In "Postcard language puzzle", Mark Liberman enlisted the aid of Language Log readers in deciphering the writing on two old postcards mailed from Mallorca in 1912-1913. The result was a swift and stunning success, an amazing demonstration of spontaneous online collaboration of linguists spread across the globe.
Now, Bruce Balden has sent in an even older postcard with a most intriguing illustration inspired by the Jamestown Exhibition of 1907:
In this case, we know the language and script, viz., Japanese, but the handwriting is so calligraphic and "grassy" that it cannot be fully understood even by most highly literate Japanese.
The writer was apparently well-educated, which explains why he / she wrote mostly in traditional kanji. Moreover, he / she writes from RIGHT to LEFT and vertically in short columns, which does not work well in the elongated horizontal space provided for the message.
With the help of some friends, here's what I've been able to figure out so far (some parts remain unreadable or only partially readable):
に来て見る (I'm especially uncertain about the first graph in this line)
十日XXほど (maybe that is 十 日間程)
其からXXXXXX (maybe that is 其から紐育)
This may mean:
"Fortunately when I came to the exhibition, it's pretty interesting, so while doing research I intend to stay for about 10 days. Then I will go back to XXXXX [New York?] and now I feel like trying to go to Europe as soon as possible (even one day sooner)."
Mind you, both the transcription and the translation are very rough, but they should at least give an idea of the contents and provide a foundation for others who might wish to work on the message. Admittedly, the pool of those able to take us further must be very small and specialized, so I'm not necessarily expecting that we'll be able to arrive at a definitive reading of the entire message. Meanwhile, other Language Log readers might find the intriguing design and wording in the picture above to be worthy of comment.
[Thanks to Cecilia Segawa Seigle and Pan Da'an]