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The Lady in The Postcard

by Celio H. Barreto

· Photohistory,Russo-Japanese War,Canadian connections,Postcards,Collections

Motomachi-dori, Yokohama, hand-tinted collotype postcard c. 1908.

The image in this hand-tinted collotype postcard captures the international character of Yokohama towards the close of the Meiji Period. Its aesthetics evolve from the 19th Century Yokohama Shashin school of photographs intended for globetrotter tourists and souvenir export markets of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. On September 1, 1900, Japan legalized the private production of photo postcards, opening up an untapped market for the greater consumption of inexpensive photomechanically reproduced images by enterprising producers. Since the mid-1800s, postcards had proven popular in Japan, but were restricted to official reproductions of paintings or wood block prints.

Four examples from different postcard editions show differences in image cropping, hand-tinting, colour fastness, paper yellowing. The different caption type styles, colours and positions suggest the separate printing of image and text elements.

Photographs of Japanese victories during the Russo-Japanese war between 1904 and 1905, fuelled an unprecedented demand for photo postcards. Postcard consumption reached its peak during the war, with nearly 400,000 cards made each year. At this time, photo postcards were either silver-gelatin or collotypes, and were often hand-tinted, as in this example. In the latter years of the Meiji and early Taisho periods, The Ueda Photographic Prints & Co. (上田写真版合資会社) produced several editions of this popular postcard between 1908 and 1917. Examples of this postcard reside in important public and private collections around the world, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston's Leonard A. Lauder Collection of Japanese Postcards, The New York Public Library's Pacific Pursuits: Postcards collection and the Yokohama Archives of History's Louis Kreitman collection.

A detail view from The Margaret MacLean Orihon-format Scrapbook of Japanese Memorabilia at The Royal Ontario Museum. Each page contains photographs, postcards and visual ephemera showing Japanese views, people and customs.
It was begun in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War.

A scrapbook recently found at The Royal Ontario Museum, points to an important Canadian connection. This postcard is based on a private photograph made of a Canadian volunteer nurse working for the Japanese Red Cross during the Russo-Japanese War.

The lady in the postcard lived in Yokohama between 1904 to 1908. She published a number of articles in the Canadian press and a book on her experiences in Japan and China. After leaving Asia she traveled around Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, India and North America for several years. She brought her knowledge back to Toronto, Canada in 1914, and applied it to innovative education work she developed.

A photographic print found in the MacLean Orihon, made from the same negative from which the postcard was produced.

She became involved with The Royal Ontario Museum, working as a volunteer docent from 1915-1918. She was hired in February 1919 as the first official ROM Guide, (and the first female Museum Educator in Canada) despite great resistance from the male academic establishment. She worked at The ROM until 1923, laying the foundations of what would become The ROM’s Education Department. Her name was Margaret MacLean, of Cornwall, Ontario.

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