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Postcards were to the people in 1900 what the Internet was to the world in 2000. Postcards can be thought of as the world’s first mass transfusion of images. The world went from thousand to a billion postcards in a very short span of time, and the finest painters from India, Austria and Japan got involved.

Paper Jewels is the story of postcards during the Raj, and covers India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma. The first book on this subject, it is also the first to show hundreds of professionally restored images in original format. The volume uncovers such gems as the early postcards of the great Indian painter M. V. Dhurandhar and the Ravi Varma Press, the exceptional work of an early Austrian lithographer in Kolkata or a German one in Mumbai.

The essays cover the major cities and regions important to postcard publishing and the key themes—from religion to dancers, to tea, soap, famines, fakirs, humour and warfare. The volume displays the most beautiful and popular postcards, telling the stories of the first postcard publishers in the subcontinent between 1892 and 1947. Many of the images in the book have never been published since their first runs a century ago.

Paper Jewels relies almost entirely on primary research in archives and private collections in India, Europe and America done over a period of twenty years, and much of the story is entirely new.


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 in the book. He is an avid historian, award-winning web designer and aspiring filmmaker.

Khan’s previous book is From Kashmir to Kabul: The Photographs of John Burke and William Baker 1860-1900 (Prestel/Gallimard/Mapin, 2002). He has run the website since 1995, and is currently the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Common Sense Media in San Francisco, California where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

ISBN: 978-81-89995-85-0

With 519 illustrations

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