“Le degré de perfection des productions de l’imprimerie d’un pays est une des marques de son degré de civilisation.” Printing in Japan, ca. 1915.

by Admin on Monday, April 4, 2011

in Color,Design,Graphic Design,Illustration,Japan,Photography,Print making,Printing,Technique,Typography

Sawada, Yozo. Insatsu Taikan (Great Atlas of Printing).  Unpaginated album.  Sm. folio.  Silk-covered boards, tie-bound.  Osaka (Nihon Insatsu Kaisha) 1915.  [46467]

Following the death of his father, the Meiji Emperor, on July 30, 1912, Crown Prince Yoshihito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan to become the Taishō Emperor. After three years of Imperial preparations, Yoshihito’s public coronation took place in November of 1915.  The leaders of industries which had thrived during the Meiji period of modernization wisely turned out to pay tribute to the young monarch.  Proud of their accomplishments during his father’s reign, Japanese printers and publishers marked the occasion with lavish commemorative publications.  Insatsu Taikan—the Great Atlas of Printing—showcases the remarkable quality and innovation of printing in Japan, ca. 1915.

The work opens with a bold claim by Sawada Yozo, Director of the Japanese Society of Printers, to the effect that a nation’s degree of civilization may be measured by its mastery of the art of printing.  And as the era’s primary means of transmission for texts and images, perhaps it did, much as one might rank the progress of nations today by the development of their tech industries.  Notably written in French, the preface and album clearly constitute a message to the printers in Europe and America under whose Meiji-period tutelage the Japanese had perfected their craft.


And perfect it they undoubtedly had.  With 100 spectacular plates—many in brilliant color, some in relief—Insatsu Taikan impressively demonstrates the technical virtuosity of commercial and fine print in Japan at the time of its publication.  From traditional woodcuts to serigraphs, chromo- and photo-lihtography, pochoir, offset, embossed texts and images on tin, every form of printing imaginable seems to be represented.

Several dizzying plates are devoted to printing efforts on behalf of the Japanese match industry, which also flourished during the Meiji era, when factories were built to provide economic opportunities for samurais who had lost their status after the abolition of feudalism.  In a (quite literally) pyrotechnic symbiosis, the newly established Japanese commercial printing houses produced an eye-catching variety of advertisements for safety match box covers.

Matches and fine printing weren’t the only priorities of the Meiji expansion, however.  Several images also speak to the development of Japanese transportation infrastructure and its military muscle, including impressive warships.

Distant echos of the war in Europe are also readily apparent.

But for a viewer today, the primary impact of Insatsu Taikan is a visceral sense of the excitement that Japanese printers must have felt as they began to grasp the full possibilities of their medium.  Many of the plates seem decades ahead of their time.

The pride in their accomplishments is apparent in the faces of the Society’s members, dressed in a mix of traditional Japanese garb and Western formal wear for their official portraits.

For more information on the Insatsu Taikan, please contact us.

FAB Item I.D. # 46467

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