Many thanks to Patrick Marks for scanning these cards from his collection,
and for writing the article below to give you an insight into Van Houten as an issuer
Van Houten was the inventor of the process which made cocoa palatable by removing a degree of bitterness in the raw product. This allowed a much more diverse range of products to be developed and hence the huge growth of the industry. This took place in 1827 in Weesp in the Netherlands.
Following this discovery the process became more widely known allowing many new manufacturers to enter the cocoa and chocolate market. Other firms made their own discoveries with milk chocolate in Switzerland and a range of products in the UK. Van Houten however became a major force in the cocoa industry and a major part of its promotion lay in the adoption of advertising by almost any means possible. Van Houten tin signs are ubiquitous and their tins are collectors’ items in their own right. However the major way used by Van Houten and thousands of firms, shops, cafes, etc was to issue cards which featured their firm as the issuer but covered a huge range of subject matter.
The Chinese series illustrated below is one of the later examples of the series issued specially by Van Houten. The State Archive in the Netherlands records the date of issue of many Van Houten series, a real help to researchers such as myself trying to make sense of what the firm issued and when. A date of May 1908 has been discovered and curiously this series was issued in two parts, one part in conjunction with a two card set of Venice Views. The firm would usually but not always distribute the cards to retailers to give out over the counter. The series was issued World Wide in four languages, German, Dutch, French and English.
It is not known whether the firm had any outlets in China, however these very attractive cards illustrate some everyday scenes of Chinese street and home life of the time. China even by 1908 was still a mysterious place but the pictures appear to be quite accurate in the scenes they depict, the street barber, the flower sellers, fish sellers as well as the fisherman and the two women and small child in a home scene.
These pictures would have been a revelation to the consumers of the day. They were issued several years after a period of bloody conflict, the Boxer Rebellion when colonial powers were trying to maintain their influence, which included the opium trade, whilst these pictures depict a more sanitised view depicting a world now long gone.
There are other Chinese chocolate cards - including these scenes from the Boxer Rebellion which were in a Liebig sized series of 24 issued by a number of firms in the early 1900s.