In the field of shin hanga prints, the occurrence of re-carved blocks is much less of a concern than for ukiyo-e prints. This is likely the result of two factors. First, most shin hanga prints are currently much less valuable than rare, early ukiyo-e, and second, recent years have seen a marked decline in the number of new Japanese artisans with both the ability and willingness to undertake this trade. However, re-strikes of certain shin hanga prints do exist. A notable example is a popular series of bijin-ga prints by Torii Kotondo, published by Ishukankokai.
Here I present an example, a side-by-side comparison of two prints published by Doi. First, let me make very clear that it is NOT my intention or desire to in any way diminish or disparage the reputation of Doi Hangaten. I have long held their prints—wonderfully and masterfully produced prints by artists such as Hasui and Koitsu—in high regard. What follows is only a simple observation drawn from the recent opportunity to carefully compare side-by-side two "editions" of the same print titled "Edogawa No Yuki" (translates as "Evening Snow at Edo River") and margin-dated originally as Showa 7 (or 1932). Also produced in a full-color version of this print, this being the less commonly seen aizuri (shades of blue) version.
First, shown side-by-side are the two prints. On the left is an unquestionable "early edition" printing (obtained directly from Doi) which bears the double-offset carver/printer seals of Harada/Yokoi, Yokoi being among Doi's early printers. One the right is a somewhat fresher, identical print (I thought), bearing the carver/printer seals of Harada/Seki, Seki being a printer for Doi from about 1965 to 1993.
Readily apparent is one observation: both Yokoi and Seki appear to be equally skillful in their masterful production of this print. The bokashi shading seen in both prints is equally amazing. It seems that Seki was well-instructed and learned much from his sensei, Yokoi.
Now for a closer look. Both prints, of course, bear the name of the blocks' original carver, Harada, known to be active in the 1930's. Careful comparison seemed to indicate actually (and surprisingly) little block wear to the post-1965 strike; thin key-lines seen throughout this later impression show little sign of degradation or damage from the repeated baren rubbings of each printing. This might seem to indicate that—at least between 1932 and 1965—perhaps less than 200 "early" impressions were struck during this period. [ Alternatively, it could simply mean the blocks were well maintained during this period. ]
Many unique details (several are seen elsewhere, outside of the close-up shown) are clearly visible in both prints when carefully comparing each small detail. Unquestionable then—but never really in question—was the confirmation that the later printing was indeed struck off of the original primary blocks.
Interestingly however, was the observation of striking differences seen in the kimono patterns of the two prints. Clearly, at least this portion of ONE of the original woodblocks had been re-carved. When? Why? And by whom? Likely we'll never know. Nevertheless, an interesting observation and proof that at least some blocks are from time to time replaced for whatever the reason.
In any case, the point is that these are the kind of discernments that can be made as a result of close observation of one's prints. Therefore, look closely at your prints. Spend thoughtful time in their study and admiration. Indeed, if you look closely and carefully enough, there is often much more to be seen than first meets the casual eye.
Original text as written and submitted by Thomas Crossland for this article is his property, copyright © 2000, all rights reserved.
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For a more complete discussion and detailed case study co-written by this author, see Number 11 in the Articles section.
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