. The material spans the years 1897 to 1985, with the bulk falling between 1920 and 1963.

The papers are housed in forty-four boxes and are divided into four series. Correspondence is by far the largest series in the collection. Personal Papers comprises the second largest series. Writings and Published Drawings make up the rest of the collection. Oversize materials are placed at the end of the collection.

Series I, Correspondence (Boxes 1-15), covers the period 1915-85 and is divided into three subseries, Personal, Professional, and Subject. Represented in Personal Correspondence (Boxes 1-5) are writers, poets, artists, cartoonists, stage actors and film stars, producers, directors, professors, members of Parliament, government officials, prime ministers, and journalists. Many considered it an honor to be caricatured by Low, as is attested by the quantity of correspondence from members of Parliament and prime ministers, who frequently asked for Low's originals. Even Prince Philip placed such a request through a third party (Box 2, folder 61). More than a quarter of the folders in this subseries represents correspondence from members of Parliament. Prominent individuals include William Wedgwood Benn, Arnold Bennett, Aneurin Bevan, Kenneth Bird, Vera Brittain, George Catlin, Winston Churchill, Percy Fearon, Frank Horrabin, Aldous and Julian Huxley, John Maynard Keynes, Ramsay MacDonald, Andrew MacLaren, Herbert Morrison, J. B. Priestley, John Rothenstein, Marie Stopes, George Strube, Josiah Wedgwood, H. G. Wells, and Rebecca West. This correspondence covers such topics as literature, the arts, politics, and journalism.

The next two and one-half boxes hold Professional Correspondence with newspapers and magazines, editors, publishers, press lords, manufacturers, unions and other labor organizations, government offices and agencies, men's clubs, and professional associations. Extensive correspondence is found with Lord Beaverbrook, The British Broadcasting Corporation, the various Express newspapers, the Manchester Guardian, and the New Statesman. The Pindar the Panda file concerns negotiations for the manufacture of a plush toy fashioned after Low's cartoon character Pindar, based on a baby panda in the London zoo (Box 8, folder 348). Low's affiliations with the Cartoonists Club, the National Liberal Club, the Omar Khayyám Club, the P.E.N. Club, the Savage Club, the Sette of Odd Volumes, and the Titmarsh Club are well represented. On occasion he spoke at their meetings (Box 21, folders 968, 970-73, 976, 979) and drew menu cards for their dinner parties (Box 24, folders 1020-23, 1925-28). The Victor Gollancz, Ltd. and Jonathan Cape Limited folders contain correspondence with two of his book publishers and also reveal something of the warm personal friendships they had with Low. The folder on Great Britain: Ministry of Information (Box 6, folder 308) contains suggestions on revising Low's caricatures of Hitler and Mussolini. The folder on Die Zukunft, a German anti-Hitler magazine published in Paris in the late 1930s, is also of interest. The file on the Cartoonists Club details a dinner given in Low's honor a year before his death.

Subject Correspondence, located in Boxes 8-15, is divided into five sections: Contacts outside Great Britain; Exhibitions; Fan/Hate Mail; International Organizations; and Letters of Sympathy. It reflects the creator's original filing system. The bulk of the correspondents in Contacts outside Great Britain were from Australia, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The section includes letters from libraries in Australia and New Zealand thanking Low for donations of his drawings. There is also correspondence from two prime ministers of New Zealand. Newspaper and magazine editors from Australia, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, and the United States are well represented, especially those from Smith's Weekly, Sunday Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, Otago Daily Times, Krokodil (the Russian humor magazine), Ken, The New Republic, The New York Times, and Time. The collection also contains correspondence between Low and several well-known cartoonists, such as Fred Rayner of Australia, who frequently addressed his letters simply "David Low / Artist / London;" Jack Chen of China, who remarked about coverage of the Manchurian Incident by Chinese cartoonists; Boris Efimov, the grand old man of Russian cartoonists; Cyrus Hungerford, an American cartoonist from the Midwest; D. R. Fitzpatrick, dean of American cartoonists; and Draper Hill, a Boston native who, while studying in London, spearheaded a drive to restore the gravestone of James Gillray at St. James Church, Piccadilly, destroyed during the Blitz. The correspondence also documents Low's close friendship with ambassadors Pablo de Azcarate of the Loyalist regime of Spain and I. M. Maiskii of the U.S.S.R. Of particular interest is the folder on Japan, detailing Low's visit to that country in January 1953, sponsored by The Tokyo Shimbun.

The second section, Exhibitions, is composed primarily of catalogues and correspondence relating to major exhibitions of Low's drawings.

The third section, Fan/Hate Mail, contains correspondence on Colonel Blimp, Naming the TUC Horse, and General Correspondence. The Colonel Blimp fanmail consists of a twenty-year span of letters on Low's most famous and controversial cartoon character. Box 11, folder 511 contains a telegram from director Michael Powell concerning progress in the filming of "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." The correspondence about Naming the TUC Horse concerns a promotional gimmick sponsored by the Evening Standard in the spring of 1946. For years Low had represented the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in his cartoons as an amiable, but rather plodding, draft horse. The newspaper came up with the idea of a contest to name the horse. After hundreds of suggestions, the TUC horse nevertheless remained nameless. General Correspondence contains the main body of fan/hate mail received by Low from his arrival in London until his death. Low is either liberally praised or scurrilously lambasted for this or that day's offering to the public readership. In many instances concerning the same cartoon he was both accused of being "un-British" and praised as the greatest gift to Britain in her hour of peril. This section contains numerous cartoons penned by readers who sent them in as "little suggestions." In addition, many readers wrote to point out technical inaccuracies in Low's drawings. Some of these include saw teeth going in the wrong direction, the wrong number of spokes in a wheel, and an improperly drawn ship, rifle, and swastika. Several readers wrote in remarking how the head of a recently unearthed neolithic cult figure strikingly resembled that of the artist (Box 11, folder 527).

The fourth section of Subject Correspondence is International Organizations. This section documents the artist's involvement in both professional associations and social and political organizations. Included here are files on the Art-Workers' Guild, Artists International Association, Artists' General Benevolent Institution, the National Council for Civil Liberties, For Intellectual Liberty, the League of Nations Union, the United Nations Associations, and Spanish Civil War Relief. The fifth section of Subject Correspondence is Letters of Sympathy. This comprises the letters of condolence from across the world received by the Low family following the death of the artist. Prominent names represented in this section include Lord Beaverbrook, Kenneth Bird, Milton Caniff, J. B. Priestley, John Rothenstein, Max Reinhardt, and numerous members of Parliament. Box 15, folder 629 contains a cartoon by Lare Hubenthae in which Low is placed in the pantheon of political caricaturists along with Gillray, Daumier, Tenniel, and Nast.

Series II, Writings (Boxes 16-22), covers the period 1916-63 and represents the literary output of Low, the writer, journalist, commentator, and public speaker. This series is divided into two subseries, Books and Shorter Works. Throughout his life, Low produced dozens of books, most of which were compilations of previously published cartoons brought together around a central theme and preceded by an explanatory preface. For this reason, the Books subseries, consisting primarily of advertisements and book reviews, contains relatively little draft manuscript material. There are, however, a few manuscript prefaces as well as two drafts of an unpublished book entitled "A Textbook of the Cartoon."

The second subseries, Shorter Works, is divided into eight sections, the first of which is Articles. They deal with such subjects as British and American humor, changes in humor over time, caricature as a social force, outdated symbols (such as John Bull and Uncle Sam), Colonel Blimp, Hitler and other dictators, art and propaganda, and the old masters Hogarth, Gillray, and Daumier. Being rather tired of Colonel Blimp and feeling frustrated that too many people were completely misinterpreting his original intentions with the character, Low decided to kill him off in the midst of the war. For this action he was attacked from both the right and the left. In defense of his decision he wrote "Was Colonel Blimp Right?" in October 1942. Not one to rest in peace, Colonel Blimp himself shoots back his reply, "Was Low Right?" in January 1943.

Contributions to Works of Others consists mainly of forewords, prefaces, and introductions. Lectures, Illustrated is comprised of lectures presented by Low dealing with the development of political caricature down through the ages. Seventy-six lantern slides (Boxes 43 and 44) augment these lectures. History of Political Caricature, parts I and II is a teaching guide with two accompanying filmstrips (Box 43) for use with school-age children. Letters to the Editor, Published represents a sampling of reader response to Low's cartoons. Box 19, folder 812 contains Father Woodlock's reply of October 1937 to Low's offer to become his "diplomatic advisor." This follows the action in which Father Woodlock, a Roman Catholic priest, had severely criticized Low from the pulpit for his constant taunting of Hitler and Mussolini in his cartoons, especially in light of the government's policy of appeasement. Father Woodlock reminds Low that, "Dictators are touchy and temperamental." Low's portrayal of Churchill as Wilkins Micawber (Box 19, folder 805) in 1947 caused considerable uproar, in spite of the fact that Churchill and Low were friends and a defense of Low written by Churchill was published a week later. His controversial cartoon, "The Morning After" (Box 19, folder 802), commenting on the excessive expense and frivolity of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, aroused considerable reader response.

The fifth section of Shorter Works, Radio Scripts, is divided into Single Programs and Serial Programs and represents the considerable output of Low, the commentator. Single Programs is composed of single unrelated scripts on a variety of subjects spanning from 1923 to 1959. Serial Programs is composed of four groupings of World War II scripts: "Democracy Marches," "Calling New Zealand," "Calling Australia and New Zealand," and "World Perspective."

Research Files is composed primarily of handwritten character sketches generally taken down during lunches or sittings. These files contain descriptions of the physical characteristics of various individuals, frequently accompanied by quotes of conversation. Figures of note include Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Ramsay MacDonald, and Somerset Maugham.

The seventh section of Shorter Works contains speeches by Low on a variety of subjects. These include an address delivered at the University of New Brunswick upon receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, a speech delivered at the unveiling of a new tombstone for James Gillray at St. James's Church, Piccadilly, a tribute to H. G. Wells at a memorial meeting, speeches honoring the work of other caricaturists, and speeches delivered at various men's clubs to which Low belonged.

Television Scripts, the last section of Shorter Works, represents Low's appearances on British and American television.

Series III, Published Drawings , is located in Boxes 23-24 and Oversize papers. Included are Christmas cards, defaced cartoons, glossy proofs, leaflets, magazine and newspaper drawings, menu cards, posters, and a variety of miscellaneous drawings. Defaced Clippings of Cartoons, for example, represents cartoons mutilated by readers and returned to Low. Usually this defacement took the form of crossed out captions with "improvements" written in above. Occasionally there were graphic alterations and/or additions as well. The Graphics subseries, composed mainly of glossy proofs, is located in its entirety in Oversize. Leaflets represents miscellaneous leaflets designed by Low which use cartoons to promote social and political causes. Magazine Drawings includes some excellent examples of Low's early work while he was still in New Zealand and Australia. Menu Cards were drawn for dinner parties sponsored by the men's clubs to which Low belonged. Newspaper Drawings is composed of drawings published in newspapers, including the cartoon characters Musso the Dog and Pindar the Panda as well as portrait sketches of prominent individuals. The Posters subseries is housed in a broadside cabinet because of the size of the materials. Most are political posters drawn by Low during the 1920s when he was employed by the Star. Works of Others includes drawings by Boris Efimov, the Russian caricaturist, István Nagy, a Hungarian artist in Budapest during the 1930s, and Cyrus Hungerford.

Series IV, Personal Papers (Boxes 25-33), contains biographical materials, correspondence lessons in art, honors, press clippings, other printed materials, scrapbooks, writings about Low, and miscellaneous papers. Correspondence Lessons in Art contains art lessons from various correspondence schools in America as well as Low's exercises and free-lance drawings. Low subscribed to these as a lad in New Zealand. Honors is composed of materials relating to honorary degrees and dinners as well as to Low's knighthood. Personal Press Clippings represents sixty years of newspaper and magazine clippings documenting the life and career of the artist. Included are nineteen scrapbooks arranged chronologically and a series of loose clippings which largely duplicate items found in the scrapbooks. These materials are arranged by decade. Printed Materials, Miscellaneous contains assorted printed matter dealing with art and architecture, labor, peace, and political organizations. The subseries Scrapbooks is made up of collected items of interest and Low's own reflections on political, social, and economic affairs. The final subseries, Works on Low, contains articles by writers and journalists from around the globe on David Low and his work.

The collection concludes with eleven boxes of Oversize papers--nine containing materials from Series I-IV and two boxes of lantern slides. The Oversize papers are divided into two major groups based upon the size of the containers in which they are stored.


  • 1897 - 1985
  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 1963


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The David Low Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The David Low Papers were purchased in 1988 with income from the Edwin J. Beinecke Fund.


20 Linear Feet (44 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The David Low Papers contain correspondence, manuscripts of books and articles, illustrated lectures, letters to the editor, speeches, radio and television scripts, published drawings, Christmas and menu cards, and personal papers that document aspects of the life and career of David Low.

DAVID LOW (1891-1963)

David Alexander Cecil Low was born in 1891 in Dunedin, New Zealand, to David Brown and Caroline Flanagan Low. At an early age the Low children were removed from school because their parents felt that the educational system inhibited their natural intellectual curiosity and growth. Thereafter the children were educated by their parents at home and encouraged to develop their talents; David's was drawing. At the age of eleven he sold his first cartoon. This was the beginning of a career as one of the most famous political caricaturist of the twentieth century.

As an adolescent, Low sold drawings, cartoons, and caricatures of local individuals to various illustrated publications in New Zealand. At seventeen he landed his first full-time job as political cartoonist with the Christchurch Spectator, where he worked for three years. In 1911 Low left for Australia to work on the Bulletin, where for the next nine years he thoroughly learned his trade and produced The Billy Book, a compilation of caricatures of Billy Hughes, Australia's colorful prime minister. This was the first of dozens of similar works Low would produce throughout his life. Having gained recognition as one of the most talented young cartoonists in the Empire, Low accepted an invitation to work in London, arriving there in December 1919.

He began his London career with the Star. Soon after his arrival he married Madeline Kenning of Auckland, New Zealand, whom he had met on the trip. In 1927 Low began his twenty-three-year association with Lord Beaverbrook's Evening Standard. This union of an arch-liberal caricaturist with an arch-conservative newspaper proved highly successful. Low established a worldwide reputation as a champion of democracy and freedom against the forces of aggression and fascism. His caricatures of Mussolini and Hitler stirred the hearts of millions. During this same period Low created his most famous cartoon character, Colonel Blimp. He left the Tory Evening Standard in 1950 for the Labour Daily Herald and in 1953 joined the Manchester Guardian, with which he remained associated until his death in 1963.

During his professional career Low developed friendships with many leading individuals in literature, the arts, journalism, and politics. Toward the end of his life he received numerous honors, including a knighthood in 1962. David Low died in London on September 19, 1963.

For further biographical information, see Low's Autobiography (1957).

Guide to the David Low Papers
by T. Michael Womack
February 1989
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.