Roycroft – Arts & Crafts Community 1896 to 1938 – New York

Roycroft – New York Arts & Crafts Community

After visiting William Morris’s Kelmscott community of artisans, charismatic businessman and writer Elbert Hubbard (1856 to 1915) embarked on his own version in East Aurora, New York. His Roycroft community, America’s only Arts & Crafts campus, began in 1895 as a high quality leather bookbindery and publishing house. The name came from two 17th century London printers. The community’s large and prominently displayed mark, the orb and cross with a capital R in the bottom of the orb, was derived from a group of 14th century monks devoted to illuminating manuscripts. From its inception, Roycroft emphasized handwork, innovative design, the finest materials and low production.

Hubbard expanded his Roycroft community from leatherwork to furniture (1896), iron (1899), copper (1902), lighting (1905) and jewelry (1908). After Hubbard perished when the Germans sank the ocean liner Lusitania in 1915, the community remained together under his son, Elbert “Bert” Hubbard II. Bert’s 1919 catalog showed an impressive array of leather goods, lighting and metal accessories, but quality suffered after 1925. Roycroft was bankrupt by 1938.

Roycroft furniture in quartersawn oak, ash or mahogany, was massive and austere. Or as Elbert Hubbard described it: “Simple, solid, substantial and rarely beautiful.” Among its distinctive features was the tapered leg ending in a bulbous foot (the Mackmurdo foot). Compared to other Arts & Crafts manufacturers, Roycroft’s furniture production was quite small. Collectors seem to prefer furniture marked “Roycroft ” in script.

Metalwork creativity peaked from 1909 through 1911 with the collaboration of designer Dard Hunter (1883 to 1966) and metals artisan Karl Kipp (1881 to 1954). Their copper and German silver work is especially desirable. Although vases and other forms came in a variety of metals and finishes, collectors prefer Aurora Brown copper.

Collectors have long noted the unity of design among Roycroft books, leather, glass and metals. That consistency and recognizable style was an important contribution of Dard Hunter.

Hunter’s stained glass and oak table lamps and Karl Kipp’s classic metal lamps, especially the popular “helmet lamp”, are the shining stars of Roycroft lighting. Whether from Hunter, Kipp or another Roycroft designer, all intact Roycroft lighting should be regarded as a rare commodity.

Roycroft produced a large inventory of leather: desk sets, bookends, circular plant mats, wallets, handbags, even clocks. Because leather was considered utilitarian, more like shoes than art, many of these items have been discarded.

Reference note by p4A Contributing Editor Pete Prunkl.

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