Swiss-born publisher Juan Kaiser (1858-1916) published some of the earliest postcards of Lake Chapala. His early postcards of the lake, dating back to the start of the 20th century were multi-views, with three small images on each card.
Kaiser was born in Leuzigen, Bern, Switzerland in 1858. In 1881, at the age of 23, he left home to seek his fortune in the Americas. After working with family friends in Peru and traveling in several South and Central American countries, he moved to Mexico in about 1886. After some months in Mexico City, working at “La Helvetia” (part owned by his countryman Guillermo Kaiser who, despite his surname, is not thought to be a relative), Juan Kaiser moved to the silver mining boom town of San Luis Potosí where he bought a bookstore – “Al Libro Mayor” – in 1887.
This proved to be a successful venture and Kaiser envisioned that opening a branch in Guadalajara, which was experiencing rapid growth at the end of the nineteenth century would be similarly profitable. With this in mind, he sent for his younger brother, Arnoldo Kaiser (1875-1952), to join him in Mexico to help run the business. Arnoldo, still a teenager, joined him in San Luis Potosí in 1891. Both brothers were multilingual, having acquired French, German and Spanish in addition to the Romansche spoken at home.
Juan Kaiser’s first wife, Ana Simmen, of Swiss parentage, died in San Luis Potosí on 19 January 1892. The following year, on 13 Nov 1893, Kaiser married her sister, Maria Guillermina Simmen, then 38 years of age, in Mexico City. The couple’s eldest child, Guillermo Juan Kaiser, died as an infant in San Luis Potosí in February 1895.
Juan Kaiser expanded the business to Guadalajara in 1899, opening a store named “Al Libro de Caja”. This bookstore and stationers supplied all manner of pens, inkwells, journals, bookbinding, pocket books, cashbooks and accounts books for the city’s thriving commercial and mining sector. Kaiser also developed a lucrative sideline in publishing picture postcards. His artistic connections were immediately visible to all patrons since the entrance to the store, located at the intersection of Calle San Francisco and Calle López Cotilla, was decorated “in a neat and stylish manner” with the work of another Guadalajara resident, the Brazilian-born artist Félix Bernardelli.
The first series of Kaiser postcards (see triple view of Chapala, above) was published in 1900-1901, with the imprint “Al Libro Mayor. S. Luis Potosi”. Various other imprints were used by the brothers including “Juan Kaiser y hermano”, “Juan y Arnoldo Kaiser”, “Juan Kaiser, Guadalajara”, “Juan Kaiser, San Luis Potosí”, “Juan Kaiser, San Luis Potosí y Guadalajara”, “Arnoldo Kaiser, San Luis Potosí”, “Al Libro Mayor, San Luis Potosí” and “Al Libro de Caja.” According to expert deltiologists (postcard collectors) all the early Juan Kaiser postcards were printed in Germany.
The Kaiser brothers worked with several photographers, including José María Lupercio and the American hotelier-photographer Winfield Scott. The early Chapala photographs on Kaiser postcards are unattributed but many are believed to be the work of Scott. Scott also sold his own vast collection of photographs of Mexico – “Scott’s Types and Views of Mexico… true pictures of life and scenery in this country of unequaled picturesqueness” – through the Guadalajara store. The majority of later views of Chapala (see above) include a clear attribution to Lupercio.
Juan Kaiser died in Guadalajara on 13 February 1916. His then wife, Bertha Meter, and their son Hans Paul Kaiser, aged 4, inherited the business and sold their interests in Al Libro Mayor to Arnoldo Kaiser. Advertisements for the store continued into the 1920s. In 1927, Bertha and Hans Paul left Guadalajara for Switzerland. They came back in 1930 to wind up affairs in Mexico before moving permanently to Switzerland in 1932.
My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.
- Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2012. “Letra K. “Fotógrafos y productores de Postales.” Blog entry for “Juan Kaiser Schwab”, dated 17 Jan 2012.
- Ignacio de Jesús Sánchez Montes. 2009. “Juan Kaiser Editor e impresor de papel moneda y tarjetas postales en Guadalajara,” Boletín Eclesiástico (Guadalajara), Año CXX – Número 5 (May 2009).
- Ignacio de Jesús Sánchez Montes. 2013. “Tipología provisional de las tarjetas postales de los hermanos Juan y Arnoldo Kaiser con vistas de Jalisco y el sureste de México.” Presentation to 3er. Congreso Mexicano de Tarjetas Postales – 3rd. Mexican Congress on Postcards, held in Guadalajara, 30 October 2013.
- El Informador, 16 January 1921.
- Jalisco Times, 2 January 1904; 5 March 1904; 14 October 1904.
Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.
Tony Burton’s books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran”), “Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008).