In 1893, at the age of 36, Elbert Hubbard sold his interests in the Buffalo-based Larkin Soap Company for $75,000 to pursue a career in literature. In 1895, after a chance meeting with Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris at Morris' Kelmscott Press, Hubbard sought to emulate him in the U.S. by producing books according to medieval tradition.
Upon returning to his home in East Aurora, New York, Hubbard purchased the basic equipment to start a printing operation for the sole purpose of printing his own material.
When the first Roycroft building was erected in 1895, Hubbard instructed his men to build a church-like structure similar to one he had seen in England. The Roycroft Campus, which would eventually include 16 buildings, was built mostly of local stone obtained by the wagonload from local farmers.
In much the same way that the Kelmscott Press was founded, furniture and metal works were first produced out of necessity for a growing campus and later retailed to consumers. The Print Shop (1895-1938) produced a wide range of publications under the authorship of Hubbard and others, including Hubbard’s monthly magazines: Little Journeys, The Philistine, and The Fra. Custom volumes received the handiwork of leather modelers and hand-illuminators. Roycroft furniture (1901-1938) was designed in the Mission Style – which emphasized geometry and lack of adornment. The Blacksmith Shop (1899-1901), produced elaborate wrought iron andirons, lamps, and hardware for furniture. It would succumb to a new material of choice – copper – due to its low cost and ease of malleability. The Copper Shop (1906-1938) produced a wide range of objects that were, during its infancy, created by hand. Eventually, machines were added to boost production and reduce costs. Prior to 1915 objects were unpatinated, while later works were received finishes of brass, Aurora Brown, silver wash, and sterling silver.
In May of 1915, Hubbard and his wife Alice were among those lost on the Lusitania. Ironically, in 1912 he had written a satirical account of the Titanic in which he stated: "One thing sure, there are just two respectable ways to die. One is of old age, and the other is by accident."
The Community did continue to prosper under the direction of Hubbard's eldest son, Bert. At its height, in the early 1920s, the Roycroft Campus would employ over 500 individuals. However, changing consumer demands and the after-effects of the stock market crash continued to weaken the company until it finally closed in 1938.
On display is a selection of objects from the Burchfield Penney’s permanent collection. The collection started in 1977 with the acquisition of a pair of bookends and rare and important music stand. In 1994 Charles Rand Penney donated his entire collection, which included 472 objects and 568 books and magazines. Subsequently, in 2001, the center acquired a smaller, newly-amassed, collection from Dr. Penney. Recently, we’ve received impressive objects from Burchfield Penney friends Grace Meibohm, Russell Ram, and Mary Louise Clark (Kreiger Family).
Through exhibitions and programming, the center’s Roycroft collection (along with works by Karl Kipp, Buffalo Pottery, Heintz Art Metal, and Charles Rohlfs) defines Western New York’s impact on the Arts and Crafts Movement over a century ago.