Rose Valley Press and The Artsman
Innes Homer, University of Delaware
The Rose Valley Press, developed and articulated largely by Horace Traubel
(1858-1919), was one of the three official “shops” of the
Rose Valley Association. Unlike the others, however, it was based in Philadelphia,
with headquarters at 1624 Walnut Street in the building occupied by Price
and McLanahan’s architectural firm. (There is no record of a printing
shop at Rose Valley.) Traubel established himself n a rent-free office
on the third floor at 1624, and there he did his editorial work and handset
much of the type for Rose Valley’s journal, The Artsman,
and other publications of the Rose Valley Press.
lifespan of The Artsman, issued between October 1903
and April 1907, corresponded to the most productive years
of the community. Billed as the official organ of the Association,
it served as “the mouthpiece of Rose Valley.”
Traubel, with help from Will Price and Hawley McLanahan, edited
the periodical, and the Rose Valley Press was established
to produce it. Other publications were issued by the press,
but The Artsman remains its most important product.
native of Camden, New Jersey, son of a printer and lithographer,
Horace Traubel entered the printing trade as a young man.
A typesetter for newspapers in Camden, he also became a skilled
writer, eventually serving as a reporter and composing editorials.
His chief avocation was reading; although he never attended
college, he became intimately acquainted with the masterpieces
of world literature, being especially fond of the writings
of Emerson, Spenser, Carlyle, Ruskin, and Whitman. When he
was in his teens, Traubel met and befriended Whitman, who
had moved to Camden in 1873. Already one of his literary heroes,
he now became Traubel’s personal idol. Traubel recorded
Whitman’s utterances in great detail in accounts published
later in his multi-volume With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906-1982).
interests, however, were not exclusively literary. A humanitarian
deeply interested in ethics and social justice, he affiliated himself
with the Ethical Society of Philadelphia and under its auspices founded
a monthly magazine, The Conservator, in 1890. This journal,
which he developed into a progressive social and literary forum, gave
him essential experience in editing and publishing. The writer’s
grandfather, William T. Innes, for many years publisher of The
Conservator (through the Philadelphia firm of Innes & Sons),
recalled that Traubel often came to the pressroom and composed editorials
by handsetting type at the case. His ability to set type—indeed,
to compose in this medium—was the foundation for the Rose Valley
1903, with advice from Innes, Traubel acquired enough type to produce
The Artsman. He seems to have set all of the type himself at
the beginning; later, however, he received help from a Mr. Hibner. Once
the typesetting was finished, the remainder of the work was handled by
others. Plates were made, then the presswork was done by Innes & Sons,
and the printed sheets were bound and mailed by another Philadelphia firm.
The Rose Valley Press thus consisted of both Traubel’s typesetting
at 1624 Walnut Street and his outside contracting for the remaining phases
of the magazine’s production.
reflected a national and international viewpoint, the chief writer being
Traubel. He often quoted from major figures of the Arts and Crafts movement
and those who inspired them: Ruskin, Morris, Thoreau, Carlyle, and Whitman.
Reviews of other Arts and Crafts activities and publications in the United
States were an important part of The Artsman, and the Rose Valley
philosophies of hand craftsmanship and community life were reiterated
in the column called “From The Artsman Himself,”
which Traubel seems to have written more often than not. The coeditors,
Price and McLanahan, also amply voiced their ideas, with appropriate illustrations,
on architecture and furniture in the magazine’s pages. Some of these
articles were broadly philosophical in concept; others focused upon the
aims of the crafts utopia and construction of furniture made in shops.
Ceramics and wood carving, as well, were discussed by their makers from
the Rose Valley community.
numbers of The Artsman served as a living record of the ideals,
philosophies, and products of Rose Valley. Although the shops hoped to
become self-supporting, the advertising of their wares in the pages of
The Artsman was low-keyed and unaggressive. In this, the periodical
was much less commercial than the comparable journals issued by Gustav
Stickley (The Craftsman) and Elbert Hubbard (The Philistine).
layout for The Artsman and related Rose Valley publications followed,
in some respects, the typographical traditions of the English designer
William Morris, but at the same time departed significantly from them.
To Morris he owed the concept of the book as beautiful handmade object,
designed with all the care that might have been lavished upon a painting
or sculpture. His use of wide margins on the pages and occasional contrasting
red and black print recall Morris’ efforts. But Traubel avoided
many of Morris’ mannerisms, eschewing highly decorated, densely
packed pages in favor of a much more open look. Moreover, he broke away
from the more asymmetrical designs reminiscent of Whistler’s. The
American expatriate painter had departed from tradition by arranging type
in off-centered patterns, a method Traubel imitated, though with considerable
heavy tan (or tannish gray) paper cover of The Artsman
was printed in medium gray ink, providing a warm low-keyed
effect. The display typeface, based on Post Old Style No.
2, was bold, thoughtfully shaped, and not “commercial”
in appearance. Within, the text pages were set in Caslon type,
a traditional face of great beauty and simplicity and one
much favored by Arts and Crafts typographers who were reacting
against the excesses of Morris’ medievalism. The visual
charm of the interior of The Artsman depends in large
part on the variation between capitals, small capitals, and
italics—all unified, however, by belonging to the Caslon
family of type.
the typographically most interesting products issued by the
Rose Valley Press are two bulletins that reported on the products
and philosophy of the shops. The text face, like that of The
Artsman, is Caslon, but the addition of skillfully placed
side heads and display type in the bolder Post Old Style face
and the contrast of red and black make the bulletins outstanding
examples of visual design.
Besides issuing The Artsman, the bulletins, and several announcements
of cultural events in Rose Valley, the press offered its services for
general printing. In a prospectus, Traubel wrote:
Valley is determined that its print shall stand for the best results
or that there shall be no Rose Valley print at all. The print must
be like the furniture. It must have a reason for being. Simplicity
strengthens strength. Strength simplifies simplicity. This is true
in all the practical arts. It is cardinally true in the art of the
outside organizations and individuals approached Traubel for printing
jobs, but only one of these seems to have materialized: a request by Henry
McBride to produce a brochure for the 1904-05 season of the School of
Industrial Arts at Trenton, New Jersey. The final product, completed after
much negotiation between Traubel and McBride, was executed in the style
and format of The Artsman. The typography, as would be expected,
reflects the highest standards of graphic design.
to other American publishers in the Arts and Crafts tradition, Traubel’s
work holds up remarkably well. The Artsman and related publications
of the Rose Valley Press were relatively free of the self-conscious medievalism
and contrived aestheticism found in the printing of Elbert Hubbard’s
Roycrofters. In elegance of design, Traubel’s publications surpassed
the early Morris-inspired issues of Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman,
a journal comparable in intent to The Artsman, though larger
in scale and format. In quality, Traubel’s typographic work had
its closest parallels wit turn-of the-century products of Copeland and
Day (Boston) and Thomas B. Mosher (Portland, Maine). But Traubel’s
conception remained distinctly his own. Disavowing the influence of William
Morris on the shops, he wrote in The Artsman, “We don’t
want Rose Valley to lean on any one person or to tie to any tradition.
Rose Valley must lead a contemporary life.”
ceased publication with the April 1907 number, marking the end of one
of the finest American Arts and Crafts periodicals. But the Rose Valley
Press lived on in another way: in 1903, Traubel began to issue his monthly
journal The Conservator under the imprint of the Rose Valley
Press. At his offices, first at 1624 Walnut, than 1631 Chestnut Street,
he set much of the type for it by hand and had the presswork done by Innes
& Sons. Consequently, the Rose Valley ideal of fine printing was perpetuated
by Traubel until his death in 1919. The Conservator and the Rose
Valley Press, however, failed to survive him, and thus ended the production
of the longest-lived of the “Rose Valley Shops.”
with permission from the Brandywine Conservancy-
William Innes. "The Rose Valley Press and The Artsman."
A Poor Sort of Heaven A Good Sort of Earth: The Rose Valley Arts and Crafts
Experiment. Ed. William Ayres. Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania: Brandywine
Conservancy, 1983. 67-71.