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    Incredible Hand Tinted Albumens from the Japanese Meiji Period

    Cruise of the "Monongahela": Collection of 96 Circa 1880 Hand-Tinted Albumen Photographs from China and Japan. The U.S.S. Monongahela was commissioned in January 1863 and first saw service during the Civil War. She was then assigned to the West Indies and cast ashore by a tidal wave at St. Croix on November 18, 1867 and refloated six months later. In 1873, after extensive repairs, Monongahela began service in the Pacific and Asiatic waters. Later converted to a sailing store ship and then used as a ship-rigged training ship, she was destroyed by fire at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on March 17, 1908. On one of this ship's voyages to the Orient, someone on board put together this amazing photo album (18" x 13", silk and leather bound, spine missing) containing nearly one hundred incredible images of the type that were popular during what's known as the Meiji era in Japan.

    The Edo (or Tokugawa) era of Japanese history lasted from 1603 to 1867 and was marked by a self-imposed isolationism; Japan was a medieval society locked in time. In 1868, after the overthrow of the Shogun and his Samurai by imperial forces, Prince Meiji (Mutsuhito) initiated a period of industrial growth and Westernization that lasted throughout his reign of 45 years. This period is called the Meiji (enlightened peace) Restoration. The Emperor encouraged his people to study abroad and he invited Americans and Europeans to tour his country. This was the era when Japanese photography began to blossom. A Greek photographer by the name of Felice Beato went to Japan and started documenting the country's landscapes, villages, and people. It was only when he started to delicately hand-color his black and white albumens that the local people began to accept his work. He hired Japanese woodblock artists to do the tinting, a tedious and slow process. Eventually, he set up "assembly lines" where one person would color the faces, another the clothing, and another the backgrounds. This sped up the process immensely and soon there were numerous practitioners of the art of handcoloring albumen prints for tourist (and also local) consumption. This is a very popular area of collecting today and these images often sell for hundreds of dollars apiece.

    The photographs in this album are laid down to very heavyweight pages, front and back. Sizes range from 9" x 7" up to 9" x 13" (approximately) and all have descriptive captions either written underneath or, in a couple of cases, printed into the negative. Some have stock numbers or Japanese characters (signatures) also made into the negative. The condition of these photos is generally excellent. The album and some of its pages do show signs of water staining in the lower margins, not affecting the photos. The first picture in the album is of the U.S.S. Monongahela, followed by several images of Shanghai, including the Public Gardens, Pootung Point, the Club House, Woosning River, Hong Kew Creek, and the Custom House. Next are some fascinating images of the Chinese people- a Mandarin Family, a Country Cart and Driver, and Chinese Girls in seasonal costumes. Apparently the journey then took them to Japan, starting with various views of Nagasaki, then of Kobe (including the waterfall- several shots), the road to Arima, Tamba, next to Kioto (Kyoto), Yokohama, Tokio (Tokyo), and also Fusiyama, Imoto, and Nikko. Included in the album are very desirable images of jinrickshas, temples, a wedding party, gardens, geisha girls, and sumo wrestlers.

    It is possible that some of these photos were taken by a ship photographer but most, if not all, were commercial images purchased locally at the various sites and likely include known photographers of the period such as Hikoma Ueno, Kihei Tamamura, Kohzaburo Tamamura, Kinbei Kusakabe, Kazumasa Ogawa, Kuichi Uchida, Hidesaburo Usui, Renjo Shimo-oka, and Shin-ichi Suzuki. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest groupings of Meiji era photographs to come to market for some time and should generate great interest among collectors, historians, and dealers.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2007
    26th-27th Monday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,917

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