Over a period of years, Rogers Groups have commanded a greater and greater interest with lovers of Americana. After the middle 19th century no parlor of any pretensions lacked one or more of these groups. Today, once again they are found restored or painted and used in a variety of ways not dreamed of by their originator.
John Rogers was born in Salem, Massachusetts, a descendant on his mother’s side from the famous merchant Derbys. He was a self-trained sculptor with an infallible eye for the details of the times in which he lived. Except for his first “Checker Players” and “The Village Schoolmaster, ” Rogers’ early groups depicted the Civil War times. These, of course, were immensely popular with antislavery people and Rogers considered how best to turn out his sculptures cheaply enough so that they would be financially available to Americans. He learned how to do casting and handled personally the marketing and sales of his groups. In his time, he employed quite a large number of men to do the casting and such artisans as D. C. French got their start in Rogers’ studio. All of Rogers’ groups were patented and each group bears the words “John Rogers, New York.”
When the Civil War came to an end, Rogers turned his attention to the simple lives of his countrymen and again captured the hearts and minds of his fellow Americans with such publications as “The Foundling,” “Weighing the Baby” and “Neighboring Pews.” An old catalog shows the prices ranging from $15 to $25. Possibly the most important factor in Rogers’ popularity was that his work was the first to break away from the Greek tradition and his success brought forth many imitators.