CHICAGO – Toomey & Co,’s August 23 sale called Roycroft: Life in Abundance, the Collection of Richard Blacher, returned abundantly strong results. The auction, a 344-lot celebration of the work and legacy of the Roycroft community, founded in 1894 by ex-soap salesman Elbert Hubbard, was a clear success, with several lots markedly outperforming their estimates. Absentee and Internet live bidding was facilitated through LiveAuctioneers.
Inspired by the ethos of Arts & Crafts movement legend William Morris, Hubbard started the Roycroft press in East Aurora, New York to self-publish his books after the example of Morris’s Kelmscott Press. The name came from that of the British 17th-century printers Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, and also Hubbard’s belief that ‘roycroft’ meant ‘king’s craft’ in French.
Rechristening himself Fra Elbertus, the charismatic self-described anarchist and socialist drew hordes of talented people into his orbit, who settled in East Aurora. Their artisanship ranged across several categories that were represented in the Toomey & Co. sale.
In the realm of furniture, a circa-1905 model 084 variant bookcase from Hubbard’s own collection and with notarized letters of provenance from his estate to reinforce the connection, hammered for $13,000 and sold for $17,030 with buyer’s premium.
The standout in the lighting category was a circa-1925 model 905 Roycroft table lamp, its leaded slag glass and copper shade designed by Dard Hunter and its patinated and hand-wrought copper base attributed to Victor Toothaker. It hammered for $14,000 and sold for $18,340 with buyer’s premium.
A charming Roycroft work of decorative arts is a circa-1910 oak and iron sign that reads ‘A Deer Hunter is a Miserable Thing.’ It hammered for $10,000 and sold for $13,100 with buyer’s premium.
Several of the lots of books were hotly contested by bidders, but the clear winner was An Appreciation of Thomas W. Lawson, for the Citizens of Albert Lea and having a Roycroft presentation box. Made in 1905, it sported a binding by Louis Kinder, landscapes by Alexis Fournier, and was designed, hand-calligraphed and hand-illuminated by Dard Hunter. It hammered for $30,000 and sold for $39,300 with buyer’s premium.
Hubbard’s endeavor expanded from a press to a full-fledged art colony. At its peak in 1910, Roycroft boasted more than 500 people and included 14 buildings. This complex, now known as the Roycroft campus, became a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
After Hubbard and his wife died aboard the RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed by German forces off the coast of Ireland in May 1915, the Roycroft community slowly began to diminish. His sons managed to keep the business going until 1938. As the Toomey & Co. sale demonstrated, the Roycroft name has only grown in esteem.