Vintage Japanese paper handbill

This is one of my more unusual pieces and I'm not sure what to call it--handbill, broadside, flyer... A rose by any other name and all that, it's beautiful regardless of labels.

This ad for publisher and bookseller Suzando T. Aoki dates to circa 1900, as I have found a few references to books published by Aoki in the 1900-1905 date range. It measures nearly a foot in length (28 cm).

The paper appears to be hand painted, though I can't say for certain. I'm way outside my knowledge base on this one. And the paper is something you have to hold and feel to appreciate the fibrous texture and quality. It's almost like a fabric.

The Japanese Paper Place shares some history on traditional Japanese paper, called Washi, which I'm guessing Aoki selected more than a hundred years ago as the appropriate medium for this advertisement for his books.

After perusing the history of Washi, if Japanese paper needs more superlatives, this article titled, The Art of Japanese Paper will help out to that effect with quotes such as,
"Japanese paper seems to match the beautiful interiors of the buildings. It is almost a form of architecture."
"The Japanese believe that papermaking is from the soul. It's not a job, it's an art."
On this handbill's section of English text, Aoki advertises what appears to be a fine selection of books and art.

I can't think of a better way for a bookseller to make a statement about his fine books and art than with an advertising piece that is itself a work of art. But around the time this piece was crafted, some 100,000 Japanese artisans practiced the papermaking art. As of the 2002 article referenced above, those ranks had diminished to a mere 400 or so.

With today's market commanding up to several hundred dollars for a single sheet of paper (per the 2002 article), it's doubtful today's bookseller or publisher would want to put in an order for ephemeral advertising pieces such as Aoki's handbill, which seems like the higher end variety. Thankfully, Aoki was able to use handmade paper and this piece survived beyond its intended use.


  1. Wow, now that is what you call QUALITY! This paper (much less anything printed on it!) looks like it was designed to be a thing of enduring beauty. No wonder it costs so much. People who go to this much trouble must have a very special purpose for the paper in the first place. I'd be willing to bet that this advertisement was meant to attract special and / or high end clientele. What a marvelous piece!

  2. I agree with each sentence of your comment. This piece does have a quite a "Wow factor" to it.


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