The Rose Valley Press and The Artsman
William 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.


The 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.

          A 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).

Traubel’s 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 Press.

In 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.

          The Artsman 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.

          The thirty-three 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).

          Traubel’s 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 restraint.


The 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.

          Among 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:

Rose 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 printer.

Several 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.

          By comparison 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.”

          The Artsman 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.”

-Reprinted with permission from the Brandywine Conservancy-

          Homer, 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.