Collector of Stones with Beautiful Patterns.
Conversation with Hideharu Yamada
about stones and cave paintings.

From November 23, 2023 (Thu) to January 7 2024 (Sun) Postalco Shop is holding a special exhibition "Drawings from Earth". You can see actual "stones with beautiful patterns" in the store that book designer Hideharu Yamada has collected over the years. Together with Postalco designer Mike Abelson, we asked Mr. Yamada about stones, murals, and many other things. ( Junya Hirokawa / Editor)

 1. Old mineral paintings. ▼

Hirokawa: Today, we would like to ask Mr. Hideharu Yamada about his stone collection and a tour of cave paintings abroad that he visited this year.

Mike: I would like to hear about your book that was just released, Yamada-san.

Yamada: Let's start with the book, A Book of Beautiful Antique Mineral Paintings 『美しいアンティーク鉱物画の本』which came out in November 2023. The mineral drawings in this book are not my own, but are compilations of illustrations from my book collection as well as those in the public domain.

Hirokawa: What do you mean by old mineral paintings?

Yamada: These are illustrations of stones from old illustrated and natural history books. Unlike today's printing, many of them are multi-color lithographs. This picture is printed with more than 10 colors. That is why it is so beautiful.Many people like 19th- and early 20th-century prints because they are labor-intensive. With today's four-color printing, the colors don't come out as well, and it is impossible to perfectly reproduce the mineral illustrations of the time.

The colors of the stones I collect are complex. For example, this book (Inside the Stone: The World of Formation Hidden in Stone『インサイド・ザ・ストーン:INSIDE THE STONE 石に秘められた造形の世界』) is recent, but we printed the cover with five colors instead of four.

 2. Where do you find prints?  ▼

Hirokawa: Where did you find these illustrations of old stones?

Yamada: Many of the illustrations are from books published in Europe, and they are often sold in pieces by the page, by the book, or in stores specializing in natural history paintings. Some of the old etchings were hand-colored, but that was very costly. There is a famous botanical illustrated book published from the 1700s called The Temple of Flora『フローラの神殿』 but the man who created it, Robert John Thornton, later went bankrupt.

 3. Stones with good patterns. ▼

Hirokawa: This exhibition at Postalco Shop started on November 23, 2023. Mr. Yamada's stone collection will be on display. What kind of stones?

Yamada: The range of stones I like is quite narrow. Stones with good patterns appeal to me.

Mike: When I go to stone exhibitions, I see a lot of crystals. But Yamada-san's collection is unique.

Yamada: Going in a different direction.

Mike: Some are polished, while others retain their stoniness. When I first saw Yamada san’s collection, I felt as if I was peering into the earth. Even if you saw these stones lying on the riverbank, you would have no idea they look like this inside, would you?

 4. I became a stone lover. ▼

Hirokawa: How did you come to collect stones with good patterns?

Yamada: There is a book titled The Writing of Stones by Roger Caillois. This was re-released in Japan in 2022, but it originally came out in the 70's. When I was in my 20's, I happened to borrow this book from the wife of a co-worker at the first company I worked for. The Writing of Stones is a book about stone patterns. I was astonished. I didn't even know this kind of world existed and the photography drew me. I became a stone lover. It's a bit of an unusual case, where the printed images are the gateway.

 5. Collecting Rocks ▼

Hirokawa: What kind of patterned stones are featured? 

Yamada: There are stones from Italy whose patterns look like landscapes, which were popular in Europe in the past, and geometric stones whose patterns look like abstract paintings.

Mike: They really do look shockingly like landscapes.

Yamada: I was also interested in the function of the imagination. Once I imagined it looked like something I couldn't un-see it. Later, I gradually started going to stone shops and got fascinated with it. However, at that time, there were few stores that sold stones with good patterns and few opportunities to see them in person.

In 1988, "Tokyo International Mineral Fair" started and there I saw stones of the same provenance as those I had seen in books for sale, and I would buy them. After the Internet became popular, I couldn't stop collecting.

Online I discovered that there were people in other countries with similar tastes, and I began exchanging stones and contacting people who said they would dig them out of the mountains. Eventually, I started getting people to sell me rough stones they had dug up by the kilogram. They would send me rough stones with no visible patterns or colors, and I bought a cutting machine and started cutting the stones myself.

 6. Won't know until they crack ▼

Hirokawa: You couldn't tell what the pattern was until you broke it open and saw inside, right?

Yamada: I used to buy 20 kilograms of stones in bulk. When the rough stones arrived, I cut them from one end to the other, but not many surprising patterns appeared. It seems that the sellers check the stones before sending them to customers by lightly cracking the edges and imagining what the pattern would be like. So it is difficult for first-time buyers to get good stones. They are very clever.

Mike: So they are also keeping the places where the stones are extracted a secret, right?

Yamada: That's right. If they revealed the location, people would come from all over the world!

Mike: Is there a possibility that the stone can no longer be extracted there?

Yamada: They are easily depleted. There is a stone in Italy called Paesina, which is famous for looking like a mountain view. Paesina means "landscape" in old Italian.
Paesina can be found in many places, but there are some mining locations that only certain families know about. Some families have passed on this information from generation to generation since the Renaissance. However, the story goes that the last inheritor fell ill and died on his way home from gathering stones. The other family members no longer know where they can be mined.

 7. What do you see through the stone? ▼

Mike: The earth as you understand it, Mr. Yamada, is a little different from what we see. I think we see the earth differently when we know about these stones.

Yamada: People who like stones can be classified into several types, and many of them are crystal lovers. Some people consider agate with its multiple colors to be a low grade stone as they contain mixtures of the other minerals, although it has the same ingredients as crystal. But Caillois also says in his book that clear crystals are beautiful, but they look roughly the same. Rather, he says that stones with a lot of mixed minerals have patterns that are created by chance, and that is what makes them so interesting and deep. I feel the same way. I think these stones have a unique character that can only be created by mixing something with something else.

Mike: Do you know how these layered patterns are created?

 8. The patterns are bound by chance ▼

Yamada: The mille-feuille-like layers are a characteristic of agate. The patterns are bound by chance. They’re determined by the amount of iron and other factors, such as the amount of each component. This is a stone called Septaria, and it's formed by the process of "concretion". When the bodies of dead organisms, such as shellfish, react with seawater, a ball of stone is formed. This kind of pattern is created when seepage from the shells seeps into the cracks of the sediment. These patterns show up after tens of thousands of years.

Mike: It is like a solidification of unseen time passing within the Earth. Diamonds are beautiful, but I think I would be happier if I had something like this around me.

Yamada: Diamonds are valued for their rarity. With stones it is a question of what kind of rarity you value. No two stones have the same pattern.

Mike: One morning when I was a child, I was walking down the street and saw a car with a broken window. I saw the reflection of the morning sun on the shards of glass shining on the road and was impressed by how beautiful it looked, like a mountain of diamonds.

 9. It all started with a book. ▼

Hirokawa: How do you cut stones?

Yamada: I use a large diamond-blade cutter. Sometimes I cut a stone thinking that the pattern would look better if I cut it a little more, and it breaks, or sometimes I completely ruin it. I have experienced this many times, so I have learned not to be greedy. With stones, there is always some kind of desire involved.

Hirokawa: This is a stone with a good shape rather than a pattern.

Yamada: This is a fairy stone. It’s shaped like an aunty. In Japan, there is a stone known as the "Noto no Hoto Keishi (Buddha Stone)," which is also in the same category.

Mike: It looks like it was made by someone so I can’t help but wonder if it's really natural.

Yamada: I also like this one, it looks like whipped cream. The stone coloration has a softness to it that is the exact opposite of the nature of stone.

Hirokawa: How many rocks do you have?

Yamada: I have a huge number of stones, some left uncut and piled up, some at home, some at work, and some in a rental warehouse. There are also stones that I bought online as a way to relax when I was busy with work. Others I bought but lost track of where they are.

Hirokawa: So there are a lot of them.

Yamada: A long time ago, I had the idea of creating an online agate catalog. So, even if I didn't think it was interesting or rare, I would buy it just because I didn't have an agate from that country. The country of Yemen, in the Middle East, is famous for agate since ancient times, and it is even mentioned in Roman writings. I really wanted to have one, so I looked it up online and found someone selling them, so I emailed him and got a message back asking me to send him about 100 U.S. dollars. I tried but there was no way to send money to Yemen. So I sent the cash in an envelope and they got it! I was ready to receive the 5 kilogram stone they described, but when it arrived it was only a small stone. When I inquired, they said, "If you send us more money, we will send it to you". There have been stone merchants there since B.C., so we are no match for them. While I gradually uploaded my collection onto my website, I was contacted by a publisher. So that is how my collection was first published it in a book, Mysterious and Beautiful Stones: An Illustrated Book (『不思議で美しい石の図鑑』). At that time, there were no books focusing on patterned stones in Japan. Once I published the book, I was glad to find out that there were people in Japan with similar interests. I was also happy because I had always liked books and my interest in stones all began because of Caillois' book.

Hideharu Yamada. Book designer. Born in Kokubunji, Tokyo in 1962. After working for a publishing company and a design office、 he became independent in 1993. His books include Gigantic Stones: Walking through Ancient Times in Britain and Ireland 『巨石──イギリス・アイルランドの古代を歩く』(Hayakawa Shobo, 2006), Mysterious and Beautiful Stone Book『不思議で美しい石の図鑑』(Sogensha, 2012), Stone Eggs 『石の卵』(Fukuinkan Shoten, 2014), and Inside the Stone『インサイド・ザ・ストーン』(Sogensha, 2015).

Designed with Minerals.
Why is it satisfying to hold a small stone? We are fascinated by the variety of minerals found in the crust of the Earth. Maybe we are attracted to stones because their colors are thousands of years old and will stay the same for thousands of years more?
Postalco has a product that was created in search of a way to hold minerals comfortably. Since the stones are extracted from nature, no two stones have the same pattern. You can feel the cool minerals texture.