Rare Double Morris Chair

Furnishings from the Colorado Estate of Kip Forbes

On October 27, 2012, Rago auctioned material from the southern Colorado estate of Christopher "Kip" Forbes, one of the heirs to Malcolm Forbes' publishing group, Vice Chairman of Forbes, and a passionate collector of Arts & Crafts furniture, lighting, metalwork, pottery, Navajo rugs, and more. The sale included a selection of impressive interior elements from Kip Forbes' two houses near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

In particular, Forbes admired and curated a wide range of forms by Roycroft artisans. Among the examples that he had in his collection were a one-of-a-kind chair made by noted designer Dard Hunter, a leaded-glass window from the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, New York, Roycroft chandeliers and table lamps, American Beauty vases, and multiple Morris chairs, including one rare Double Morris chair on offer in the present lot. This Roycroft Double Morris chair was previously part of the seating arrangement in the great room of Forbes' Schley House (pictured below on the right).

Kip Forbes' Schley House, Great Room, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado
Kip Forbes' Schley House, Great Room, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado
(Photograph by Scott D.W. Smith for Style 1900 magazine)

Roycroft

Roycroft was the name given to a reformist community of crafters and artisans founded by Elbert Hubbard (pictured) in East Aurora, New York in 1894. The Roycrofters, as members of the community were called, consisted of some of the most skilled bookbinders, furniture makers and metal workers of the American Arts & Crafts Movement, including Karl Kipp, Frederick Kranz and William Wallace Denslow.

Elbert Hubbard was a successful salesman and part owner of Buffalo, NY-based Larkin Soap Company. Although the company had made him quite wealthy, Hubbard eventually lost interest in the soap industry, sold his share in the company and retired to East Aurora.

A man of many interests, Hubbard became infatuated with the polymathic ideals of the British Arts & Crafts movement and traveled to England to meet the pioneer of the movement, William Morris. Rebelling against the dehumanizing effects of the industrial age, Arts & Crafts designers like Morris championed handcraftsmanship and the integration of the arts in a decorative environment. Hubbard was so inspired by his visit that upon his return to East Aurora he founded a private printing shop to publish a magazine he dubbed The Philistine, which extolled the virtues of Arts & Crafts ideals. The Philistine became wildly popular, leading to the establishment of a nearby book bindery. A leather shop, metalsmith and furniture shop soon followed, each one bringing still more artisans and their families into the folds of the growing Roycroft community.

The exceptional quality and craftsmanship presented in Roycroft designs, coupled with Elbert Hubbard’s acute business savvy, made the community one of the most successful and influential enterprises of the American Arts & Crafts movement. Hubbard advertised Roycroft handicrafts in several publications and magazines and personally wrote all of the advertising copy, which emphasized the Roycroft philosophy as much as the quality and affordability of its products.

Roycrofters produced a broad array of goods, from leather bound books and woodblock prints to metalwork lamps and substantial wooden furniture. While widely varied in form, function and presentation, all Roycroft products adhered strictly to the predominant aesthetics of Arts & Crafts design, featuring rigorously simple but sophisticated construction and stylized ornamentation inspired by medieval, romantic and folk traditions.

The Roycroft community continued to produce fine handicrafts of growing popularity until the untimely death of Hubbard and his wife, suffragist Alice Moore Hubbard, in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. Control of the company passed to their son, Bert Hubbard, who sought to expand the distribution of Roycroft goods through major retailers. Despite these efforts, the company fell into a gradual but steady decline. Unable to weather the one-two punch of waning public interest and the Great Depression, the company shut down production for good in 1938.

Today, furniture and decorative objects made by Roycroft can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum in East Aurora.

Auction Results Roycroft