Century Old Japanese Bonsai Postcards

Many bonsai people have other hobbies.  Sometimes they combine those hobbies together such as collecting bonsai-related pins, phone cards etc.  I collected stamps since I was a kid, and am interested in bonsai-related stamps and postal items. I also collect old bonsai and penjing postcards, preferably postally used.

Below are my Japanese postcards with bonsai in the pictures; they are about 100 years old and were hand-tinted. Strictly speaking, most of these postcards show Japanese woman activities with bonsai in the background. I have not seen postcard of that period with just bonsai as the main theme.  Nevertheless, they allow us to see how Japanese bonsai looked like a hundred years ago.

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1905 postcard with a potted pine. The writing reads: “Characteristic room furniture, no ornaments except few flowers. Low writing table & box containing ink disk and brushes. Lady in the act of writing a letter.”

Besides the date on the postcard, one can tell the card is pre-1907 by looking at its back, called an “undivided” back. The Japanese postal authority did not allow writing messages at the back of a postcard, just the address. The rule changed in 1907, a vertical line was added to the back, divided it into two sections; one for message, the other for address, like what we see in the present day postcards. Click this site to learn how to date pre-war Japanese postcards.

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A flowering ume.

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Fall color Japanese Maple. The conifer has shari and jin, and in the style we see today; though not as refined.

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A girl holding a watering can tending the bonsai.

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An old ume with flowering buds, old trunk with dead wood and gnarly root base. Note the motifs of the interesting glazed pot.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Yokohama Nursery Co. exported bonsai and Japanese plants to Europe and the US.  This is their advertising postcard from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco.  The Palace of Fine Art building from the Exposition still stands in the Marina bay area.

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12 thoughts on “Century Old Japanese Bonsai Postcards

  1. Reblogged this on assortednoveltrees and commented:
    Simply amazing old photos of bonsai and bonsai nurseries. Many people seem to think of bonsai as a static and ageless art – I think these photos demonstrate that it is just as subject to the vagaries of fashion as any other media.

  2. You are correct. Aesthetics and tastes change with time. Bonsai is indeed non static, it continues to evolve. I have a thought provoking postcard of a 400+ years old Ming dynasty Chinese painting with bonsai and kusamono companion plant in part of the scene! Is displaying a bonsai with companion plant a more recent idea or a revival of a forgotten ancient practice? Since I cannot post picture in the comment, I will write a short blog showing the postcard.

  3. Pingback: Displaying Bonsai with a Companion Plant – Is It a 20th Century Revival of an Ancient Practice? | Bonsai Penjing & More

    • Thanks for reblogging. You have a very beautiful and well designed chop. Now I can see the two kanji. Is the tiger trying to absorb the “ki”?

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