Wooden double-sided kanban (shop signboard) for the “Takami tokei ten,” an eyeglass & watch store, with “Megane kakushu” (“Variety of Eyeglasses”) in the largest characters on the board. KANBAN: EYEGLASS, WATCH STORE’S SIGNBOARD.
Wooden double-sided kanban (shop signboard) for the “Takami tokei ten,” an eyeglass & watch store, with “Megane kakushu” (“Variety of Eyeglasses”) in the largest characters on the board.
Wooden double-sided kanban (shop signboard) for the “Takami tokei ten,” an eyeglass & watch store, with “Megane kakushu” (“Variety of Eyeglasses”) in the largest characters on the board.
Wooden double-sided kanban (shop signboard) for the “Takami tokei ten,” an eyeglass & watch store, with “Megane kakushu” (“Variety of Eyeglasses”) in the largest characters on the board.

Wooden double-sided kanban (shop signboard) for the “Takami tokei ten,” an eyeglass & watch store, with “Megane kakushu” (“Variety of Eyeglasses”) in the largest characters on the board.

Narrow rectangular board (1580 x 306 x 25 mm.), with orig. metal fitting at top to facilitate hanging perpendicularly outside the shop. Characters carved identically on both sides; two large glass lenses (each 85 mm. in diameter) inserted in the board, with a carved & painted image of pince-nez frames, highlighted with gold & red lacquer; remains of various colors of paint in the carved characters. [Japan: late Edo or early Meiji].

“Kanban, a distinctive fusion of art and commerce, refers to the traditional signs Japanese merchants and craftsmen displayed street-side to advertise their presence, denote the products or services found inside, and give individual identity and expression to the shop itself. Created from wood, bamboo, iron, paper, fabric, lacquer, or even stone, kanban form a rich visual vocabulary of traditional advertising…

“The Japanese seem to have excelled at this early take on Madison Avenue, creating a multi-faceted inventory of symbol and meaning designed to engage the viewer and entice the customer. From a hand-carved sign made by the shopkeeper himself, hanging over the doorway to his modest shop in the smallest of back-country hamlets, to a sumptuous and professionally rendered virtuoso of a sign mounted atop a tall post in the booming capital city of Edo, kanban were an integral part of Japanese trade culture…

“Kanban were also, in many instances, collaborative efforts between merchants and the craftsmen employed to create the signs…[The merchant] would have had to call on the services of a kanban-shi (kanban carver) or a kanban-gaki or mono-gaki, specialists in calligraphy for kanban. Or perhaps he would have engaged an on-gaku who specialized in carving frames and name signs. Together they would have arrived at the most effective way to communicate the desired message. The type of kanban and the degree of ornamentation would have depended on both the technical skills of the kanban-shi and the depth of the pockets of the merchant employing him.”–Alan Scott Pate, Kanban. Traditional Shop Signs of Japan (Mingei Museum & Princeton University Press: 2017), pp. 13 & 19-20.

This unusually large, double-sided signboard appears to have been carved and painted in the late Edo or early Meiji period. We learn from the board that the Takami tokei ten store was the exclusive distributor for Harada brand eyeglasses of Osaka. Eyeglasses were first introduced into Japan in the 16th century by the Jesuit missionaries, and the technology to manufacture lenses was acquired from the Dutch in Nagasaki. In Japan, the lenses were generally made of rock crystal ground smooth, although some lenses were made from melted glass trade beads imported from Korea. Eyeglass stores often also sold watches, jewelry, and other luxury goods.

During the Edo period, pince-nez style glasses (tengu-megane) were adopted and, as we see from the image and lenses on the board, the Takami tokei ten store was selling this style of eyeglasses. The three icons immediately beneath the lenses indicate that convex, concave, and planar lenses were available for sale.

The rarity of surviving kanban makes it difficult to evaluate, from an art-historical perspective, the artisans who made them.

In fine condition. While some of the paint is no longer present, one can readily intuit the bright colors and inventive design of the board and its artists.

Price: $3,500.00

Item ID: 7602