Do you long for the
art of the old craftsman? That was an era referred to as the
Arts-and-Crafts period - the time at the turn of the last century
when manufacturers took personal pride in the handicrafts they made.
One sterling example of this pride can be found in the highly
collectable artifacts put out by an East Aurora, New York community
of crafters known as the Roycrofters, and a period known as the
When young Elbert Hubbard returned from a walking tour of England
he tried to publish a series
of biographical sketches he had written called, "Little Journeys."
Having become frustrated in searching for a publisher he decided to
print his own books - thus in 1895 he began the Roycroft Press. He
chose the name in part for the work he admired of the early English
Printers, Thomas and Samuel Roycroft. He owned some of the books
printed by the brothers. He also said he liked the name because it
meant Kings Craft.
Hubbard's writing became very popular.
When his printshop and books became desirable, visitors came to East
Aurora to see the artist and his printshop. Hubbard, ever the
businessman, built a hotel for them to stay in during their visits.
The inn had to be furnished and with the help of local craftsmen
Hubbard designed simple straight-lined furniture that soon became
known as Roycroft Arts-and-Crafts style. When the home furnishings
became popular he began manufacturing on a large scale utilizing the
local craftspeople. The workers were also skilled metalsmiths,
leathersmiths, and bookbinders. By 1910 the community was
flourishing with 500 people working for him. They soon came to be
known as Roycrofters. The skill and care shown by the Aurora
craftspeople quickly became famous and by 1915 the manufacturing
company was flourishing.
Hubbard himself continued to grow in
his writing ability and renown. He soon was publishing two monthly
magazines - The Fra and The Philistine. He lectured extensively
nationwide and continued to publish editions of his original,
"Little Journeys" books along with publishing many other
He employed local women trained initially by artist
W.W. Denslow to hand illuminate the Roycroft books. These "arty" and
feminine touches were seen throughout and, along with the superb
bookbinding, helped to make the publications widely
Variant editions on special papers and numbers of
editions were so prolific that researchers are still putting
together lists of total outputs today. According to Charles F.
Hamilton in his fine and complete book, Roycroft Collectibles, "A
typical problem facing the researchers is the case of the Roycroft
reprinting in 1896 of George Bernard Shaw's essay, "On Going to
Church." There are now known, through actual collection, at least
six variant editions of that work, issued by the Roycroft Print
Shop. Comparison of the text in each indicates that all were printed
from the initial typesetting and forty-page layout format. The
differences show up in the papers, bindings, title page styles and
decoration, and the presence or absence of a colophon." In any
event, Bibliophiles enjoy trying to separate facts and figures
making the research and collecting an ongoing pleasure. The beauty
shown in these books and the care taken in their manufacturing along
with the furniture and metalworking make the Roycroft
Arts-and-Crafts examples of books, furniture and metal pieces
wonderful treasures for a searching and lucky collector.
As with so many antiques and collectibles the Roycrofters have
followers everywhere. They have formed a group that maintains a web
This is a wonderful site with humor and enthusiasm is worth a visit.
It contains points of interest around the country for the collector,
including T-shirts, postcards depicting the Roycroft Inn and Chapel,
"Roycroftie doings" and a "fraternity for folks that write, paint
and dream and believe in individuality of thought and expression."
The site also has an extensive bibliography of Roycroft
In East Aurora, New York there is a museum - the
Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum maintained by the Aurora Historical
Society. The museum is located at 363 Oakwood Avenue in East Aurora.
Hours are June 1 - October 15 Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 2
- 4 PM. For further information call: 716-652-4735.
Sadly, Elbert Hubbard and his wife Alice met an untimely death. They were
among the lost souls on the Lusitania when it sank on May 7, 1915,
after being attacked by a German U-boat. However, the Roycroft
tradition continued quite successfully under the direction of the
Hubbards' son, Elbert Hubbard II until it became a victim of the
depression and finally closed in 1938.
Content provided by Old Growth Books.