From the tail end of the 19th century through the first few decades of the 20th, the Roycrofters of East Aurora, New York produced beautiful examples of Mission-style furniture, handmade books, and a variety of hand-hammered copper vases, lamps, candleholders, humidors, and bowls.
Founded by writer and soap entrepreneur Elbert Hubbard in 1897, the Roycroft community was inspired by the work of English Arts and Crafts proponents William Morris and John Ruskin.
According to Roycroft metalwork collector David Kornacki, the late 1800s were a time of artistic upheaval in the United States as artists rebelled against the social and aesthetic strictures of the waning Victorian Era. Artists were even less thrilled about a future in which objects once created by craftsmen and artisans were increasingly mass-produced...
Sharing these concerns, Elbert Hubbard decided to develop the Roycroft Campus in 1897. A blacksmith shop came first in 1899, and it was here that the earliest examples of Roycroft wrought-iron fixtures, andirons, and hinges were made.
A copper shop followed in 1902, constructed of local stone with a half-timbered and stucco exterior. Artisans at the copper shop produced the hardware for the doors, furniture, and light fixtures around the growing campus.
By 1906, Roycroft offered a limited inventory of copper items (pen trays, letter openers, etc.) for sale. Production increased slowly at first, which means there are relatively few Roycroft pieces from 1906 to 1911 available on the market today.
Concurrently, the Roycroft press started printing small, handmade books, with hand-tooled, gold-inlaid leather covers designed by Dard Hunter and binding by the master of his day, Lewis Kinder. They sold beyond anyone’s expectations and, along with the copper pieces, furniture, and leather items, put Roycroft on the Arts-and-Crafts map.
Hunter left Roycroft in 1910 to pursue a career in papermaking, but not before collaborating with fellow Roycrofter Karl Kipp on a number of copper designs influenced by the early Vienna Secessionist Movement. These pieces were less organic than the typical Arts and Crafts style, with geometric patterns, intricate cutouts, and silver overlays. These so-called “silver square” pieces remain some of the most collectible Roycrofts available.
Kipp, too, would leave Roycroft to found his own business in 1912. His Tookay Shop, also in East Aurora, produced copper pieces that are almost indistinguishable from Roycrofts, save the mark on their base. That same year, another prominent Roycroft designer, Walter U. Jennings, joined Kipp at Tookay. Roycroft may have lost Kipp and Jennings in 1912, but they gained Victor Toothaker, who, it is believed, designed the famous American Beauty vase.
Both men returned to the fold in 1915 after Elbert Hubbard and his wife, Alice, were killed when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat — that act of aggression prompted the U.S. entry into World War I. The Hubbard’s son, Bert, took over management of the Roycroft copper shop, while Kipp and Jennings designed Roycroft classics like the “bullet” vase. It all paved the way for Roycroft’s most glorious decade, the 1920s.
By now, Roycroft was using Steuben glass in its lamps. The copper shop produced vases, bowls, lamps, cigar boxes, and ashtrays, to name but a few of the items in its catalog. Almost every major department store in the country, including Lord and Taylor, sold Roycroft pieces to its well-heeled customers.
The Depression put an end to most of that, but it wasn’t just the economy that killed Roycroft. Hammered metalwork was beginning to appear tired and dated compared to up-and-coming movements of Bauhaus and Art Deco. Roycroft actually tried to change with the times, but customers were not completely convinced. Neither are collectors. As Kornacki puts it, “People collecting Roycroft copper today generally want brown metalwork with hammer marks on it, they don’t want smooth surfaces with bright shiny angles.”
Roycroft closed its doors in 1938, but the Roycroft Campus is now a National Historic Landmark that’s slowly being restored. It is open to the public.
Interviews & Articles
I started collecting Roycroft around 1992 when I visited the Peter Roberts Gallery in New York City. That was sort of the peak of … [more]
How did I get started collecting Arts and Crafts silver? My wife and I had been collecting Arts and Crafts items as far back as I … [more]
I started collecting jewelry when I was about 13 years old. I was very close to an interior designer who took me to antiques shops… [more]
I don’t remember the first Rookwood piece I ever bought, that’s getting close to 40 years ago. But I must have liked it, because I… [more]
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Gusto's annual Festival GuideBuffalo News, June 12th
$8 advance, $10 day of event, free for children ages 12 and under. June 29-30: Lockport Outdoor Arts & Crafts Festival. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Main Street, Lockport. Vendors, arts and crafts and food. 9940-0554. June 29-30: Roycroft Summer Arts & Crafts...Read more
Roycroft at 20Artvoice, June 5th
When this year's edition of the Roycroft Chamber Music Festival begins this Saturday, June 8, it will mark its 20th anniversary, a significant milestone for any classical music series. What is even more remarkable is that the Gaub's have remained the...Read more
John D. Smith Sr., 90, art director for Fisher-PriceBuffalo News, June 5th
Returning from service, he studied art at the Pratt Institute in New York City, graduating in 1949, and lived and worked in New York for the next 10 years, doing illustrations, advertising, packaging design and film strip art for children. In 1959, Mr...Read more
Summer camp listingsBuffalo News, May 30th
Roycroft Campus in East Aurora offers a variety of daily youth art classes including writing, nature activities, painting, drawing, paper art, mosaic art, print making and more. Pricing and hours vary for each class. Classes run from July 8-Aug. 15...Read more
Alexander StevensonNapa Valley Register, May 28th
A memorial service will be on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 11 a.m., at the Wells Fargo Center for the Performing Arts in Santa Rosa, Calif. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the American Brain Tumor Association, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave...Read more
Roycroft Inn shakes stodgy reputation with updated menuBuffalo News, May 23rd
The Roycroft Inn in East Aurora is one of the most famous buildings in Western New York, a certified national landmark built in 1905 during the rise of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Until last month, I had never been inside its famed halls and dining...Read more
Museums offer free admission to militaryBusiness First of Buffalo (blog), May 23rd
Buffalo History Museum; Burchfield Penney Art Center; Dansville Area Historical Society & Museum; Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum, Explore & More Children's Museum and Millard Fillmore House Museum, all in East Aurora; Town of Elma Museum/Elma ...Read more
Work by Paul Evans, George Nakashima, and George Ohr Among Highlights of ...ArtfixDaily (press release), May 20th
Furniture by Gustav Stickley, Rose Valley, L. & J.G. Stickley, Roycroft, Limbert, includes a few rare and early pieces by the firm of Gustav Stickley: a wide double-door bookcase with mitered mullions, a leather-top desk, and a Knock-Down settle. Art...Read more