Rare Finds from the Archives: Photographs of the Palace Buildings of Peking

A previous post highlighting one of the rare finds of the Archives featured the work, The Decoration of Palace Buildings of Peking, a portfolio of 80 illustrated plates printed in 1906 in Japan.  Its companion publication is the equally rare two-volume set, Photographs of the Palace Buildings of Peking.

In the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, the Imperial University of Tokyo established a commission in 1901 to study and document the palace buildings of the Forbidden City and other palace grounds.  Appointed as the official photographer was Kazumasa Ogawa, a pioneer in the early development of photography and photomechanical printing in Japan.  This is the first complete photographic survey of the Forbidden City, which had previously been kept secret to the outside world.

The 172 black and white photographs show the exteriors and interiors of a number of buildings, as well as gates, towers, stairways, doors, ceilings and other architectural elements from a variety of perspectives.  The photographs were printed using gelatin-coated collotype plates, a very early printing process that produced beautiful tonal images.  For images that were printed over a century ago, the detail and clarity are remarkable.

The individual photographs are stored in two oversized portfolios or cases.  The first contains a descriptive booklet with the text in English, Japanese, and Chinese, along with 65 photographs, roughly 18 and 1/2 inches by 14 inches in size, on thick paper stock.  Among this set are five folded panoramas that show an expanded view of several buildings.  The second portfolio contains just photographs, numbered 66-172.  Each photograph has a descriptive caption in English.

The portfolios holding the plates consist of leather covered boards held together by cloth ties.  The covers are lettered and decorated in gilt.  Mr. Dow’s copy is numbered 470 of a limited edition of only 500 copies.

Did you know?  Appointments are welcome to view or study any of the Archives materials featured in this post and can be arranged by contacting us at archives@abdow.org.

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