Sunday, April 16, 2006

Art of the Japanese Postcard

"The surge in postcard mail coincided with a much improved postal service; by 1890, U.S. city dwellers could expect a delivery two or three times a day."

My jaw dropped when I came across that sentence in Leonard Lauder's preface to Art of the Japanese Postcard. Can you imagine receiving mail from the post office three times a day? I interrupted Todd at his blogging to tell him. He already knew that fact. (Todd always knows things like this, and once he knows them he doesn't forget, unlike me. I'm so forgetful I re-discover the same facts over and over again.)

So let's compare postal service in 1890 to 2006, where I spend a minimum of twenty minutes in line every time I go to the local post office, and where I've never seen more than three windows open at a time, no matter how long the lines. Hmm. I would happily give up email if I could get mail 3 times a day. Heck, I might even give up blogging! Just think: Netflix turnaround might be reduced to a single day. And why would you need to drop someone an email message if you could send them a beautiful postcard that would arrive a few hours later?

Anyway, back to the book. I first noticed it in a local shop several months ago and fell in love. Then Todd's parents sent some money for my birthday, and I decided this was how I would spend it.

All the postcards in the book are from Leonard Lauder's extensive collection, which he has donated to the museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The history of these postcards is fascinating: the postal system in Japan was introduced in the 1870's. Since they were a widely available, inexpensive, fast means of communication, postcards quickly gained popularity and became a primary source of communication for approximately twenty years. Sophisticated printing techniques and presses that employed thousands of workers meant that beautiful lithograph postcards could be purchased at low prices, and many well-known artists of the time supplemented their income by designing these cards.

But enough of the history (which is really interesting and worth reading); I wanted to show you this book because the postcards are so beautiful. I'm a sucker for good composition, and these little masterpieces are loaded with it. Many of them are from the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts eras, and they reflect those aesthetics filtered through a Japanese eye. The simple starkness of the layouts, the richness of the colors, and the beautifully printed and sometimes hand-embellished details of the postcards result in a fascinating book that could be examined for hours. I think this book will be providing a great deal of inspiration for me: quilt patterns, color palettes, even clothing styles could be inspired by this book. But enough blathering; you can see for yourself from some of the photos (click to enlarge).



  1. What a beautiful book! I' think I'm going to have to track that one down. Art Deco and the Arts and Crafts periods are my fav's and I have several books on the era but nothing on postcards.

  2. We used to have two postal deliveries a day until a few years ago. It just suddenly stopped and now we're lucky to get one delivery a day. I know this isn't what your post is really about, but until you mentioned it it hadn't occured to me that we no longer get two. I wonder how many other things have just stopped and I haven't even noticed!
    That book looks wonderful! And very interesting.

  3. Laurel7:47 PM

    Lovely book Liesl--I love japonism, and I can see the inspiration for it in the images you included on your post today. Can't wait to sneak a peek.

  4. It just occured to me that I didn't put you into Bloglines. Look what I "missed". This does indeed look like a good pointer into all kinds of directions. It's on my wishlist. Thanks.