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Publishers Info: The Charm of the Roycroft Period

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 Roycroft Period.

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 authors.

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 popular.

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 site: www.roycrofter.com. 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 books.

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.


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