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Holbein Art Supplies Company Profile & Information

Holbein Hiraoka Factory

Founded in 1900 in Osaka, Japan, Holbein Art Supplies is one of the world’s most respected makers of professional-grade watercolor paints, oil paints, acrylic paints, colored pencils, and much else in art supplies. Despite being Japan’s largest and best regarded professional art supplies company, there is not very much information about the company in English.

The company founder, Mineyoshi Yoshimura, was born in 1868 in Wakayama Prefecture, and left his hometown at age 16 to work for a timber wholesaler in Osaka, then as now the 2nd most important city in Japan and a major center of commercial activity since the 17th Century. Gaining experience in the wholesale business, he married the daughter of a textbook shop owner in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, and arrived at the idea of starting an office supplies and stationary shop. So in 1900, at age 32, he opened what was to become Holbein in the Nakanoshima area of Osaka, originally as a wholesaler of stationary, office supplies, and Western painting materials.

Soon after opening, the company (then simply called Mineyoshi Yoshimura Store) began manufacturing its own notebooks, canvas for paintings, staplers, and paperclips, with especially the notebooks quickly becoming popular among university students in Japan. Western paint supplies were also popular and included mostly German imports.

Business was on a relatively small scale at first, the number of employees numbering only 8 or 9 at the end of the Meiji Period in 1912. But by 1924, the year of Mineyoshi Yoshimura’s death, Holbein had grown to be an important supplier of stationary and art supplies to the large stationary stores of Tokyo.

Starting in the 1930s (the same decade as when the company name was officially changed to Holbein in honor of Hans Holbein, the great German Renaissance painter), Holbein began researching Western paint manufacturing, and in 1933 released its first oil paint made at a new factory in Osaka. Holbein aspired to a quality European-style paint, and steadily made progress expanding its paint portfolio to watercolor and acrylic paints, as well as to other areas of art supplies, until by the 1970s when it offered a full lineup of its own Japanese-made Western-style art supply products. In 1972, Holbein opened its new Hiraoka Minami factory, with a dedicated training department as well as a full-scale paint research center housed inside, that accelerated its progress in making not only imitations of Western paints and other art supplies, but world class products in its own right.

Unlike many other well-known Japanese companies that either started or moved their headquarters to Tokyo, Holbein has retained its major presence and headquarters in the Osaka area (also known more conventionally as the Kansai region). The company is divided into two divisions, Holbein Art Supplies Ltd, which is the distribution, sales and marketing arm, and Holbein Industrial Company Ltd, which is the manufacturing arm.

Holbein Art Supplies is headquartered in 2-5-5 Kamishio, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0064 [Phone (06) 6763-1521 Fax (06) 6763-2758], with an important Tokyo sales office in 2-18-4 Higashiikebukuro , Toshima-ku, Tokyo 170-0013 [Phone (03) 5927-1631 Fax (03) 5927-1699], as well as a Hyogo Logistics Center and a Minami Osaka Paper Products warehouse, employing 106 people in total.

Holbein Company Headquarters

Holbein Industrial Company is headquartered in the same Osaka building as its sister company, while having three industrial facilities in the Kansai region (Kosaka Plant: 1-314, Hishiyanishi, Higashiosaka City, Osaka Prefecture 577-0807; Hiraoka Plant 4-1052, Yokokojicho, Higashi Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture 579-8063; and Nara Plant 296-1 Shinmachi, Katsuragi-shi, Nara Prefecture 639-2127).

Holbein Nara Factory

Being the largest professional art supplies company in Japan, Holbein’s products are ubiquitous in that country, and tend to be the first choice among Japanese professional and amateur artists. In the West, Holbein has more of a cult following, especially famous for its watercolor paints, acrylic paints, oil paints, and colored pencils.

The single most popular product line abroad is probably the watercolor paints, which are famous for being made without ox-gall, animal byproducts or other dispersing agents. As a result, the paints are slower moving, and have more color density/intensity and greater brush control than watercolors made by other manufacturers. Holbein watercolor paints are also known for drying with almost no change in brightness and hue.

Among the other product lines popular overseas, Holbein colored pencils are particularly excellent in the pastel color range, acrylic paints are popular for their bright colors and heavy body, and oil paints are popular for bright colors, small grains, and ease of mixing.

Considered quite affordable in Japan, Holbein products are on the other hand rather expensive outside of the country, due to limited distribution. The fact that many Holbein products are still popular and well known among art professionals internationally is testimony to their high quality and to the commitment to excellence found at Holbein.

In addition to its wide range of manufactured products, Holbein also continues to distribute Western art supplies in Japan, just like it did at its founding, and is now an important source of paint restoration and art charity work in its home country.

Allegro Japan, this site, is dedicated to making Holbein products more accessible to an international audience by providing one of the world's largest and best priced Holbein product catalogs, with free Japan Post International Package Shipping to customers all over the world. If interested, please browse our Holbein Art Supplies product collection.

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