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Roycroft Romance

April 2024
1min read

What a delight the Roycroft Renaissance (“History Happened Here,” October 1996) must have been to all those who worked so long to see it come to be. And what a source of joy it is to all of us who call the Buffalo area our home.

The review was thorough and revealing, and we can hope it will give the readers of American Heritage one more reason to visit our history-laden region.

While Elbert Hubbard did sell soap, he was a great deal more than a soap salesman. His creation of the premium sales-incentive—first packing a dish towel and later cups, saucers, dishes, and other china into soap boxes—made the Larkin Soap Company a leader. Later, coupons in the soap boxes earned you furniture by mail.

Hubbard was a master advertising copywriter as well. A talent that honed his writing skills and also contributed to the sale of Roycroft goods through the advertisements in his publications.

There is little doubt that Hubbard would have met Frank Lloyd Wright. Of the five homes Wright designed in Buffalo, his most famous was the Darwin Martin house. Martin was a Larkin Soap executive, and during the same time that his home was being built (1904–6), the Wright-designed headquarters for the company was also under construction.

Hubbard’s sister, Frances, was the wife of John Larkin, Hubbard’s former business partner. So with all these connections, Hubbard and Wright could hardly have avoided each other.

Sadly, Wright’s Larkin Soap building was demolished. One part of the enterprise survives though: Buffalo China, which originally devoted its output to filling the carloads of soap boxes bearing the Larkin name. Buffalo China is now part of Oneida, once a community of another kind.

While one can understand the reluctance of Mrs. Elbert Hubbard III to discuss the role played by Alice Hubbard at the Roycroft, her father-in-law apparently saw Alice in a more generous light. It was he who encouraged my friend Charlie Hamilton to write As Bees in Honey Drown , giving him hundreds of letters exchanged between the lovers so he could write the story of their relationship. A relationship that likely formed, if it did not spark, the birth of the Roycroft.

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