Ladies with Letters: Japan 1897

Geisha letter post whistleWanted: 1 million hand-colored photos… From 1897-1898, the J. B. Miller publishing company issued multiple volumes of an extraordinary work entitled Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese.

Produced in various editions, each containing no more than 1000 copies, every book was illustrated with original, hand-tinted albumen prints like this exquisite photo of a letter writer by photographer Kusakabe Kimbei.

The most exclusive of Japan‘s small print runs was the 10-volume Imperial Edition. Limited to 100 copies, each volume of the Imperial Edition was numbered and bound in brocaded silk, and each set contained over 260 hand-printed and hand-colored photographs.

Because every set contained hundreds of photos, Japanese photographers and colorists eventually produced more than one million prints for all the books.

Japan introduced Americans to a fabled land through images of family life, religion, customs, architecture, art and landscapes. The photographs freeze a moment in time when the country was on the brink of sweeping changes that would soon relegate to the past many of the scenes depicted.

One tradition that Japan has retained is that of skilled paper making. I can easily spend hours in the stationery departments of Japanese stores, browsing through bright origami squares and delicate rice paper suitable for calligraphy brushes rather than pens. Even the most mundane letter sparkles on stationery flecked with flower petals.

Cards with this image are available at the Post Whistle Shop on Zazzle.

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