As I have mentioned in previous posts, Elbert Hubbard was an influential member of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century. His book, Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors, showcases this beautifully. But before I go into more depth about the book’s place in the Arts and Crafts movement, it would be prudent to establish the breadth and importance of the movement itself.
A push against the rise of industrialism, the Arts and Crafts movement looked to reintroduce artisanship to works like books, furniture, and even architecture. Members of the movement viewed pieces of art produced by industrial means as clumsy and lacking the care and artistry that they deserved. They relied heavily on Medieval and Romantic styles to craft works.
Hubbard’s book fits closely with the ideals of the movement. Like all of the works created at his Roycroft Press, Little Journeys was entirely handmade on the campus. The paper, binding, and cover were all put together by Roycrofters. The illuminations and accents were done by hand in the shop along with all of the printing. This would invariably increase the book’s appeal among appreciators and members of the Art and Crafts movement, as would its resemblance to and emulation of books produced by William Morris at his Kelmscott Press.
Morris was one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement and a well known creator of furniture and stained glass, as well as a founding member of the Socialist League. Morris began his press in 1891, and printed numerous copies of 53 different titles at the helm of the press. Kelmscott books are known for their artistry in every detail from the simple but durable binding to the hand-made linen paper to the unique and inspired type faces that adorn each book. An original of the press’s most famous product, commonly referred to as the Kelmscott Chaucer, sits in the Special Collections at Colby College.
Elbert Hubbard met briefly with Morris during his travels in England that eventually led to his creation of the Roycroft Press. It is from Morris’s Kelmscott press that Hubbard got the idea for a self-run operation, and the influences can be seen in details like the printer’s mark.
The similarities between the two are clear, and Hubbard’s mark would most certainly evoke Morris and his Kelmscott press in readers and potential buyers familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement. In these ways the form of the book can show us that one of it’s target audiences was members of the Arts and Crafts movement and those with a respect and appreciation for the artisanal quality found in Hubbard’s hand-crafted works.
The subject matter can also tell us a good deal about who might have been purchasing this book when it was published. The detailed and inventive recounting of the lives of some of England’s most influential authors would appeal largely to an intellectual audience. However, while the small print number would attract collectors, Hubbard’s book was most likely not meant for extremely wealthy buyers. While they were certainly welcome to purchase the book, those with the means may look elsewhere for texts about English authors and the like. This book was not an expensive treasure. Its value came from its production and artistry. Owners of this book, aside from most likely being supporters of the Arts and Crafts movement, might well have been upper-middle class intellectuals or those on the rise, like businessmen with a keen interest in British literature and oration or professors or writers.
Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors has a broad range of appeal. The ties to not only Hubbard’s prestigious press but also Morris’s give the hand-crafted book weight in Arts and Crafts circles. Especially when you consider that the Roycroft Press was one of the first of its kind in the United States, and that Hubbard’s writing in books and periodicals reached a huge audience across the country, the book would have been extremely popular. However, this popularity, while spanning not only Arts and Crafts circles but also those invested in the lives of great English authors, would have still been relatively niche. Just shy of a thousand copies of Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors were printed by Hubbard, and while this is in part due to the nature of hand crafting and printing books, it would have probably been more difficult for Hubbard to sell tens of thousands of copies.