West Meets East: Japanese Themes in Princeton’s Graphic Arts of the Late 19th Century

If you spend as much time immersed in the University Archives as I do, at times you will see intriguing patterns emerge. I have seen repeated examples of an unusual theme in the graphic arts associated with the College of New Jersey (as Princeton University was named until 1896) in the late 19th century and early 20th: a variety of seemingly out-of-place Asian imagery. For example, a menu for what is clearly Western-style food, written partly in French, features a drawing of potted bamboo and a person in a kimono. One finds drawings of Asians in the Bric-a-Brac’s section headings, though not in settings where any logic would imagine they would truly appear at this time, such as working as clerks in the Registrar’s office. The appearance of the “Mikado” eating club in the 1896 Bric-a-Brac, however, should clear up any confusion about the origins of these themes.

Class of 1870 reunion dinner menu, June 20, 1881. (Click to enlarge.) Princeton University Class Records (AC130), Box 7.

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