Japanese cancellations to commemorate the

Japan-British Exhibition 1910


Bill Tonkin


            I first wrote an article for our Newsletter as it was called then in 1989 on these post marks and post cards produced in Japan to commemorate the opening of the Japan-British Exhibition at Shepherds Bush in 1910. Since then some more information has come to light and an up-date is long overdue. Some years ago when I was doing some work on these post marks Alan Sabey who was then an Honorary Librarian at the Royal Philatelic Society did me some photo-copies of articles from some of the books in their library. From these and from other material I can illustrate the three post marks and the information leaflet that was with the cards in the envelope. Also I can give you a full translation of the information leaflet.

            A date error occurs on the leaflet which were printed before the sudden death of Edward VII caused the opening day to be put back from the 1st to the 14th of May. An attempt was made to alter the wrong date and on some of the sheets the date was corrected by an orange-red overprint to the 14th, while in others it remained unaltered but time ran out and not all of the leaflets were altered. So the leaflets are known in two types, altered and un-altered, how many were altered is not known.

            While I am on dates the date on the postal hand stamps reads 43-5-14 which is a bit misleading, but the 43 stands for Meiji the number of years of the Emperor’s reign.

            Although I have been fortunate enough to get the envelope and all four printings of the wood block card I have never been able to find a leaflet altered or unaltered. While the Tokio hand stamp is reasonably common, I would be very surprised if any collector in this country has the Shibuya and Naitö-Shinjuku post marks although they must exist in collections in Japan. I have been looking for them for most of my collecting life without any luck. The dots on the Tokio scan are the gold and silver specks used in the printings.


                           Tokio                                              Shibuya                       Naitö-Shinjuku   




                        The packet                             Alteration              The leaflet enclosed with

                                                                                                       the set of three cards


This is the special cachet used in Japan to commemorate the exhibition, obtainable on request probably for a small charge. It was not used to cancel mail and bears no town identification or date.


Translation of the leaflet


Purpose of the Release of the Commemoration Postcards for the Japan-British Exhibition, and Explanation of the Designs of these Post Cards.


            These picture postcards are issued to commemorate a most gratifying event, the Japan-British Exhibition to be held in London from Meiji 43, May 1st). Moreover, the design, mode of printing, and paper quality of these postal cards will make people aware of the changes of the times and the progress of technology.

1.         Portrait of the Princes and View of the Japan-British Exhibition. In the upper portion of the card appear the portraits of the Honourable Presidents, Prince Fushimi and Prince Connaught, in the lower a picture at the exhibition site. The lion crest beneath both national flags stands for the country entertaining the exhibition, Great Britain, while the surrounding implements symbolise the display of education, fine arts, agriculture, industry and commerce at the exhibition. Chrysanthemum, cherry blossoms and roses represent both Japan and Great Britain, and express their congratulations to the auspicious occasion.

2.         Genre Picture of Olden Times. The badge in the right upper corner denotes the current advancement of both nations. The genre picture displays the means of transportation, the ‘Ekiba’ (stage-horse), during Japan's Middle Ages. The woodblock carving and combination of colours in this picture retain the classical elegance. This picture required hand printing through twenty steps.

3.         Mount Fuji and the British Lion. Mount Fuji and the British Lion constitute the gallant symbols of Japan and Great Britain. The fan-shaped outlines signify the hope that the friendship between the two nations will increasingly strengthen in the future, reminiscent of a fan expanding upon being opened. The pictures are creations of Hokusai Katsushika who was born in Edo in Horeki 10 (1760) and died in Kayei 2 (1849) at the age of 90. This representation of Mt. Fuji is but one of his many hundred special views of Fuji-san. In his later years he used to draw a lion every day as a ‘Nishin joma’ (a daily amulet), because at those times the people thought that the lion was a god and a talismanic animal. The reason why the lion in the picture of this postcard departs greatly from reality is that the image of the lion was transmitted traditionally over the ages until it assumed the appearance of the one shown in this postcard picture. The printings were prepared by colour photography, while the paper of the postcard was produced by a technique known as ‘Tori no Ko Ichimai Suki’


            Additional information on the three cards was published in the 1972 May-June issue of ‘The Postal Bell’ by Dr. Felix D. Bertalanffi


            According to contemporary records, it was first planned to produce merely a small quantity of these technically complex cards just for presentation to members of the Japanese and British Exhibition Committees during the opening ceremony of the Japan-British Exhibition at Shepherd’s Bush.

            Had this initial intention been executed, the cards would have presumably disappeared into obscurity. But likely, as their manufacture proceeded well it was decided to have them produced in a similar quantity as other recent commemorative postcards, 300,000 sets. They were sold on the opening day of the exhibition, May 14, 1910, at First and Second Class post offices in Tokyo, as well as at the Shibuya and Naitö-Shinjuku Post Offices. Deviating from the original intention entirely, apparently none of the cards were presented at Shepherd’s Bush on opening day, although presentation sets, differing by having been supplied with a bilingual Japanese and English explanatory leaflet, were given away at later occasions.

            Although one would expect all three cards to occur still in like quantity, it seems that No. 3 has become quite rare and is much scarcer than the other two. The reason is unexplained. Whether it is that the fan-shaped photographs glued to the cards came off in the damp and humid climate prevalent in some areas of Japan, and hence more of these cards were discarded, is pure conjecture.

            The card itself was intentionally produced with rough and uneven edges (which should not be trimmed!). It is speckled with flakes of pure gold by a process called in the explanatory leaflet “Tori no Ko Ichimai Suki”, Bird-of-child-one piece manufacture (of paper), evidently a method not too widely known! nevertheless, it seems likely that Hokusai’s instruction to the printer on his sketch of the flying lion “apply gold and silver powder” gave the designer, who appears to be unknown, inspiration of putting it into effect when preparing the original design of this commemorative postcard.


© Exhibition Study Group 2014