Morris, Hubbard, And Johnson
Arts and Crafts Movement
That there actually was a press in the conservative town of
Newark, Delaware endeavoring to carry on the philosophy espoused by the
Arts and Crafts Movement, having its origins in Europe, is unusual. That
it was the result of one man’s dream is not so surprising. The Arts and
Crafts Movement was led by a handful of men pursuing the belief that art
and industry could be unified. (1819–1900).
The English writer and artist John Ruskin is credited with
the philosophy of the movement. He blamed the Industrial Revolution for
isolating artists from the rest of society which led to mass-produced
manufactured goods devoid of any redeeming aesthetic qualities. He
believed beautiful things did not have to justify their existence; they
were valuable and useful simply because they were made with “head, heart
Book design was one of the casualties of the Industrial
Revolution and it wasn’t until late in the nineteenth century when
another Englishman, William Morris (1834–1896) led the way by treating
the book as an art form, that things began to improve. Calling for a
return to skilled craftsmanship, he believed art and craft should be
apparent in the manufacture of everyday goods. He preached against the
squalid conditions prevalent in cities and advocated the creation of a
workplace atmosphere conducive to the health and well-being of the
workers. Originally a designer of textiles, Morris later turned his
attentions to graphic design and printmaking. His Kelmscott Press
established in London, became famous for meticulous hand-printing,
handmade paper, handcut woodblocks and intricate initials and borders.
Morris designed three typefaces. Troy was a black letter
typeface easily read with wider rounder characters than previous gothic
types. Chaucer was a smaller version of Troy and Golden was based on
Venetian Roman faces designed by the printer Nicolas Jenson between 1470
and 1476. Morris F. Benton, (1872–1948) head of typeface development for
the American Typeface Founders Company, later re-designed Jenson’s type
and renamed it the Cloister family.38 The Jenson initials would
be the choice of Everett Johnson for use in his finest books from the
Press of Kells. The philosophy of William Morris may have been to improve
the quality of life for the common worker but, in fact, only the very
wealthy could afford the household furnishings of Morris and Company or
the exquisite books from the Kelmscott Press.
The person who brought the Arts and Crafts movement to
America offered his products to the common people. Elbert Hubbard began
his career as a salesman for the Larkin Soap Company, which he established
with his brother-in-law in Buffalo, New York. His flair for salesmanship
quickly resulted in great profits for the company and in 1893 at the age
of thirty-seven he sold his share in the mail-order soap business,
receiving enough money to enable him to pursue his new avocation of
writing. During a trip to England in 1894 he met William Morris and
visited the famous Kelmscott Press.
Inspired, he returned to East Aurora and established the
controversial Roycroft Press the following year. The Roycroft books were
in many ways imitations of the Kelmscott books but they were not aimed at
the socially elite. Within a few years more buildings were added and more
than 500 people, most of them locals who were trained by Hubbard, were
producing furniture, copperwork, metalwork, leather goods and stained
glass as well as books. He was criticized by many as being a huckster who
lowered the lofty philosophical standards of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
In reality he brought finely crafted products into the lives of ordinary
citizens and instilled a love of reading in the many people he reached
through his mail order books.
The Creed, a copy of which was mailed to new members of the
Roycroft Fraternity was borrowed from Ruskin: “A belief in working with
the Head, Hand and Heart and mixing enough Play with the Work so that
every task is pleasurable and makes for Health and Happiness.”39
One of the buildings in the Roycroft community was the
Roycroft Inn. A 1905 advertisement in one of Hubbard’s popular series of
Little Journeys in booklet form, (single copies 25 cents, by the year,
$3.00), lists the amenities with typical Hubbard wit:
Sleeping-Rooms with In Door Dressing-Rooms attached, Electric
lights, Steam heat, Turkish baths, Running water, Art Gallery,
Chapel, Camp-in woods, Library, Music Room, Ballroom, Garden
and Wood Pile. By understanding of the local W.C.T.U.
(Women’s Christian Temperance Union) we supply chaser only.
Parties without baggage will receive special attention from
Ali Baba (the handyman).
Knockers without extra charge.
Everett Johnson, the man who would bring the Arts and
Crafts Movement to Newark, Delaware, visited Elbert Hubbard’s community
in July of 1911. As Hubbard caught the printing fever from Morris, Everett
caught it from the Roycrofters. The desire to publish limited edition
books, using the finest type available on the best paper he could afford,
was a goal he set for himself as a result of that visit. Unlike Morris and
Hubbard, he did not have a personal fortune to invest in his dream and the
Press of Kells was frequently in debt.
Johnson also imitated Hubbard’s use of Mottoes and Creeds
and was not adverse to using some caustic humor in his newspaper.
Whereas the Roycroft Creed advocated mixing play with the
work, The Press of Kells was advertised as “The Shop down on Welsh Lane
where we mix a little brains with our ink.” The ads for his press
usually ended with, “Kells—where Master Craftsmen study and work at
the Art of Printing.”
Johnson constantly struggled to educate his prospective
customers concerning the difference between printing well done and cheap,
shoddy jobs run off quickly just for profit. At times it must have seemed
like a lost cause as he seldom earned enough to justify the care put into
his work. The fine, limited-edition books he hoped would make the Press
famous never caught on, and he was forced to job printing to pay the
bills. Even so, he made sure his customers knew they were getting a lot
for their money.
The May 31st, 1916 issue of the Post explained his idea of the way printing should be done.
A good piece of Printing requires a
study of the proper kind of stock, the style and arrangement of
type, the selection of ink with eye to color. All this must be
thought out before the work is begun. Then the mechanical skill, in
composition, and in press work. A love of the work must be there
this must be an equipment in type, labor saving devices, presses,
Added again to this, must be light,
air, sunshine, pleasing surroundings.
must be an attention to management, giving business efficiency
toward purchases of materials, wastes, overhead charges and
efficient deliveries. Then, if there be a co-operation between the
several departments, you may expect a good piece of Printing. And
this is the policy of Kells.
coming to this Shop is planned with a certain amount of study before
the mechanical work is commenced. Study enters into our Printing.
Mechanical skill enters into it. The best equipment, labor saving
devices, love of work, surroundings approaching Ideal. A Printer’s
Heaven said a guest last week.
Imprint of the Head, Heart and Hand Triangle is our Ideal toward
which our work is tending always. Nor think all these ambitions tend
to raise the price. Rather, just the opposite. These things just
mentioned make this plant give value received. “Everything in its
place and a place for Everything” is far cheaper than, where is
this, that and the other thing entering into the job. If these words
are not convincing—try our work—It never fails. Have your work
done at Kells where Master Craftsmen study and work at the Art of
Everett Johnson and Elbert Hubbard both believed in their
work but used completely different methods of conducting business. In
addition, experiences with higher education left each man with a totally
different outlook on life.
According to his wife, Everett was always scholarly. “And
he was, well I’ve heard people say this to please me, he was the
smartest man in Newark. But he didn’t give that impression that he was
trying to be smart…he was interested in the right things.”40
Like Morris, Johnson did not wish to reinvent the Arts and
Crafts Movement, he only desired to perpetuate excellent craftsmanship.
College transcripts show he excelled at Delaware College, graduating with
honors and achieving the highest rank possible in the Cadet Corps, that of
Cadet Major. Only illness prevented him from achieving a graduate degree
from Johns Hopkins. Unable to continue teaching, his press substituted as
a vehicle to help his readers understand current affairs. Whatever he
thought would be beneficial for Newark would be “boosted” in the Post.
In 1917, in an attempt to encourage reading, Johnson departed from his
policy of “all home print”. The
Man Without A Country, by Edward Everett Hale, had been chosen by the
Newark High School Alumni Association as a second book for the year’s
reading. After becoming concerned over a shortage of available copies,
Everett, as a service to the community, published the entire text in the
May ninth and May sixteenth issues of the Post.
Hubbard, on the other hand, aspired to be a college man and
failed - twice. He went to Harvard with a chip on his shoulder, determined
to obtain a degree seemingly not for the sake of learning as much as to
make his writing more acceptable to the intelligentsia. Unable to fit in,
he summed up the entire experience as a waste of time starting “College
is a make-believe, and every college student knows it.”41
Hubbard did, however, have a real talent for business and a way of writing
that appealed to the populace. In spite of their differences, Johnson
admired Elbert Hubbard, and the early issues of the Post
contained many articles written in the Roycroft style. As Johnson became
more experienced in dealing with the public and more knowledgeable in the
world of politics, he abandoned Hubbard’s theatrical style of writing in
favor of a more erudite approach.
Instead of adopting the Roycroft style Everett should have
studied Hubbard’s talent for making money. The Roycroft Press was not
known for printing without turning a profit. The Press of Kells, however,
constantly ran in the red due to its owner’s generosity. The profit
margin was low to begin with compared to other print shops and jobs for
his Alma Mater, Delaware College, were often done for little or no profit.
In some cases, such as Professor Vallandigham’s 153 page book, Fifty
Years of Delaware College, published for the college’s golden
anniversary, he did the work gratis.42