H.A. Rey papers , 1940-1961

Overview of the Collection

Rey, H. A. (Hans Augusto), 1898-1977
H.A. Rey papers
1940-1961 (inclusive)
2 linear feet, (5 containers)
Collection Number
Ax 828
H.A. Rey was a popular children's illustrator and author, most famous for the Curious George series. The H.A. Rey Papers consist of professional correspondence, manuscript dummies for the sixth printing of The Stars: A New Way to See Them, and documents pertaining to the copyright lawsuit between H.A. Rey and Leroy Fleming. The correspondence dominates the collection with both incoming and outgoing to the Rey's publishers--Houghton Mifflin in the United States and A.P. Watt & Son in England.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

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Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

Best known for his Curious George series, children's book author and illustrator H.A. Rey was born Hans Augusto Reyersbach on September 16, 1898, in Hamburg, Germany. Rey's love for illustration and for animals, which are the main subjects of most of his books, developed early. He would recall that during his childhood, he was "drawing most of the time" and visiting Hamburg's Hagenbeck Zoo so frequently that he became "more familiar with the elephants and kangaroos then with cows or sheep."

As a child, Rey was enrolled in a "Humanitarian Gymnasium" which focused on linguistics and the humanities. Rey enjoyed linguistics and learned to speak four languages fluently, but nonetheless filled his notebooks with surreptitiously drawn sketches. In 1916, with World War I raging across Europe, Rey was drafted into the Army when he left school at age eighteen. Enlisted in the infantry and medical corps, Rey served in France and Russia, between 1916 and 1919. Rey returned from the war to find Hamburg depressed by postwar inflation, and soon realized that is plan to attend art school was financially impossible. Instead, Rey studied natural science, language and philosophy at the University of Hamburg and the University of Munich from 1920 to 1923. He warned a meager living during this time by lithographing posters for a circus, spending as much time as possible with the circus animals.

Facing increasingly grim economic prospects in Hamburg, Rey left for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1924 to work in a relative's import firm--in Rey's words, "selling bathtubs up and down the Amazon river." Rey found the world of commerce constraining, however, and left the import business in 1935 at the urging of Margret Waldstein, and acquaintance from Hamburg recently arrived in Brazil after fleeing the Nazis. H.A. and Margret were soon married and combined H.A.'s drawing talents with Margret's formal art education and photography experience to form a small-scale, two-person advertising agency. The Reys returned to Europe for their honeymoon in 1936 and settled in Paris. Here the two continued their advertising work and published their first children's books, including Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys. Through the majority of the books list H.A. as sole author, he explains that "even those that do not show Margret's name on the title own much to her help; she usually does the text and criticizes my drawings while they are in progress." Margret described her role in the production process as that of a "midwife," and remarked that "it was hard to pull [the books] apart into who did what." Similarly, accounts differ as to the publication dates of many of H.A. Rey's books. While the Reys identify Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys as their first publication, other sources disagree.

George, one of the nine monkey's of Cecily G. would become the main character of the manuscript for one of Rey's next books. Before they could publish Curious George, however, the Nazis invaded Paris June of 1940 and the Reys fled on bicycle, bringing with them little more then warm clothing and their manuscripts. As the Reys left Paris, police suspected the two of being spies detained and interrogated them. After reviewing the manuscripts in search of incriminating details, the police determined that the creators of such agreeable stories could not possibly be spies. The Reys reached Lisbon after a few days of bicycle and train travel and returned to Brazil before moving permanently to the United States by October, 1940.

The Reys' publication career developed quickly in the United States. The manuscripts for four children's books were accepted for publication by Houghton Mifflin within a month of the Reys' taking residence in New York City's Greenwich Village. By the time H.A. and Margret Rey became naturalized citizens in 1946, they had published twenty children's books, three of which appeared under the pen name "Uncle Gus." Certainly the Curious George series (appearing as the Zozo series in England) was the most popular of the books. After Curious George was published in 1942, Curious George Takes a Job, Curious George Rides a Bike, Curious George Gets a Medal, Curious George Flies a Kite, Curious George Learns the Alphabet, and Curious George Goes to the Hospital appeared between 1947 and 1966. Volumes in the series were awarded placement on the 1957 New York Times List of Best Illustrated Books of the Year; the 1960 Louis Carroll Shelf Award; and the 1966 Child Study Association of American Children's Book Award. More importantly, perhaps, the books' slapstick cartoonish humor made the series enormously popular with children, who identify with the well-meaning but mischievous antics of the monkey George. The Curious George books have sold more then twenty million copies and appear in twelve languages. They now appear on a series of interactive, multimedia CD-ROMs.

Rey's sole book "for adults," The Stars: A New Way to See Them, was published in 1952. Rey became interested in astronomy during his service in World War I when he would study the stars from a pocket guidebook during the dark nights. As he continued to study astronomy over the years, Rey found the existing guidebooks for the novice astronomer unnecessarily complicated, and used his skills as an illustrator to develop an easier-to-follow system for the identification of constellations. The result was The Stars, which received considerable praise from amateur and professional astronomers alike. Following on the success of The Stars, in 1954 Rey produced an astronomy book for children, Find the Constellations, which he claims is "written so simply that even adults can understand it." After the Reys moved from New York City to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1963, H.A. taught astronomy at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and became a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Federation of American Scientists.

Though H.A. Rey published few works after Curious George Learns the Alphabet appeared in 1963, his books remain immensely popular. Following H.A.'s death on August 26, 1977, Margret Rey worked as a professor of creative writing at Brandeis University and as agent for A.P. Watt Ltd.., the Rey's London publisher, while acting as overseer of the production and sales of Curious George merchandise. In 1990, Margret made a sizable contribution of the book manuscripts and original drawings to the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, to which the Reys began donating their works in 1966. After Margret's death in 1996, the Rey estate contributed with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. The Fund has recently provided substantial funding for the cataloguing and preservation for the H.A. and Margret Rey archive. An exhibit of the Reys' works arranged by the de Grummond Collection recently resulted in the August 2000 publication of the 1938 manuscript Blackwhite the Penguin Sees the World.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The H.A. Ray Papers contains four boxes of typed and handwritten correspondence; paste-ups, and the sixth printing's first dummy and revised dummy of Rey's The Stars: A New Way to See Them; and miscellaneous papers documenting the H.A. Rey v. Leroy K. Fleming lawsuit. The H.A. Rey Papers will be particularly useful sources of information pertaining to Rey's relationship with his publishers; Rey's role in the production of his books; the production and drafting of The stars; the international book trade; and copyright laws as they apply to the reproduction of illustrations. The H.A. Rey Papers are divided into four series.

Series I. Correspondence, Outgoing consists of correspondence from H.A. Rey to his publishers Houghton Mifflin (United States) and A.P. Watts and Son (England) written between November 1941 and December 1960.

Series II. Correspondence, Incoming consists of correspondence from Houghton Mifflin and A.P. Watts and Son to H.A. Rey written between September 1940 and December 1960.

Series III. The Stars contains the paste-ups, first dummy, and revised dummy of The Stars: A New Way to See Them.

Series IV. Miscellaneous Lawsuit Documents contains papers pertaining to the 1960 copyright lawsuit filed by H.A. Rey against Leroy K. Fleming.

Series V. Photographs consists of a snapshot of Rey with his spaniel, and a color transparency of Curious George with a bunch of balloons, floating over a street.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Authors, American--20th century
  • Children's literature, American

Personal Names

  • Rey, H. A. (Hans Augusto), 1898-1977

Form or Genre Terms

  • Dummies (printed matter)