Imagine you’re running a successful fireworks company in Japan–in the 19th century. Your product is so stunning that word of it has traveled around the globe, and you’ve got would-be buyers overseas. How would you create a catalogue? With over 100 offerings in your arsenal, you need some way to show potential buyers what each firework does, but photography technology of the era won’t cut it.
What you’d have to do is hire some illustrator, then individually demonstrate for them each and every firework you produce. They would then have to sit at an easel and attempt to recreate, using paintbrushes, the light show they’d seen in that night sky. That was the path undertaken by one Ryuta Hirayama, who founded Hirayama Fireworks Mfg. in 1877 in Takashima, and patented his fireworks in the U.S. in 1883. Japan’s Yokohama City Library got their hands on an old English-language Hirayama catalogue and made the scans available online.
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