Category Archives: Elbert Hubbard/Roycroft

Chapter 27 The Roycroft Mystery, Part Three, Or, Emilie the Artful

If you’ve read here and here, then you’ll know I suspect that my great-grandmother might have decoratively embellished some books published by Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft Press. When I saw the Roycroft book that stated, “Illumined by Emilie Schellenberg”, when I read her diary, in which she mentions being paid for painting, and when I found a photograph in her scrapbook entitled, “Roycroft Den, East Aurora, New York”, I began to wonder how I might go about finding out whether or not Emilie Schellenberg Paull had ever been on Elbert Hubbard’s payroll.

I began to read books about Hubbard, two good ones being Felix Shay’s Elbert Hubbard of East Aurora and Charles F. Hamilton’s As Bees in Honey Drown: Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters. I went to my public library and researched what I could find. While much has been written about the “utopian capitalist” Elbert Hubbard, not much has yet been written on the women whose artwork enhanced his books and made them the collectible items that they are today.

I was also able to find out the names of the principal women artists who worked regularly on Hubbard’s books: Bertha Crawford Hubbard, Clara Schlegel, Minnie Gardner, and May Gordon. A comparison of the watercolors in the books known to have been embellished by Minnie Gardner and May Gordon shows only that they look much like the floral watercolors in my great-grandmother’s copy of Old John Burroughs I posted here yesterday. Though my evidence hints that the young Emilie Schellenberg may also have been an artist for Roycroft, it is nowhere near conclusive enough to prove this. (Note to new booksellers: Never try to make your research fit your agenda. It either definitively proves your point or it does not. Your customers will appreciate thorough research, even if it leads to a dead end.)

I was able to track down a woman from SUNY Buffalo writing her dissertation on the women of the Roycrofters and tell her my story. According to her, Hubbard did not keep detailed records of payment to the young women artists, many of whom only worked on a single book. Some of them were trained in art by the illustrator W.W. Denslow, who worked for Hubbard at the time.

Sadly, it seems my quest is a Quixotic one, as if it is not meant to be solved at this point. While there are more boxes in my parents’ possession filled with Emilie’s artwork and diaries, I have not yet been able to go through them to see if there are other clues. My own father, who knew Emilie as his grandmother, can not recall her talking about having sold her artwork or working on books or going to visit the Roycroft campus.

I wrote these posts to see if any of you readers are Roycroft experts who could suggest any other avenues of investigation. I’d like to make a trip to East Aurora, New York and visit the Roycroft campus, but that trip will have to wait until my kids are a bit older and I sell a few more books. Any other ideas?

Is it important that I know whether Emilie was a Roycrofter? Ultimately, it’s probably not. I’d just like to know. For me, it would be another longed-for connection to the world of books. If you can offer any other ideas for research, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the comments section below or via email at: chris @ bookhuntersholiday . com.

The last entry in the transcript of my great grandmother’s diary, written on January 16, 1902 reads, “It is pretty conceited to set down one’s small doings and affairs, but it is a way to revive old memories and bring back past affairs and bygone days and people. I can hardly believe I am the same person who wrote all the foolish nonsense this book contains, and probably in two more years will be equally amused to read what I now write.”

I am so grateful that she wrote it all down, even the foolish nonsense. I have learned much, not about a life that was made famous by art, but about a life that was artfully lived.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures:

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Emilie Schellenberg Paull as a young woman.

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Another sketch from the box of illustrations.

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A watercolor, painted by Emilie, of the house in Orchard Park, New York, where Emilie and Robert Paull raised their children. I told you they made it look bucolic. 😉

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Chapter 26 The Roycroft Mystery, Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of The Roycroft Mystery, a true story involving beautiful old books, art, a Buffalo business man, and my great-grandmother, Emilie Schellenberg Paull. In case you’re reading this blog for the first time ever, you might want to read Part One of this post before continuing. If you read yesterday, you’ll already know that I think it’s possible that my great-grandmother was a Roycrofter, an artist for Elbert Hubbard’s arts and crafts community in East Aurora, New York at the turn of the 20th Century. She lived not far from East Aurora and was a young woman when the community was at its peak. Still, more evidence was needed to definitively conclude that she did contribute artwork to some Roycroft books.

The Roycroft Mystery, Part Two
Inside the box that my grandfather gave me before he died — the one that contained the drawing I used for my logo — were numerous other drawings, watercolor paintings, the text and illustrations for a children’s book on birds (along with the rejection letter that my great-grandmother received from the publisher), a diary, and two decrepit old photo albums. I spent a few days going through everything, hoping to get to know this woman who had, across the spread of three generations, touched my life.

I also found a typed copy of her diary in the box. It appears that one of her daughters, my great-aunt, transcribed it sometime in the mid-20th Century. It covers the span between 1897 and 1902, the years leading up to Emilie’s marriage to Robert Paull, my great-grandfather.

I read the melodrama of my great-grandparents’ romance, complete with competing suitors, foreboding future mother-in-law, sisterly competition, and adolescent angst. One funny entry talks about Rob (my future great-grandfather) coming over to visit unnanounced when Emilie was in the middle of washing her hair. She felt she looked “quite a sight”. It’s always a bit of a shock to me to discover that people living a hundred years ago experienced much of the same silliness as people who live now. I always assume (probably wrongly) that previous generations were wiser and more confident than my own generation. I forget that, like us, they didn’t always know ahead of time whether the choices they made would have good or bad consequences. Reading a diary like this one, mundane in most of its entries, is a reminder that human nature hasn’t changed much over the course of centuries.

Suddenly, I came across one entry dated December 20, 1897, which states, “Today I have painted until I am sick of the sight of a paintbrush and I most certainly would throw up the whole thing if I didn’t need the money so badly.”

Aha! Here was a mention of painting for money! I can find no other mentions of this in the portion of the diary that I have. There is no mention at all of what she was painting, for whom she painted it, and how much she was paid. Her family was not exceedingly wealthy but they were not poor either. I am not at all certain why Emilie felt she needed the money so badly. Was it possible she was one of the countless young women Elbert Hubbard employed to decorate his lovely books?

After I finished reading Emilie’s diary, I moved on to her old scrapbooks. They were filled with photos of Emilie at college, with her friends and family, and on different travels to lakes, other states, and even Havana, Cuba. From the dates written underneath the photos, the pictures appear to cover the period of her life between 1897-1902, the same era as the typed portion of the diary.

On the last page of one of the old scrapbooks, is a photo entitled, “Roycroft Den, East Aurora, NY”. It is undated. If you look closely at the photo of the scrapbook page, below, you’ll see that it appears to be a purchased photograph rather than one taken with a camera. I think this is so based on the fact that there is a small black border around the photo and then the white border. This bordered format does not match any of the other photos in the scrapbook. I wonder if she bought the photo as a souvenir on a visit to East Aurora, or if she was actually there, or if she cut it out of a book or magazine. No way to tell for sure.

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Among the four Roycroft books I received from my grandfather that I described yesterday, one is signed by Elbert Hubbard II, the son of Elbert Hubbard:

There is no date on the inscription from Hubbard, but the book itself was published in 1901. It’s called Will o’ the Mill, by Robert Louis Stevenson, has a colorfully illuminated title page and silk endpapers. Did my great-grandmother know Elbert Hubbard II? Did he just sign it for her because she was a visitor, something he is reported to have done for the hordes of visitors to the Roycroft Inn? Did he inscribe it directly to her because he knew her?

Perhaps the most beautiful of the four books in my possession is Old John Burroughs, written by Elbert Hubbard (or Fra Elbertus — his nom de plume) himself. Bound in half brown suede over green and tan marbled paper, the book itself is lovely. It was also published in 1901, and many of its pages are embellished with watercolor paintings. You really must see these. I am posting them below.

Tomorrow: Emilie the artist

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Chapter 25 The Roycroft Mystery, Part One

I mentioned the other day that the drawing I used for my logo was found in a box of drawings done by my late great-grandmother, Emilie Schellenberg Paull. I also mentioned that, to my knowledge, she didn’t sell her art. As it turns out, I’m not entirely sure about that. What follows is a mystery that involves beautiful old books, art, a businessman from Buffalo who liked to publish his advice for all to read, the illustrator W.W. Denslow, and, possibly, my great-grandmother. Pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger), sit back, and see if you can help me solve it.

The Roycroft Mystery, Part One
A couple of days before my grandfather died in 2003, he gave me four old books. Although I wasn’t an antiquarian bookseller at the time, he knew I was the primary book lover in the family and wanted me to have the books. The books had belonged to his mother-in-law, my great-grandmother. They were small volumes, bound in either limp suede or marbled paper and leather. Each volume had something of beauty in it. An illuminated title page, an illuminated colophon, or hand-painted page illustrations appear in each of the books. On the colophon of one of the books is written: “Illumined by Emilie Schellenberg” (my great-grandmother’s maiden name).

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My grandfather didn’t know whether my great-grandmother had decorated the books in this way herself as an employee of the books’ publisher, The Roycroft Press, or whether she bought the books on a visit to the East Aurora, New York (the location of The Roycroft Press) and took them home to decorate for herself. According to my family, she was an artistic and independent young woman, who graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) in 1899. Married in 1902, she and her husband, an interior designer, lived near Buffalo, New York. They later moved to a more rural area near Buffalo, Orchard Park.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll already have guessed that the books sent me down another rabbit trail of research. I wanted to know who the “Roycroft” on the illuminated colophon was. Here’s what I’ve been able to learn about The Roycroft Press and its founder, Elbert Hubbard: Hubbard was a former soap salesman from Buffalo, New York who decided he wanted to be the American William Morris; his aspiration was to produce beautifully made books like those from Morris’s Kelmscott Press. It’s a rare soap salesman who believes he can go from pitching suds to producing works of art. Still, Hubbard was nothing if not confident in himself. He published his many books, like Message to Garcia and the Little Journeys series, from his own private press, The Roycroft Press, which was founded in East Aurora, New York in 1892 or 1893.

Hubbard’s books, often beautifully bound, hand-illuminated, and hand-decorated, were such a hit that people began to visit him at The Roycroft Press in East Aurora, New York. So many people came that Hubbard, ever the shrewd business man, built an inn to house them. He had Roycroft artists build the furniture for the inn. Visitors liked the hand-made furniture so much that they wanted to purchase it for their own homes, so Hubbard began to have Roycroft craftsmen make and sell Roycroft furniture. Between the books and the furniture and managing visitors, Hubbard was a one-man arts and crafts industry. To support his industry, he hired more artists, leatherworkers, metalsmiths, sculptors and the like. One of his most famous illustrators was W.W. Denslow, who achieved fame as the illustrator of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Showing his business instincts once again, Hubbard often employed young single women to decorate his books, paying them a little bit per drawing or per painting.

According to one source the Roycroft community had as many as 500 workers by 1910. Hubbard also published monthly magazines, The Fra and The Philistine, and toured the world giving lectures. Unfortunately, Hubbard and his second wife, Alice, died aboard the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by the Germans in 1915. Hubbard’s son, Elbert Hubbard II, took over the Roycrofters, which eventually went out of business in 1938.

If you’re interested, you can see some images of Roycroft books here.

The more I learned about Hubbard’s unconventional business and my great-grandmother’s background, education, and location (Buffalo is not far from East Aurora), I began to wonder if I could find out whether or not my great-grandmother had ever officially been a Roycrofter.

To Be Continued Tomorrow . . .

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