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(This article is incomplete and will eventually include additional sections.)

Seals

This article presents every seal currently known to have been used by Rakusan. Also included are seals of other persons occasionally associated with Rakusan artworks or with artworks sometimes attributed to Rakusan. To make referring to the various seals easier, each of the seals have been arbitrarily assigned unique designations based on letters of the alphabet. These same designations are used in all of the research presented on this site.

The seal images are not all shown at the same scale. Seals on black backgrounds appear as monochrome negative versions of the same seal on light or polychrome backgrounds. Both of these versions are here considered to be the same basic seal. The same polychrome seals can vary in hue from vermilion red to brown depending on the particular design, but other colors are found on a very few specific designs. Further discussion of the relative sizes, distributions, and other characteristics of each seal will eventually appear in the text section immediately following this table.


RAKUSAN SEALS


A

A

B

B

B2

C

C

C

W


D

E

F

G


H

H

[I]

I

J

K

L

M

N

O

P

Q

Q

[R]

R

S

T

U

V

W (see after C)

X

X

Y

Y

Z

AA

BB

SEALS OF RAKUSAN PRINT COLLECTORS

These seals have nothing to do with Rakusan and were applied by later owners of the prints to which they were applied. If anyone knows who these collectors were, or anything about their collections, please contact us.

Collector 1

Collector 2

Collector 3

Collector 4

Collector 5

SUSPECT ATTRIBUTIONS: 洋草花譜, You Souka Fu, Western Flowers Series

These 'Rakusan' and 'So-un' seals sometimes appear on different copies of the same designs in this series - which makes correct attribution impossible without additional as yet unavailable information. The purported 'Rakusan' seal is anomalous in that it is the only seal in which any of his names read left-to-right. The kanji in all undisputed Rakusan seals read right-to-left and/or top-to-bottom. The Kyoto publisher of Western Flowers Series, Maria Gabo, added these seals later on their own initiative and without adequate care as to accuracy.

The 'Takemura' seal (and accompanying 'Hodo' signature) were later mistakenly added to unmarked Maria Gabo prints stored for sale at H. Takemura & Co. in Yokohama by Takemura workers.


'Rakusan'

'So-un'

'Takemura' [for 'Hodo']

DISCUSSION:

Seals are classified as primary when they are produced as part of the production process for the artwork, and secondary when they are applied later, often when the artwork is distributed. Some copies may have both primary and secondary seals.

Rakusan used at least one of his personal seals as a mark of authorship and approval on every individual artwork he distributed. Aside from the intermediate stages of process sets, the only Rakusan artworks which do not have seals are ones which he retained in his personal possession. Therefore if one encounters a purported 'Rakusan' artwork which does not have a seal, that is immediate grounds for concern about attribution or authenticity. Rakusan frequently used the same seal design for different purposes and printed the seal using different methods.

On woodblock prints the primary Rakusan seals (and any signatures) are almost always also woodblock printed. He carved a new version of the primary seal into the wooden block for each different design. Therefore, each of these seals varies at least slightly from design to design, even when carved to the same pattern. Rakusan also carved his own stamp seals which he applied as primary seals to original artworks and correspondence, and as secondary seals to woodblock prints. Variations based on the amount of ink applied to the stamp seal also are to be expected.

Rakusan seal usage can be classified into two types: major and minor. Rakusan tended to use the same seal on all new artworks produced during specific periods of time. The seal characteristically used on the large majority of the artworks during a particular time is defined as a major seal and gives its name to that seal use period. Rare, exceptional use of a different seal during a major seal use period marks that seal as a minor seal. (For example, during the last half of the 100 Series all but one of the prints appeared with seal A, the exception was one print with seal H. Therefore, seal H is identified as a minor seal used during the Seal A Period when seal A was the major seal used on new artworks.)

It is important to recognize that on woodblock prints the seal used reflects the period during which the wooden block containing the seal was carved. Although many Rakusan prints were carved, printed, published, and distributed within a single month, technical problems and sequence order changes meant that sometimes prints were published significantly later than when their blocks were carved. For example, the Fan Series and 36 Series often had earlier-carved designs held over until all of the designs in their themes or installments were ready to publish. In fact themes may contain designs carved during from one to four different seal use periods. Because some designs were published and circulated before other designs carved up to several months earlier, absolute dating of seal use periods cannot rely solely on the dates of publication for the designs bearing a particular seal.

THE INDIVIDUAL SEALS:

Note again that the seal designations are arbitrary, and with few exceptions do not represent a temporal order. The discussion below is arranged in the order the seals appear in the illustrations above.

Seal A: Major seal A is known only as a primary seal. The first documented use of seal A on a newly published woodblock print is 100 Series design 15 published in December 1929, and the last is Fan Series design 110-3 published in June 1934. All examples of seal A on new woodblock print designs are believed to have been carved within the Seal A Period which extended from late 1929 through the third quarter of 1933. Seal A is the predominate seal in edition I of the 100 Series (81 of 100 total designs), and occurs also in the early designs of the Fan Series (30 of 180) and edition I of the 36 Series (6 of 36). Seal A was also used on a few edition II reprints of 100 Series designs subsequent to the Seal A Period. Seal A is also found on three undated paintings presumably created during this same period. On one of these paintings seal A is a dual marking with seal S, one of only two examples of Rakusan using two primary seals. Minor seals within the Seal A Period include seal H, probably also seal I, and seal S.

Seal B: The first documented uses of major seal B on woodblock prints are seven Fan Series designs and all three 36 Series designs published in installment three of those series in May 1934. The last documented use on a new woodblock print is on souvenir print SP1 in early 1947. Seal B is the predominate seal in edition I of the 36 Series (21 of 36 total designs), and occurs also in the later-carved designs of the Fan Series (36 of 180). All examples of seal B on new woodblock prints are believed to have been carved within the Seal B Period which extended from the beginning of the second quarter of 1934 through the final closure of the Rakusan studio in 1955. Seal B is also the most used seal on original paintings which were created during this period with currently twenty-three known examples. Seal B appears on most later edition 100 Series reprints, including all edition III examples and almost all later edition 36 Series reprints. Except for a very few examples of secondary use of seal B with souvenir prints, seal B is always a primary seal.

Seal B2: Major seal B is made up of two square subparts. Minor seal B2 is the lower half of seal B used as an independent seal. Since seal B2 is known only from four winter card woodblock prints, it probably represents an attempt to scale down seal B for smaller format use. Seal B2 is first documented on the two winter cards from 1937, and the other two cards are undated but believed also to be prior to World War II.

Seal C: The first documented uses of major seal C on woodblock prints are eight Fan Series designs published in installment three of that series in May 1934. The last documented use of seal C on a new woodblock print is a reduced-size version on one winter card WC1935 which was sent out for the winter holiday season in late 1935. The last full size versions of seal C on new woodblock prints are fourteen Fan Series designs published in installment twelve of that series in March 1935 (or slightly later). All full size examples of seal C on new woodblock prints are believed to have been carved within the Seal C Period which extended from the last quarter of 1933 only through the first quarter of 1934. Many examples of seal C designs were held for up to a year or more after their wooden blocks were carved before publication. Seal C was subsequently used as a secondary seal on one set of 100 Series designs between the late 1930s and the immediate postwar period. Seal C is also found on ten original paintings which, although not overtly dated, are believed to have been created during this same period or shortly thereafter. Minor seal D is best assigned to the Seal C Period.

[For Seal W see below in alphabetical order.]

Seal D: The only documented use of minor seal D on a new woodblock print is 36 Series design 124 published in installment eight of that series in November 1934. However, it is considered to be a minor seal within the seal C period. Seal D is also found on four undated paintings, some of which may be from as early as the late 1920s.

Seal E: Seal E is not known from any woodblock prints, but it appears on five original paintings, some from as early as 1928.

Seal F: The only documented use of major seal F on new woodblock prints are the first ten 100 Series designs published between April and September 1929. During the early part of edition II of the 100 Series several reprinted designs also use seal F. No original paintings with seal F have been found.

Seal G: The first documented uses of major seal G on woodblock prints are on the first two 100 Series Alternate designs published in September 1929. Seal G also occurs on eight 100 Series designs published from October 1929 through February 1930 (or slightly later). All the rest of the thirty-six 100 Series Alternate designs also have seal G and were printed during this seal G period, although the last ones were not distributed until February 1931 (or slightly later). No original paintings with seal G have been found.

Seal H: Minor seal H is first documented on a new woodblock print on 100 Series design 95 published in April 1933 (or slightly later). Seal H also occurs on three Fan Series designs, the last of which were published in installment seven in October 1934, long after the wooden blocks were carved in the third quarter of 1933. Seal H is a minor seal occuring within the major seal A period. Seal H is also found on one original painting where it is a dual marking with seal S, one of only two examples of Rakusan using two primary seals. It is possible that seal I is actually an unintentional variant of seal H.

Seal I: The only documented use of minor seal I on a new woodblock print is on a single Fan Series design published in installment seven of that series in October 1934. It is possible that seal I is actually an unintentional variant of seal H which would place it within the major seal A period (see above). No original paintings with seal I have been found, and no polychrome version of seal I is known.

Seal J: Although it is one of the best known Rakusan seals, seal J is not known from any woodblock prints. It is familiar from its publication accompanying a text on page two of the Foster booklet which dates from the early 1950s. A single original painting with seal J from an undetermined earlier period has also been found.

Seal K: Only one example of seal K is known, an original painting.

Seal L: Only one example of seal L is known, the prototype painting for souvenir print SP2.

Seal M: Only one example of seal M is known, an original painting.

Seal N: Only two examples of seal N on new woodblock prints are known, the undated early winter card "WC4" and one of the color morphs of souvenir print SP2. No original paintings with seal N have been found.

Seal O: Only one example of seal O is known, an original painting.

Seal P: Only one design using seal P is known, the isolated and somewhat unusual peacock woodblock print T1.

Seal Q: Although it is apparently a minor seal, the exact position of seal Q in the woodblock print sequence is uncertain. Seal Q occurs on three Fan Series designs, the earliest in installment four in June 1934, and the last in installment eleven in or after February 1935. On an undated copy of souvenir print SP2a a hand-applied seal Q functions as a primary seal although it accompanies a dedication. There are also several examples of seal Q used as a secondary seal in dedications on at least two other kinds of woodblock prints. Some of these dedications are securely dated to 1947 and 1948, and stylistically the dedicated copy of SP2a also belongs to this later period.

Seal R: Although it is apparently a minor seal, the exact position of seal R in the woodblock print sequence is uncertain. Seal R occurs only on four Fan Series designs, the earliest in installment four in June 1934, and the last in installment twelve in or after March 1935. No original paintings with seal R have been found, and no polychrome version of seal R is known.

Seal S: Four examples of seal S are known, all original paintings. Two of these paintings are the only examples of Rakusan using two primary seals, one example of seal S with seal A and another of seal S with seal H. This suggests that use of seal S should also be assigned to the Seal A Period of these accompanying seals.

Seal T: There are many examples of seal T used as a secondary seal, all of them in dedications on souvenir print SP1. Most of these are securely dated to the single year 1948, but a few later examples in 1950 and 1956 are also known. Seal T is not currently documented as a primary seal on any artworks.

Seal U: Only one example of seal U is known, an original painting.

Seal V: Only one design using seal V is known, the first edition of winter card woodblock print design "WC5".

Seal W: Only one design using seal W is known, the winter card woodblock print design WC1936 sent out in 1936. Tiny seal W is so blurred that it likely will never be read. It is included in the chart above out of alphabetical order to facilitate comparison with the miniature version of seal C.

Seal X and Seal Y: These two seals always occur together on woodblock-printed, calligraphic title labels for the three main series, the 100 Series, the Fan Series, and the 36 Series between 1929 and 1935. These labels occur only on delivery envelopes and on book covers, and they are not known to have been used on other artworks. Seal X appears before the title in upper right. Seal Y is after the title at lower left. The seal X and seal Y title labels were originally associated with colophons including seal Z.

Seal Z: The only known use of seal Z is on delivery envelope colophons where it appears as part of the copyright statement between 1929 and 1935. It is not known to occur on any artworks. The seal Z colophons were originally associated with the title labels including seal X and seal Y.

Seal AA: Only one example of seal AA is known. It appears on the reverse of a publicity postcard as part of a secondary dedication text from circa the late 1960s.

Seal BB: Only one example of seal BB is known, an original painting from part of a collection presented in 1940 but probably dating from several years earlier.

[To be continued....]


© 2005, © 2016 (with interim revisions 2006, 2011, 2015, 2018) Dr Michael J P Nichols