Tsuchiya Koitsu

Dating Tsuchiya Koitsu prints and his other artworks

One of the most difficult aspects of collecting the prints of Tsuchiya Koitsu is in determining the approximate printing date of a particular print. This is important because it determines to a large degree the monetary worth of the print. The task of dating is made difficult, not only because many collectors cannot read the kanji text contained in the publisher seals (which allude to the print's printing date) but also because there still remains some confusion regarding the period of use of said publisher seals. In the interests of furthering scholarship in this artist we reproduce below much of the most important research information that my colleague Tosh Doi and I have gathered over the preceding decade. A far more in-depth discussion of this research can be found in our Koitsu Raisonne, including evidence to support the dating we give below.

Doi Hangaten Offset Seals with Harada as Carver

There is one set of publisher seals whose dating has been the topic of very vigorous debate over the past decade, and they are the Doi Hangaten "offset" seals containing the Harada carver seal (and usually with the Yokoi printer seal). While some believe that the Doi Hangaten offset seals were first used pre-war, we can now state with strong evidence that the Doi Hangaten offset seals were never used pre-war; they were first used from around the 1950s shortly after Doi Eiichi restarted the Doi business in 1948. What evidence do we have? Statements from no less than three independent sources, including the daughter of Harada and the daughter of Harada's pre-war master, that Harada did not work for Doi until after the war. Please feel assured that your Koitsu (or Hasui) prints containing Doi Hangaten offset seals were, with little doubt, published between about 1950 and 1963. These seals include K31 to K34 shown below. The rare K26 in-line seal containing Harada as carver is most likely also a post-war seal (well, all the in-line seals, K21 to K26, were most likely used only post-war actually). Yes, your print containing the Harada carver and Yokoi printer seals (K33 and K34, the most common offset seal combinations) was, with little doubt, printed in the early post-war period, not pre-war. Hopefully that will settle the debate. For further details please see our Koitsu Raisonne.

Please read this 2019 update

Doi-published prints with no publisher seals

Based on an analysis of the Koitsu prints saved in my Koitsu database I would estimate around 20% of Doi-published Koitsu prints do not have any publisher seals. If your print has publisher seals they will be found in the lower area of the left margin and look similar to those shown below in the Doi section. Dating evidence suggests that prints without publisher seals appeared in the market as far back as the late 1960s until the 1990s. There was only one printer active during all this time, Seki, who was dismissed by Doi Eiichi in the early 1990s for "activities that undermined the Doi publishing house" (perhaps selling unsealed prints on the side was a part of that activity). If your Doi print (oban or chuban format) has no publisher seals in the lower left margin it dates to this period. It was printed by a Doi printer, so quality-wise it can be considered equivalent to any other Doi print from the same era. The lack of publisher seals may decrease its valuation slightly however.

The publishers Baba Nobuhiko, Kyoto Hanga-In, and the printer Ono Tomosaburou

March 2021. I think it is time to reinvestigate the printer known as "Onotomi" and my co-researcher's and my dating of Koitsu prints that contain the Onotomi seal as being circa the 1950's. We have strong evidence that Onotomi worked for Baba at some time. Examples of the print "Banyu River" can be found containing the Onotomi seal, and the example of this print that I owned was mounted in its original folder that contained a Baba Seizando publisher seal. Also, Yomeimon and Sacred Bridge can sometimes be found printed on paper containing both a "Baba" watermark as well as an Onotomi printer seal. In both cases, it is extremely unlikely that these two scenes would have been printed by a publisher other than Baba.

Our initial attribution of Koitsu prints containing the Onotomi seal as being post-war strikes by the publisher Kyoto Hanga-In was based on the following evidence:

  1. The 1956 and Kyoto Hanga-In catalogues contains three Koitsu scenes that were originally published by Baba Nobuhiko (Yomei Gate, Sarusawa Pond, Sacred Bridge)
  2. The Onotomi printer seal found on Koitsu prints can also been found on prints published by Kyoto Hanga-In, like Bakufu Ono scenes (1), (2).
Unfortunately, the prints shown in the Kyoto Hanga-In catalogue are displayed margin-less, so we cannot know what printer and carver seals actually accompanied those prints. All we can deduct from (1) above is that Kyoto Hanga-In sold three Koitsu scenes that were originally published by Baba. We cannot determine whether Kyoto Hanga-In printed and thus published the scenes, or whether Kyoto Hanga-In simply sold old stock that was published by Baba Nobukiko (i.e, they only acted as a distributer of the prints).

Based on (2) above, the connection between the printer Onotomi and Kyoto Hanga-In is irrefutable. At some time in the 1950s, Ono Tomisaburo certainly printed Ohno bakufu scenes for Kyoto Hanga-In. However, the statistical evidence suggests that Ono's relationship with Kyoto Hanga-In lasted only a very short time. I've just completed an analysis of over 600 Kyoto Hanga-In published prints and found that only a total of three prints contain the Onotomi printer seal. Just three. And those three prints represent only two scenes, so I believe he printed only a single, small edition of each of those two scenes. Interestingly, none of the three prints contain the usual set of Kyoto Hanga-In "Shinagawa-ban" seals that we find accompanying all other examples of those scenes. I conclude that Ono Tomisaburo's relationship with Kyoto Hanga-In was only fleeting. He clearly was not in the permanent employ of Kyoto Hanga-In (who already had several in-house printers), and therefore it is likely that Kyoto Hanga-In simply outsourced the printing of these two Bakufu scenes to Ono.

But if the Kyoto-hanga In published Bakufu prints contain the same Onotomi seal as the Koitsu scenes, doesn't that mean that those Koitsu scenes must have been printed and published by Kyoto Hanga-In? Actually, no it doesn't. Woodblock print artists and printers often kept their own seals in their possession. For example, when my co-researcher and I visited Chigasaki Museam of Art to examine the data they held, we were shown a box of seals that Koitsu had used throughout his career, and we were able to identify at least one as being the same seal that we had viewed on one of his published prints. Given the fact that Ono Tomisaburo worked for various publishers from the pre-war to the early post-war period, including Watanabe, Fusui Gabo, Takamizawa, Kondo Kihachiro, and Kyoto Hanga-In, it would appear to me that Ono kept his seals in his possession and used the same seal on Koitsu prints when he worked for Baba pre-war, and on Bakufu prints when he worked for Kyoto Hanga-In post-war.

Another point to keep in mind is that it is highly unlikely that any of Baba's woodblocks survived the fire-bombing and resulting extreme conflagration that occurred toward the end of WW2. My co-research Tosh Doi confirmed via Yokohama City Council that the street that housed Baba's printing workshop was completely destroyed by fire. It is possible that blocks for certain scenes were recarved, however we have not noted any prints showing signs of having been printed from recarved blocks. Perhaps the original blocks were stored for safe-keeping during the war and survived the conflagration? Yes this is also possible of course, but if this was the case we would expect to see a far larger number of Koitsu/Baba prints in circulation than we see now, considering the 1950s were boom years for shin-hanger publishers, and (I cannot stress this point too much) we would see some evidence of tourists having purchased Koitsu prints from Baba, as we see for all the other major publishers like Watanabe, Doi, and Kyoto Hanga-In. During 20 years of researching Koitsu and monitoring art dealer and auction websites I have not noted a single case of a purchaser of a Koitsu/Baba print that claimed the purchase was made post-war.

We have confirmed that Baba Nobuhiko reopened his business after the war and continued publishing from 1948 until at least 1956. It is important to note that none of these confirmed post-war editions contain the Onotomi printer seal, and given we have confirmed the Onotomi seal on a print housed in a Baba Seizando folder, and on various prints with Baba watermarked paper (found on most pre-war editions), I conclude that it is most likely (but not proven) that Baba-published prints that carry the Onotomi seal are pre-war editions, and furthermore it is most likely (but not proven) that all Baba-published Koitsu prints (apart from perhaps a few poorly carved postcards) were published pre-war.

Prints containing the Onotomi seal

First publishedPrinting Date (best estimate)ArtistTitlePublisherLinkNotes
19481948Sekido, IsaburoKenkiji TempleKondolinkNotes
1939pre-warTsuchiya KoitsuYomei GateBaba NobuhikolinkBaba watermarked paper
1939pre-warTsuchiya KoitsuSarusawa PondBaba Nobuhikolink
19391939<->1950Tsuchiya KoitsuSacred BridgeBaba NobuhikolinkNo publisher seal, so it is possible that this print was printed at Kyoto Hanga-In. However, it is most likely that all of Baba's woodblocks were destroyed by fire due to allied bombing of Yokohama toward the end of the war, so we feel it is most likely to be stock that was passed on to KHI by Baba.
1939pre-warTsuchiya KoitsuSacred BridgeBaba NobuhikolinkBaba watermarked paper
1939pre-warTsuchiya KoitsuAtamiBaba NobuhikolinkNotes
1938pre-warTsuchiya KoitsuBanyu RiverBaba NobuhikolinkHoused in it's original folder that contained the Baba Seizando publisher seal. Contains a different version of the Onotomi printer seal. Thus, almost certainly a pre-war strike.
1930s1930sTakahashi ShoteiBeauty Before the MirrorFusui GabolinkOnotomi seal at lower left
19321932Kobayakawa KiyoshiThe Mistress Okichi of ShimodaHasegawalink

The Publisher Doi
Publisher Seals Dating Publisher Comment
1930s to early 1940s
Doi Sadaichi publisher seals
1948 to about 1950
Doi Hangaten in-line publisher seals
1950 to 1963
(K35 = 1990s)
(K36 = 1950s to present)
Doi Hangaten offset publisher seals, with Harada as carver and either Yokoi, Ito, or Goto as printer.
1963 to about 1981
1981 to present
Doi Eiichi publisher seals
K41 = early Post-war
K71 = late 1930s
K41 = Tokyo-Do
K71 = Iida Kunitaro
Tokyo-Do and Iida Kunitaro were not publishers but distributors of Doi-published prints.
The Publisher Watanabe
The Publisher Watanabe
Publisher Seals Dating Publisher Comment
B to F = Pre-war
I = 1946 to 1957
J = from 1957
K = from 1989
Watanabe Hangaten Other Watanabe seals have not been found on Koitsu prints.
The Publisher Baba
The Publisher Baba Nobuhiko
Publisher Seals Dating Publisher Comment
K100 K101 K102 K103 K104 K105 K106 K107 K108 *1 *2 Pre-war
1930s to early 1940s
*1, *2 = pre-war, possibly postwar strike
Baba Nobuhiko (K100 to K105), Tokyo Hanga-In (K106, K107), Oedo Hanga Kenkyusho (K108) publisher seals *1, *2 = printer Ono Tomisaburou's "Onotomi" seal, used pre-war and possibly early post-war.

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