Curator’s Choice: Two Muenchener Bilderbogen

This spring our colleague Julie Mellby in Graphic Arts presented Cotsen with over a dozen Muenchener Bilderbogen.  Their publisher Braun & Schneider issued 1230 of these illustrated broadsides between 1848 and 1898, which were available individually or bound up in sets annually.  Cotsen’s holdings consist mostly of sets that look to have been bound up and sold between 1900 and the late 1920s.  There are collections of sheets starring Kasparel, the German Mr. Punch, an assortment of twenty-four sheets issued with a cover design of a clown throwing Bilderbogen out of the tower window of Munich’s Frauenkirche, Lustiges aus der Tierwelt, thirty-eight sheets about the comic antics of animals, and another motley group of thirty-two sheets enticingly titled Wer will lachen? [Who wants to laugh?]. Also on the shelves are some English-language translations, Walk up! Walk up! and see the fool’s paradise: with the many wonderful adventures there; as seen in the strange surprising peep show of Professor Wolley Cobble, published by John Camden Hotten around 1871.

This is a wonderful addition to Cotsen’s collection of late nineteenth-century French and German popular prints for children, which were forerunners of the comic strip.  The Muenchener Bilderbogen was one of the most influential of them all and featured the work  of Victor Adamo, Wilhelm Busch, Lothar Meggendorfer, Adolf Oberlander, Count Pocci, and Moritz von Schwind. (von Schwind’s “Herr Winter” was featured in another post on this blog).  The standard for artistic excellence was such that a writer for the journal The Academy (August 7 1880) wished that the Bilderbogen were more widely available in England because they were a wonderful way of introducing children to the history of art.

This seems like extraordinarily high praise for anything connected with the comics and funny papers…  So could these German broadsides have been that much better than their Anglo-American counterparts?  (Some of the American ones were  uncredited reprints of German ones with awful translations of the captions.) Processing the prints from Julie was a good way to see if there was any truth in the journalist’s statement about their excellence.

Two prints caught my eye because of  the way the artists used lines of characters to organize the overall composition.  The first one was the fifth edition of number 1177 in the  series, “Maerchenzug” [Fairy tale parade] by Hermann Vogel (1854-1921).  The colors and printing quality don’t seem to have deteriorated over time, as I would have expected.

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Cotsen item 7170756

“Maerchenzug” is divided into three horizontal panels, with a mass of characters moving from right to left.  The three captions below each panel, however, read from left to right, with the quatrain identifying individual characters in the cluster above it.  In order to go back and forth between the figures and the words, the eye has to distinguish the boundaries of the three groups that make up the panel, but it still sees the line of characters as a whole.

top panel

top panel

My favorites in the top panel are the cocky Frog Prince, Puss in Boots, and the Bremen Town Musicians, but the figures of  Hansel and Gretel and a dreaming child are also there.  In the other two panels, look for more frogs and dwarves, a handsome prince or two, a wicked stepmother being punished (that one is tricky), and a book of Grimm’s fairy tales.  Not all the characters in this fairy tale puzzle picture are mentioned in the captions, so even Jack Zipes who knows his Grimm cold, might have to work a bit to identify the characters from the lesser known fairy tales.

Middle panel

Middle panel

Bottom panel

Bottom panel

The second print, number 577 (also in a fifth edition), “Der Knabe Whittington und seine Katzen,” by Eduard Ille (1823-1900) retells the familiar story of Dick Whittington in four horizontal panels.  Its style couldn’t be more different than that of “Marchenzug.”

Cotsen item 7170689

Cotsen item 7170689

At first each of the panels appears to be one continuous image, but look at it more closely and it’s quite difficult to ignore the spaces between the two blocks that compose each panel.  The figures, which are all in black including the Europeans, are drawn in profile almost as if they were silhouettes. Their limbs have a static quality, almost as if frozen in space and time.

First panel

First panel

What helps propel the narrative along is the careful positioning of the heads and the direction of their gaze: in the second panel, you can see the word travelling from left to right, from one person to the next down the line.  And the word is that help is in sight. The panel is infested with climbing, clinging, leaping, creeping, congregating mice.

Second panel

Second panel

In the third panel, Whittington’s cats get to work and the inhabitants dispose of the vermin carcasses with glee.  Look closely at the characters’ headdresses, clothing, and accessories at the upper three panels and you’ll find they have been carefully individuated so that you can identify them throughout.  The text says that it takes place in Djakarta, but  the costumes may be a fantasia on authentic Indonesian garments.  This part of Whittington does take place in a country where there are no cats, but an exact location isn’t important to the action.  For Ille, it seems to have been a major source of inspiration.

Third panel

Third panel

The people are so grateful to Whittington for extermination services and presentation of four kittens to the nation that he and the two old cats are sent off in fine style–you can see the publisher’s name emblazoned on the camel’s caparisons–in the final panel.

Fourth panel

Fourth panel

The journalist in The Academy was onto something, I think.   And thank you, Julie, for the gift of Munchener Bilderbogen.

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Japanese Board Games at the Cotsen Children’s Library

Cotsen Children’s Library houses approximately 300 Japanese boards games published from the nineteenth century through the 1950s, a rare collection comparable to the few existing in Japan. The Japanese board game, sugoroku (すごろく or 双六), can be traced back to the twelfth century. E-sugoroku (“e” meaning picture), a variety that features illustrated game boards, became popular among Japanese commoners in the late seventeenth century. Sugoroku did not originate as a children’s game. In fact, adults used to play the game, a simple dice-based contest, for gambling. Child-oriented sugoroku grew as commercial publishing for young people expanded during the twentieth century in Japan. It became a tradition on New Year’s Day for children to play sugoroku, which children’s magazines distributed as supplements to their January issues. Still, sugoroku remained a cross-age entertainment for the first half of the twentieth century. Government agencies and the military, educators, companies, and organizations have all appropriated the format for purposes beyond play, ranging from the dissemination of information and commercial advertising to literacy education, moral and political socialization, and militarist propaganda targeting children and adults alike.

Kodomo Asobi Sugoroku (A game on children's play), distributed as a supplement to Yōnen Gahō (Young children's pictorial), vol. 12, no. 1, on January 1, 1917.

Kodomo Asobi Sugoroku (A game on children’s play), distributed as a supplement to Yōnen Gahō (Young children’s pictorial), vol. 12, no. 1, on January 1, 1917.

The theme of this game board is children’s play. The twelve picture panels are arranged by month, each showing a leisure activity in which children would commonly be engaged during that time of the year. The panel for January (bottom right) befittingly depicts children sitting around a game board and playing sugoroku, making this piece a self-referential “sugoroku within sugoroku.” Can you spot where the dice is?

At the conference “Putting the Figure on the Map: Imagining Sameness and Difference for Children” hosted by the Cotsen Children’s Library in September 2013, we offered a workshop on sugoroku in collaboration with Setsuko Noguchi, the Japanese Studies Librarian at the East Asian Library, Princeton University. Under Noguchi’s guidance, conference participants gained a close look at a selection of game boards dating from the 1890s to 1950s. The time period saw Japan emerge as a modernized nation towards the end of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), flex her military muscle, escalate imperialistic expansion overseas, and transform politically after World War II. This blog post tries to highlight some of the gems shown in that workshop. A growing number of game boards have also been photographed. Their digital images are exhibited in “Japanese Prints and Drawings in the Cotsen Collection,” which forms part of the Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL).

Detail from Kodomo Asobi Sugoroku

Make your own dice

Densha Sugoroku (A streetcar game), distributed as a supplement to Yōnen Gahō (Young children's pictorial), vol. 19, no. 1, on January 1, 1924.

Densha Sugoroku (A streetcar game), distributed as a supplement to Yōnen Gahō (Young children’s pictorial), vol. 19, no. 1, on January 1, 1924.

What is remarkable about this game board is timing. Printed on December 3, 1923 in Tokyo, which was nearly destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake on September 1, 1923, the game board testifies to the resilience of its publisher, Hakubunkan. The small print on the lower-left corner indicates that Hakubunkan had relocated to a temporary office. The upper right side of the sheet is a template that can be cut out and glued into a paper dice–a thoughtful offering for those players who had the misfortune of losing this essential device in the disaster.

Literary board games

Gariba Kobitokoku Ryoko Sugoroku. Tokyo: Yoki Kodomosha, 1922. (Cotsen 99858)

Gariba Kobitokoku Ryoko Sugoroku. Tokyo: Yoki Kodomosha, 1922. (Cotsen 99858)

One type of sugoroku is the adaptation of literary works, like this spinoff of Jonathan Swift’s “A Voyage to Lilliput.” Fantasy stories and works of fiction, with their narrative arc and frequent incorporation of journeys and adventures, render them suitable inspirations for designing the route of a new board game.

Boys’ games, girls’ games

Some games, like the first two shown above, portray both girls and boys in the pictures and clearly welcome players of both genders. Other games were intended for separate gender groups, reinforcing conventional gender roles. Pre-1950 games that are about voyagers and adventures typically feature male characters. Games designed for girls can be identified by their titles, issuing bodies (girls’ magazines), and the way female figures are portrayed as being engaged in domestic and indoor activities.

Shonen Maru Sekai Isshu Sugoroku. Supplement to Shonen Sekai (Boys' world), vol. 16, no. 1. Tokyo: Hakubunkan, 1909. (Cotsen 38921)

Shonen Maru Sekai Isshu Sugoroku. Supplement to Shonen Sekai (Boys’ world), vol. 16, no. 1. Tokyo: Hakubunkan, 1909. (Cotsen 38921)

In this game, boy adventurers leave Yokohama by ship, see wonders and curiosities from around the world, and return to Hibiya Park in Tokyo for a warm homecoming celebration.

Shinʾan Gendai Fujin Sugoroku (A newly designed modern women's game). Supplement to Shin Fujin (New women), vol. 3, no. 1. Tokyo: Shiseidō, 1913. (Cotsen 153575)

Shinʾan Gendai Fujin Sugoroku (A newly designed modern women’s game). Supplement to Shin Fujin (New women), vol. 3, no. 1. Tokyo: Shiseidō, 1913. (Cotsen 153575)

This game follows the life of a girl from birth to adulthood, starting from when she is a newborn being breastfed to when she becomes a shy bride at around age 20. The player who first reaches the final panel, that is, who first gets married, wins the game. The modifier “modern” in the title is perhaps based on the fact that, in some of the panels, the girl toddler has not exactly behaved like a Goody Two-shoes.

While you are here playing

…we can use your attention. Government agencies, commercial companies, and nonprofit organizations all joined in the making of sugoroku. Some of the creators of the sugoroku held at Cotsen include the post office, a life insurance company, and a fire prevention society, each translating their advertisement and publicity messages into an illustrated game board.

Denki Kyoiku Sugoroku (A game of home electricity education). Tokyo: Katei Denki Fukyukai, 1927. (Cotsen 62458)

Denki Kyoiku Sugoroku (A game of home electricity education). Tokyo: Katei Denki Fukyukai, 1927. (Cotsen 62458)

Distributed by the Society for the Promotion of Home Electrical Appliances, the panels in A Game of Home Electricity Education are a series of contrasting images, comparing life scenarios in a home with and without electrical appliances. The central figure is a young woman, newly married when the game begins. One panel shows a housewife sweeping the floor the old-fashioned way–with a broom–inviting her man’s scowl at the dust that flies into his meal. In the background, a woman gracefully operates a vacuum cleaner, free from worry of the dust. In another set of disturbing contrasts subtitled “A Dark House” and “A Bright House,” a woman who lives in a house poorly lit by a naked bulb receives her husband’s beating after she accidentally breaks a utensil; in another house a family is enjoying a happy time, their cheerful mood attributable to the bright and soft light emanating from a fancy desk lamp. By the end of the game, players will have learned that electrical appliances are good for personal health and wellbeing, family relations, and neighborhood safety. Indeed, as the image in the final panel suggests, owning electrical appliances is the key to the happiness of a woman and her family.

Detail from Denki Kyoiku Sugoroku

Around the world in one game

A popular theme found in the game boards is voyages around the world. Much like ukiyo-e art, sugoroku from the Meiji Period feature domestic travel scenes and landscapes of Japan as a common subject. The addition of international travel games was both a continuation of that tradition and a new fascination engendered by the success of the Meiji Restoration and technological advancement. These games reflect people’s interest in new transportation tools, Japan’s admiration of Western civilization, the nation’s aspiration to expand its colony and territory, and a growing awareness and (mis)understandings of a culturally and racially diverse global world.

Katei Kyoiku Sekai Isshu Sugoroku (Home education: around the world board game). Osaka: Osaka Mainichi Shinbun, 1926. (Cotsen 38943)

Katei Kyoiku Sekai Isshu Sugoroku (Home education: around the world board game). Osaka: Osaka Mainichi Shinbun, 1926. (Cotsen 38943)

Players need to rotate the game board 90 degrees clockwise to better discern a pictorial world map, which highlights animals, people, and famous scenery. The Rising Sun flags mark the Japanese explorations and marine/naval activities in many parts of the world.

Dark-skinned aboriginals were a frequent subject of sugoroku, ranging from a curious presence to be approached to a weak population to be conquered by the Japanese to cannibals to be feared and disparaged (as in this game).

From Home Education: Around the World Board Game

From Home Education: Around the World Board Game

Game of wars

Every major war in which Japan was involved since the late Meiji Period has been reenacted in sugoroku: the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), World War I, Japan’s invasion of Manchuria (1931), the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and the Pacific War (1941-1945). Often published with impressive promptness following the onset of the actual wars, these war games celebrate national pride in Japanese military power, glorify the valor of Japanese soldiers, tout the friendship between the Japanese military and foreign civilians under occupation, and mobilize the Japanese for wars with tailored messages for young boys, girls, and women. Various boys’ and girls’ magazines, women’s magazines, and the Patriotic Women’s Association of Japan were all distributors of sugoroku on war. Even the Japanese Army Armored Division published its own game titled Sensha Sugoroku (A game on tanks) in the 1940s, using black-and-white photos of tanks in operation to teach about military technology.

Dai Toa Kyoeiken Meguri (A game of a trip around the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere). Tokyo: Chuo Nogyokai, 1944. (Cotsen 101132)

Dai Toa Kyoeiken Meguri (A game of a trip around the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere). Tokyo: Chuo Nogyokai, 1944. (Cotsen 101132)

Its title echoing the official war propaganda term “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” this is a wartime variation of the travel game. Players leave Japan and visit the vast land and sea of the Asia Pacific now under varying degrees of control by Imperial Japan. Four panels of pictures contain photo portraits of Subhas Chandra Bose (India), Ba Maw (Burma), Wang Jingwei (China), and José P. Laurel (the Philippines), who were the presidents and political leaders of Imperial Japan’s puppet states in East Asia when the game board was published.

Postwar transformations

The publishing of sugoroku dwindled after the end of World War II. The small number of post-1945 Japanese game boards held at Cotsen shows an ideological departure from older works. The games were de-militarized, and girls and boys could be seen taking a round-the-world trip together.

Genshi Sugoroku: Kagaku Kyōiku Manga (A game on atoms: comics for science education). Tokyo: Nihon Hatsumei Shinbunsha, [1950?]. (Cotsen 102878)

Genshi Sugoroku: Kagaku Kyōiku Manga (A game on atoms: comics for science education). Tokyo: Nihon Hatsumei Shinbunsha, [1950?]. (Cotsen 102878)

This sugoroku is densely packed with explanations of atomic science and the history of atomic research. The center prominently features Hideki Yukawa (1907-1981), who studied nuclear forces and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1949. One panel of the game appeals for the peaceful use of nuclear power and makes the plea “No more Hiroshimas” in a somewhat unassuming manner on the busy page.
Detail from Genshi Sugoroku: Kagaku Kyōiku Manga

Detail from Genshi Sugoroku: Kagaku Kyōiku Manga

Sugoroku has been a versatile medium appreciated by many agencies for centuries, and, as a result, it has become a depository of popular culture, political agendas, and messages about social values, gender roles, race, and national identity. In-depth analysis of the themes, game rules, visual art, and authors of this collection of ephemeral prints would yield a rich understanding of the cultural history of Japan.

Digital resources

Check out digitized Japanese prints and drawings from the Cotsen Collection, including many sugoroku game boards, at the Princeton University Digital Library Website http://pudl.princeton.edu/.

Acknowledgement

This post was made possible by Ms. Setsuko Noguchi’s generous sharing of her expert knowledge. Thank you!

(Edited by Mary Kathleen Schulman.)