In 2004, I wrote a book titled, "Price Guide To Roycroft Furniture," for Schroeder Publishing Co. of Paducah, Ky.
The book today is out of print except for used copies that sometimes show up on eBay. Elbert Hubbard, the founder of Roycroft Furniture, was a man of many talents. He was an author, publisher, manufacturer, salesman, and a philosopher. In 1895, he founded one of the most successful arts and crafts communities in America in East Aurora, N.Y., called Roycroft. At the age of 36, Elbert Hubbard retired as sales manager for the famous. J.D. Larkin Soap Co. in Buffalo. He could then fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a writer and a publisher. The company had made him very wealthy by rewarding him for his clever idea of offering bonuses of furniture to customers who had sold large amounts of soap to their friends.
By 1903, Elbert had become known all over the world through his workshops in producing fine furniture, books, and copper, leather and craft items and numerous other wares that were marked with the Roycroft trademark (an R within a circle) below a double-barred cross. Roycroft first catalogs contained a small inventory such as desks, bookcases, tables, and chairs, while later catalogs contained both rolltop and fall front desks including a large display of sideboards, chests, copper lamps, library tables and other furniture and accessories for the home.
By 1919, over 100 craftmen were employed at Elbert Hubbards Roycroft Furniture making items that are still being sought by dealers and collectors all over the country.
All furniture was made of oak, mahogany, and bird's eye maple. Occasionally, furniture was made from walnut or ash, but this was very seldom because oak was more desirable. While Gustav Stickley used ammonia fumes to darken his furniture, Hubbard used a stain made from nails that sat in water for a period of time and became rusty. That gave his furniture a high luster and more of a colonial revival-style look. All crafted furniture included new copper hardware with exposed tenons.
Books produced by Roycroft Press were made of levant binding and leather covers or on Japanese vellum with hand illumination. These are most desired by today's collectors, bringing high prices at Roycroft auctions. Books with suede covers and printed on parchment paper are of less interest to collectors because they are fairly common to find.
In 1915, Elbert Hubbard's career was tragically cut short when he and his wife, Alice Hubbard, went down with the luxury liner the S.S. Lusitania torpedoed by the Germans. After the outbreak of World War I, Elbert Hubbard's son took over the business, which very much declined after Elbert Hubbard's death, the company closed its doors in 1937.
Another passenger on the Luxury liner S.S. Lusitania that day said that the couple refused life jackets and went to their cabin and simply closed the door and waited to drown.
Larry Koon is the author of several price guide books on antiques and collectibles. His column appears every Monday on Life. Send letters to Treasure in the Attic, c/o The Marietta Times, 700 Channel Lane, Marietta 45750; or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. When writing, send a complete description of the item, along with size, color, any markings on the item along with condition the item is in, and how the item was obtained, and any other information. If possible, send a photograph. Letters will be answered through this column.