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We Interrupt This Blog for Something Completely Awesome

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Happy 2019! I got home from Cincinnati yesterday evening. As midnight approached last night, there were lots of fireworks going off here in New York (including right here in our small Brooklyn neighborhood, which seriously spooked Uni Watch girl mascot Caitlin, poor little thing), and there’s a good chance that you saw plenty of fireworks too, either on TV or in person. All of which makes this the perfect day for me to share something very special that I recently encountered.

As most of you probably know by now, I love vintage catalogs, I recently came across one that deserves a closer look — a late-1800s catalog from a Japanese fireworks company. Or as the company, Hirayama Fireworks, called it, an “Illustrated Catalogue of Night Bomb Shells.”

The key word there is Illustrated. As explained in the catalog’s introductory text (which is in English because this catalog was for the export market), “The illustrations in this new catalogue are inserted merely for the purpose of giving a rough representation of the fireworks, which include many newfangled pieces, it being impossible for an artist to represent the brilliancy and grandeur of the effect produced at the time of the explosion.”

Think about that for a second. If you were an illustrator, how would you depict fireworks? More specifically, how would you depict various kinds of fireworks for potential customers?

If you were the illustrator for Hirayama Fireworks, you’d do it like this:

Isn’t that awesome? I love how geometric they are, and how stark they are against the black background. I even love the little number plates at bottom of each page the decorative border. No descriptive text, not even a name for each design — just a gorgeous image and a stock number. It all feels Just Right, and on some level it all feels very Uni Watch.

There are also some illustrations that depict lots of little bursts, instead of one big burst:

And some of the designs seem more abstract, as seen on the left side of these next three spreads:

The back cover offers a helpful diagram for lighting the fireworks, although it seems like the numbers might be out of order:

You can see the entire catalog in the PDF reader below (I’ve never embedded a PDF before — a fun thing to learn how to do!):

Want more? There are five more Hirayama Fireworks catalogs, a Hirayama instruction manual, and another company’s catalog archived on this page. (If your browser offers to translate the page, go ahead and do it — it’s helpful.) Most of the other catalogs feature “daytime fireworks” along with the night bombshells. The translated text on the web page explains daytime fireworks like so:

As its name suggests, fireworks that will be raised at noon, not in the evening, were the mechanisms that make-ups such as dolls jumped out when they exploded. A powder and a fuse were attached to the outer skin packed with design objects made of washi paper etc. When the ignition occurred, the outer skin was released into the air and its contents were released. … [Y]ou can see from the colorful illustrations what the contents of “day fireworks” made of paper and other materials were like.

Judging by the illustrations, these daytime fireworks sent festive items like parasols and parachutes into the air, along with little dolls or sculptures of animals (including some bizarro scenes, like a cat riding a fish):

These are nice, but they lack the geometry of the nighttime illustrations and don’t feel as uniform-y, so I won’t dwell on them here. But all of the other catalogs are worth exploring. If you want to download them, go to this page, scroll down a bit, click on one of the catalog covers, and then click on the PDF link.

That seems like a good way to kick off the new year, no? Sorry, no sub-ledes or Ticker today, since I was traveling for most of yesterday and the rest of the Uni Watch team had the day off. Enjoy the Rose Bowl, or the Winter Classic, or whatever you’re doing today, and I’ll see you back here with more traditional uni-related content tomorrow.

(Mega-thanks to the Tugboat Captain, who sent me down this rabbit hole when she spotted this page.)

Comments (24)

    Speaking of fireworks, I couldn’t see the ball drop last night because of them. My wife and I always have watched the Dick Clark show, well, since Dick Clark was hosting and you could always see the ball in Times Square drop and the year light up signaling the new year. This year, they had so many fireworks going off the smoke and spectacle engulfed the ball and year sign. I know it’s no big deal, but it was something we both noticed. (perhaps it was just due to where ABC positioned their cameras?) – Happy New Year!

    I noticed the same thing. Another alleged “improvement” that isn’t. Reminds me of the evolution of uniforms.

    I had the same thought. I thought maybe it was the humidity, but now I see what you mean. Speaking of fireworks rants, I don’t like when we’re watching July 4 fireworks on TV and the cameras keep showing the people. I want to watch fireworks, not watch people watching fireworks. Okay, rant over.

    I saw several news stories saying NBC did not even attempt to show the ball drop and they did not have a countdown clock.

    I was going to try something other than Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve for the first time since Guy Lombardo was on TV, and yet I ended up watching again. The fireworks and the modern music weren’t the deal breakers…what killed the mood for me was the rampant commercialism. The revelers were provided hats with big honking ads from a fitness center, there was a huge commercial break that didn’t end until 90 seconds before midnight, followed by another one a few minutes after midnight. Yes, it’s been this way for a few years but this time I felt that enough is enough. I’m open to suggestions on how to ring in 2020.

    Jim, you absolutely nailed it. What ABC did with the New Years Eve show was deplorable. We had it on in the background and from about 11:45 to just before midnight it was just one ad after another.

    Regarding big honking ads – I don’t mind them if we can see the fireworks and the ball drop and get a sense of the moment. Think of during a soccer match when a logo for Chevy or Samsung is next to the score bug. Or even what they do during NASCAR races: run your ads but have the action going on in a corner of the screen.

    It’s one thing if you own New Years Eve. It’s another thing to be complete and total pigs about it.

    Regarding alternatives, CNN does a New Years Eve show, Anderson Cooper hosts it. He and Kathy Griffin had an easy chemistry, but he seemed to do well. I normally don’t watch CNN but it seemed like a good alternative. Plus I’m sure there were plenty of people on social media live streaming the moment. None of that of course takes ABC off the hook; but there’s alternatives.

    That’s all I got. Peace.

    Happy new year!!!

    We went to a hockey game last night, and there was an INDOOR fireworks show. Was pretty neat. There were boxes spread out all over the ice, and would fire up in synch with music. Sometimes flames and shooting sparks, other times shells that shot up into the rafters. It was pretty cool!

    I have no idea why but I find this INCREDIBLY AWESOME.
    So much fun to see something so unique like this.

    Thanks for sharing.

    I believe the illustrations showing how to properly light the firework is right to left because that is how the Japanese write. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    Those are some big TV numbers on the Bruins.

    Not Uni specific, but I was amused earlier when I was in the bookstore to see a magazine devoted to ranking the top 100 fonts/typefaces. I was disappointed to see that Century Gothic, which we use for my magazine, did not make the cut.

    (Helvetica was #1, BTW)

    Yeah, looks like it.

    It was a big glossy coffee table magazine. I think it was in the computer section (at BN).

    I’m just catching up, sorry to hear about the ESPN deal but I know your talent and creative will open new bigger doors.

    I wish you and the Tugboat Captain a Happy New Year. Thank you for all you do.

    Love the firework illustrations! Is it just me or would two pages look great framed and hung on a wall?

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