Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj

Aerial photo of four pairs of hands using different handheld smart devices

Postcards were the social media of their time, and much more consequential in depicting the Indian subcontinent, its people, places and preoccupations to the world and domestic consumers.

The Paper Jewels talk tells the story of the first colour and global visual communications medium to represent India between 1892 and 1947. The subject covers India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka and charts the history and progression of postcard publishing and the many factors—technical, commercial and political—that shaped this then new form of communication.

The talk is broken into sections and covers the first artist-signed postcards of India (made in Austria); The Ravi Varma Press and the first Indian-published and artist-signed postcards; the first Raj publishers to cater to mass audiences in multiple cities; the great Indian postcard artist M.V. Dhurandhar and the people and stories of Bombay he illustrated; London-based Raphael Tuck & Sons, the biggest global Indian postcard publisher; as well as early advertising postcards of India by Singer, Lipton, Nestle and others. The talk concludes with examples of the role postcards played in the Independence struggle, from the First Non-Cooperation Movement through the Dandi March, the Second World War and Partition.

Omar Khan grew up in Vienna, Austria and Islamabad, Pakistan and is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Columbia, and Stanford Universities. He has researched early photography and ephemera of the subcontinent for thirty years and acquired a large collection of the early postcards featured here. Khan’s previous book is From Kashmir to Kabul: The Photographs of John Burke and William Baker 1860-1900 (Prestel/Gallimard/Mapin, 2002).

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Humanities & Identities

Contact name: Katherine Collins

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Audience: Open to all