Artists & Designers

Roycroft Shops (American, 1895-1938)

At the turn of the century, the Roycroft Shops in East Aurora, New York (1895-1938), was one of the leading centers for the production of Arts and Crafts goods–books, leatherwork, metalwork, and furniture. The designs of the Roycrofters were influenced by a host of sources, including the work of Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Workshops, the Wiener Werkstätte (notably in the graphic and metalwork designs of Karl Kipp and Dard Hunter), and French Art Nouveau.

The artistic appeal of Roycroft creations made them very popular, but it was also the business acumen and highly charismatic personality of its founder, Elbert Hubbard, which made Roycroft one of the most successful enterprises of the Arts and Crafts era. In the midst of a successful career with the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo, in 1893 he abandoned his position to study at Harvard and dedicate himself to writing. In the following year he made a trip to England and Ireland during which Hubbard claimed to have met and been greatly influenced by William Morris, founder of the Kelmscott Press, and patriarch of the English Arts and Crafts movement. Inspired by the ideals of Morris and the beautifully crafted publications of Kelmscott, Hubbard returned to East Aurora where he established the Roycroft Printing Shop in 1895. With his extraordinary aptitude for marketing and self-promotion, the press began garnering national attention for its publications–The Philistine, The Fra, and series of illuminated books and pamphlets, including the politically charged “A Message to Garcia” (1899). Mounting success enabled him to extend the Roycroft campus to thirteen additional buildings over the next ten years, hosting a bindery, leather, furniture, and metalwork shops, and a stained-glass studio, as well as staff housing and an inn for an increasing number of personnel and visitors.

Nevertheless, the Roycroft Shops remained a relatively small enterprise of fewer than a dozen mostly unknown employees, as compared to larger concerns, such as Stickley’s, which employed over 150 workers. Nonetheless, Hubbard’s inspirational leadership eventually attracted nearly five hundred craftspeople to his utopian arts community. Roycroft itself became a critical gathering place for contemporary artists, authors, and philosophers of the time. In 1915, Hubbard and his wife died in the sinking of the Lusitania, and the Roycroft Shops entered into a period of gradual decline, finally closing in 1938.

Adapted from

Kevin Tucker, DMA unpublished material, 2011.

Fun Facts

Roycroft products were marked with either the Roycroft (“King’s Craft”) name or an orb and cross insignia trademarked by founder Elbert Hubbard. Capitalizing upon the Arts and Crafts fashion for handmade goods suggestive of a pre-industrial era, the mark harks back to medieval monks who used similar images of royal authority to mark their illuminated manuscripts. A novel concept for the time, Hubbard used a prominent graphic mark as part of his brand identity to help customers recognize the quality and authenticity of their products.

Web Resources

  • Roycroft Campus
    Visit the website of the Roycraft Campus, now a National Historic Landmark district.
  • PBS
    Watch the documentary "Elbert Hubbard: An American Original."
  • The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum
    Review the finding aid for material on the Roycroft Shops in the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera.