George Harry Beans, owner of the Philadelphia Seed Company, began his collection of Japanese maps in the 1930s and continued to collect maps of the Tokugawa (or Edo) period (1600-1867) until 1963. Previously, amongst other things, he collected stamps, atlases, and Italian maps.
Beans was a born collector. It is interesting to note that he did not speak a word of Japanese or Italian, yet he assembled world-renowned collections. For more than 30 years after selling his collection of Italian maps, Beans methodically built his private collection of Japanese maps with the assistance of map dealers and other collectors. Assisted by Professor Kazutaka Unno, Beans published a catalog of his collection: List of Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era (1951). Originally published by his press, Tall Tree Library, Beans issued three supplements in 1955 (A), 1958 (B), and 1963 (C) as he continued to build his collection. He also included in this catalog all of the maps known to have been published during the Tokugawa period, extant or not.
In 1965, Basil Stuart Stubbs, Special Collections librarian at the University of British Columbia (UBC) learned that Beans had placed his collection on the market. UBC, located in Canada's hub for Asia-Pacific trade, has a strong Asian Studies program, so the library made the decision to purchase the collection for $15,000. The purchase was announced in the international journal for the history of cartography, Imago Mundi. Throughout the years, the library has continued to add to the collection, and most notably, in 1986, purchased 59 maps of the Tokugawa and Meiji periods from George Schlegel Bonn.
Today the collection is one of the three best collections in the world of maps from the Tokugawa Era. It includes a large number of sheet maps, several scrolls, some screens, Fukanzus ("bird's-eye views" of landscapes), many "atlases," and geographies. Unlike most of the collections outside Japan, this one does not hold many government or administrative maps. Its focus is on privately published and travel-related maps and guides published in Japan during the Tokugawa period. There is world coverage, although the majority of maps are of the whole or parts of Japan. A number of prominent Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artists are represented, including Katsushika Hokusai, Ando Hiroshige, and Hashimoto Sadahide.
Continuing in the spirit of learning and scholarship that Beans exhibited, research is encouraged and many publications on the collection have been produced by scholars from around the world. In anticipation of the Early Modern Komonjo and Kuzushi Workshop, co-hosted by UBC and Stanford University, in July and August 2006, 285 maps in the collection were digitized and are now available online. These beautiful maps, which previously were so difficult to use because of their fragility or great size or length, are now available and easy to access and use.
Collection Profile: Katherine Kalsbeek
Overview: Ralph Stanton
Illustrations: University of British Columbia Archives