Re: original ukiyo-e prints

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Posted by Hans Olof Johansson on December 22, 1997 at 09:42:50:

In Reply to: original ukiyo-e prints posted by Del Fast on December 11, 1997 at 05:29:51:

: Good evening..
: I would like to know if anyone has information on how many prints were done by the original ukiyo-e artists, such as Yoshitoshi, Hiroshige, etc?
: I own several woodblock prints, some of them I believe to be original and would like to see if they are somewhat rare, or if there are hundreds or thousands somewhere out in
: the world! Thank you.

Sorry for the long delay in replying.

The actual production of the woodblock prints is a subject that most books on ukiyo-e treat only briefly, if at all.

Unlike most modern graphic artists, the ukiyo-e artists of the Edo and Meiji periods were not involved in the process of carving the woodblocks or printing and publishing the pictures. The organiser of this production line was in fact the publisher, who hired an artist to design the print, as he hired other people to carve the woodblocks and do the actual printing. This was probably the normal procedure, even if many of the great ukiyo-e masters also were able to take their own initiative in choosing themes for series and individual prints.

The original editions of these works were normally rather small, maybe a couple of hundred copies, as the woodblocks would wear out and the printing quality deteriorate after that. In many instances, however, you can clearly see that the blocks have been used long past their prime. If a print or a series became very popular, new woodblocks were carved to replace the worn out ones, and the total number of copies printed could then be very large. Many of the great works have also been reprinted during the 20th century, by companies like Watanabe, Uchida and Adachi. Some of these reprints are of a very high quality and can be difficult to tell apart from the originals, as they are produced with the same technique by skilled craftsmen. Normally, they should be clearly marked as reprints, but these marks can be removed or hidden.

Anyway, most Japanese woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries were produced in small quantities, and you can safely assume that only a very small part of the original edition has survived. The chance of finding two copies of the same print is rather slim, unless the author is one of the great masters, and you may well possess the only existing copy of some print. Unless it has some special interest, this does not do much for the value, though.

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