Guide to the Sarg Family Papers, 1712-1940

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Research Library at the Nantucket Historical Association. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the internet.

Summary

Anthony Frederick Sarg (April 21, 1880 – February 17, 1942), known as Tony, was a German-American puppeteer, illustrator, painter, and family genealogist. He was born in Guatemala and spent much of his young life in Europe, but eventually bought a house in Nantucket and lived here with his wife and daughter. Along with being “America’s Puppet Master,” Sarg designed balloons for Macy’s, which inspired the creation of large Thanksgiving Day-parade balloon displays.

The collection contains genealogy information that Sarg gathered about his ancestry, along with documents and correspondence from his relatives. Some of his own letters are also in the collection, along with a birthday book containing cards from his friends and colleagues.

Collection Details

Collection Number:
MS58
Title:
Sarg Family Papers
Date(s):
1712-1940
Creator:
Sarg, Tony, 1880-1942.
Repository:
Nantucket Historical Association
Language:
Material is mostly in English. Multiple documents, notably in Folder 4, are in German or Spanish. One genealogy in Folder 1 is in Latin. One letter in Folder 9 is in French.

Information for Users

Restrictions to Access: No restrictions. Open for research.

Restrictions to Use: No usage restrictions.

Copyright Notice: Copyright is retained by the authors of items in this collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation: [identification of item], in the Sarg Family Papers, Nantucket Historical Association.

Acquisitions Information:

Gift of Mary Sarg Murphy in 1983 (Acc. 1983.57).

Sensitive Materials Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Nantucket Historical Association assumes no responsibility.

Related Collections

  • MS399 - Tony Sarg Collection, 1902–1983, Nantucket Historical Association
  • MS485 - Tony Sarg / George Korn Collection, Nantucket Historical Association

Subject Headings

  • Topical term
    • Puppet theater—United States—History—20th century.
  • Personal name
    • Sarg family.
    • Sarg, Tony, 1880-1942.

Biographical Information

Anthony Frederick Sarg (April 21, 1880 – February 17, 1942), known professionally as Tony, was a German-American puppeteer, illustrator, painter, and family genealogist. He was born in Cobán, Guatemala, to Francis Charles Sarg, a consul for Germany, and his English wife Mary Parker. In 1887, the Sargs moved back to Germany, and Tony spent eight years in the German military. He resigned his commission in 1905 and left for the United Kingdom, where he courted Berta Eleanor McGowan, an American that he had met in Germany when she vacationed there. Tony and Berta married in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1909. They, along with their newborn daughter, spent time living in England, and then again in Cincinnati, before settling in New York in 1915. Tony became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1920.

He turned his puppetry hobby into a successful career in 1917, and he also animated an early cartoon film called The First Circus.

After Tony visited Nantucket for the first time in 1920, he returned frequently with his family over the next two decades. They lived at 47 North Liberty Street. Tony opened a shop which began on Federal Street, moved to 38 Center Street, and then eventually relocated to Easy Street. He painted many island scenes and sold those, as well.

In addition, Sarg designed animal-shaped helium balloons for the Macy’s department store in New York, which was the origin of large Thanksgiving Day-parade balloon displays.

Though one biographer called him “America’s Puppet Master,” Sarg fell into hard times and declared bankruptcy in 1939, the same year that he put on his last show. In 1942, he passed away as a result of a ruptured appendix.

In 1983, the NHA hosted an exhibition that displayed his work.

Scope and Content

This collection mostly contains documents concerning the history of Tony Sarg’s ancestors and elder relatives, though it also includes a smaller range of documents from his own life. An extensive assortment of family genealogies provides a wide-ranging set of information about his English maternal heritage going back several centuries prior to his birth. Genealogies are often folded more than once and fragile along creases. Other family heritage information is present in the form of family crests and portraiture.

Correspondence in this collection comes mostly from the 19th century, though there are a few earlier letters as well. Authors of these letters vary, but generally come from Sargs, Norcliffes, or Bests. Subject matter mostly concerns family life, such as illnesses, visits, and marriages. One document written by his grandmother narrates a trip with her son, Tony’s father, to England. Letters from Tony Sarg himself discuss his time at school. His later puppetry career is only present in a 1940 birthday book, which contains dozens of cards.

Government documents, some in Spanish and German, are present relating to the career of Tony Sarg’s father, a German consul in Guatemala.

The chronological scope of the collection ends before the middle of the 20th century, with papers relating to Tony himself, including a 1920s passport and the 1940 birthday book.

Contents

Box 1 Folder 1 Pedigrees of ancestors 1809-1922, undated
Contains lineage information including College of Arms letter detailing
descent from King Edward III, genealogies from the families Norcliffe,
Hotham, Best, Drury, Pawson, Belwary, Cholmely, and Wilson. Drury
genealogy is in Latin. Also includes a map of Hawstead Manor, home to
the Drury line, and a letter written in German.

Box 1 Folder 2 Coats of arms 1840, undated
Contains watercolor crest of unmarried Sarg daughters with annotation by
Tony Sarg and photograph of family coats of arms taken by Tony Sarg. Also includes illustrations of family coats of arms on seals and a letter to Johan Anton Sarg from Rosamund Robinson explaining blazoning of his arms in 1840.

Box 1 Folder 3 Portraits of ancestors undated  Booklet that lists portraits taken at Langston Hall belonging to Francis Best Norcliffe. Also contains engraved portraits annotated by Tony Sarg along with illustrations of Oxford College and a tithe barn at Elmswell.

Box 1 Folder 4  Diplomatic and travel documents 1857-1924
Contains government correspondence and certificates related to the position of Francis Sarg as German consul in Guatemala, including a document signed by Guatemalan president Justo Rufino Barrios. Documents in German or Spanish, with the exception of an American passport belonging to Tony Sarg and a passenger list including Tony and Berta on the S.S. Minnehaha.

Box 1 Folder 5       Norcliffe family letters, 1712-1812
Contains seven pieces of correspondence within the Norcliffe family, along with annotation from Tony Sarg explaining the authors and contents of the letters.

Box 1 Folder 6 Best family letters, 1727-1817
Contains seven pieces of correspondence within the Best family, along with annotation from Tony Sarg explaining the authors and contents of the letters. Also includes a memorandum detailing the induction of Francis Best into the office of Customer, a customs official. Also in this folder is a memorial to the House of Commons by Charles Best concerning the lunatic asylum in York.

Box 2 Folder 7 Correspondence of other ancestral families, 1784-1924, undated
Contains 10 letters from several families, including Daltons, McGowans, Norcliffes, and Hoyes. Some letters have explanatory notes from Tony Sarg.

Box 2 Folder 8  Diary of trip to England by grandmother of Tony Sarg, 1845
Unbound, six-leaf section of a diary detailing trip to England by Mary Ellen
Best Sarg.

Box 2 Folder 9 Sarg family papers, 1839-1888
Contains four letters to and from members of the Sarg family. 1842 letter from F. H. Sarg to his daughter is in French. Tony Sarg attached explanatory note to 1888 letter from Mary Ellen Sarg to Tony’s mother.

Box 2 Folder 10  Letter to Tony Sarg, 1910
Contains part of a letter from Rev. Henry Lawrence discussing his previous correspondence with Tony.

Box 2 Folder 11 Tony Sarg papers, 1891-1898, undated
Contains correspondence from Tony Sarg as a boy and young man. First letter is addressed to Santa Claus, and remainder of correspondence is with his mother and aunt. Shows him signing letters “Antonio Federico Sarg.”

Box 2 Folder 12 Copy of Tony Sarg drawing of William Sumner Appleton, undated
Contains one Xerox copy of the Sarg artwork from 1929. Depicts Appleton completing the restoration of the Oldest House on Nantucket. Annotation on back side by Tony Sarg.

Box 2, no folder Birthday book, 1940
Scrapbook containing birthday cards from friends and colleagues for Tony’s 60th birthday. Includes poems and illustrations lauding his influence.

Processing Information

Processed by NHA Staff.
Finding aid by Jeremy Nelson and Amelia Holmes, July 2019.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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