One of the many advantages of working in a special collections library is the opportunity to browse in the stacks. I regularly browse while checking the climate control monitors throughout the building. During one such walk-through, a suede binding resembling a typical Roycroft cover caught my eye. I lifted Essays of Elia (1899) off the shelf, located the publisher’s identity, and discovered that my hunch was correct. This, in turn, lead to a search in the library catalog for more Roycroft materials and the realization that the Boston College Libraries hold a number of books made by the Roycrofters. My colleague, Andrew Isidoro, and I then used these materials to produce the current John J. Burns Library exhibition, Dreams of Art & Glory: Book Craft by the Roycrofters.
Dreams of Art & Glory: Book Craft by the Roycrofters includes 26 Roycroft books, along with Kelmscott Press publications, incunabula (early imprints created prior to 1501), a Doves Bindery volume bound by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, and Cuala Press imprints. Exhibition viewers have the opportunity to learn about the influences on the Roycrofter style, and to observe examples of other contemporary designers, all culled from the collections of the Boston College Libraries
Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) was the founder of Roycroft, a reformist community of craftspeople and artists in East Aurora, New York. He referred to himself as an anarchist and socialist. Hubbard began the community in 1895, influenced by the ideas of William Morris, the well-known English designer, printer, and Socialist. William Morris was known for his decorative arts—including tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained glass windows—and founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891. His aesthetic was a major inspiration for the Arts and Crafts movement, which began in England in the 1880s, and quickly spread to North America and Continental Europe. In May 1894, Elbert Hubbard traveled to England and Ireland, visiting the Kelmscott Press and finding inspiration from their work.
Hubbard had been a successful traveling soap salesman before beginning a career as a writer. Unable to find a publisher for his work, Hubbard founded Roycroft Press to print his book himself. He selected the Roycroft name due to his admiration of 17th century London printers, Samuel and Thomas Roycroft.
Although Hubbard expanded his Roycrofters community to include other craftspeople, such as furniture makers, metalsmiths, and leather smiths, this exhibition focuses on the work of the bookbinding and printing shops. Elbert Hubbard was very proud of the Roycroft bindery; advertisements written by him and printed in the endpapers of Roycroft books include praise of the German-trained master bookbinders Louis Kinder and Frederick C. Kranz. Hubbard himself collected fine bindings from some of the notable binderies of the late 19th and early 20th century: Riviere, Zahn, Zaehnsdorf, and Doves. A sample Doves Bindery bookbinding is in this exhibition.
The Burns Library exhibition features an outstanding seven volume set of The Complete Writings of Elbert Hubbard, commissioned by Thomas W. Lawson (1857-1925), a wealthy Boston stockbroker and author. With the wealth Lawson amassed from copper mining, he built a vast estate; the manor house boasted a large library that once held these bindings. The beautiful, coppery-hued leather covers may be a nod to the source of Lawson’s wealth. These books were bound by Frederick C. Kranz, who had begun working in the Roycroft bindery in 1903, and, when leather modeling was introduced in the bindery, was designated “Master Leather Modeler.” The Lawson bookbindings reveal Kranz’s skills. Kranz’s work was usually unsigned; his gold monogram on these covers may indicate pride in the exquisite workmanship. Continue reading