New York: Julius Bien, [ 1860-1861]. Twelve color lithographs, partially handcolored, laid in. Quarto. Publisher's original embossed cloth, gilt. Minor edge wear, spine ends repaired. Light wear, occasional fox mark to plates. Very good. Item #WRCAM54237
An exceedingly rare collection of fine American colored lithographs of Japanese figures, made by the preeminent American lithographer of the mid-19th century, Julius Bien. From the address on the imprint, 180 Broadway, we can confidently date the present lithographs between 1860 and 1862, as Bien was at that address for that short period of time, and almost certainly in 1860, since few new projects were begun once the Civil War began. Interestingly, this is also the time period during which Bien produced his best-known work, the 105-plate folio lithographic reproductions of Audubon's THE BIRDS OF AMERICA. Bien's concentrated efforts on Audubon may help account for the rarity of the present work. The plates here show Japanese men in various costumes, mostly soldiers in military uniforms, military vessels, military insignia, and more. It is no surprise that this book would have been produced on this subject around this time period. Interest in Japan and Japanese culture was sparked by the expeditions of Commodore Matthew Perry in the 1850s. And since the Perry expeditions to Japan were essentially American military endeavors, it is also no surprise that these early views of Japan are military in nature. The plates are titled, as follows: 1) "Officers of the 2nd Rank." 2) "Two Grandees of Japan." 3) "Japanese Officer." 4) "War Boat." 5) "Japanese Peasant." 6) "Japanese Performing the 'Ko-Tow.'" 7) "Hats and Various Insignias of Rank." 8) "Merchant Vessel." 9) "Japanese Boatman." 10) "Japanese Dressed in Chain Armer." 11) "Standards Carried by Various War Boats & Socks and Sandals of the Lower Class." 12) "2 Officers Saluting Each Other." The only mention of this work we found comes from the rare book auction company Merwin Clayton, who called this work "Rare" in their catalog of the James A. Nexsen Library in May of 1912. We could find no other mentions of this work in the usual sources on Bien and 19th- century American lithography, and no copies in OCLC. In twenty years of intensively collecting American color plate books, and forming the largest collection of them every put together, i never heard of this book. An attractive and important 19th-century American color plate book of supreme rarity.