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Determining the Edition of a 100 Series Print

The information provided on this website is intended to be used both by people who have only a few prints as well as those possessing or assembling a large collection. To that end this article appears in two parts. The first part is designed to permit a quick determination of the edition, and the second goes into greater detail about the same processes. The two parts are meant to complement each other. Although it is possible to use part I by referring only to the illustrations in part II, using all of the criteria is a good idea whenever practical. The characteristics of edition I are well documented for all of the 100 Series designs. The quick keys and observations represent current (but not necessarily complete) knowledge of the later edition characteristics. It is probable that additional information, especially about later small print runs, will continue to be discovered; and those might require modifying the descriptions presented here.


Rakusan planned the 100 Series as a limited edition of two hundred copies of each of one hundred designs as woodblock prints to be sold only to subscribers who pre-paid for the entire series of fifty monthly installments in advance. However, demand for copies of individual designs soon led him to reprint popular designs as their stocks ran out. Eventually, 100 Series designs would have up to four clearly marked major editions which were printed and published within separate time periods:

Edition I (1929-1933)
Edition II (1935-1941)
Edition III (1948-1955)
Posthumous Unsōdō Edition IV (2021-?)

Rakusan never had to recarve any of his wooden printing blocks since his operation and output remained small and the blocks never wore out. All copies of each design were printed using the same image blocks, although the attribution markings varied by edition.

Determining the Edition Using the Watermark: Each Rakusan 100 Series print was originally distributed loose (unbound and unbacked), and was printed with wide margins. The lower margin is especially important since it contains a watermark which alone is nearly always sufficient to determine edition. (Check the watermark illustrations in Part II.) [Note that the title-caption printed in gray ink which also appears in the lower margin never varies and is not useful for this purpose.]

If the paper has an edition I watermark, the print is almost always edition I.*
If the paper has an edition II watermark, it is always edition II.
If the paper has an edition III watermark, it is almost always edition III**.

*The only known exception is a partial print run of 61 which used leftover edition I watermark paper in edition II. (See the discussion on the subpage for design 61).

**As of 2021 the only exceptions are the posthumous Unsōdō print runs of 2 and 68 which used leftover edition III watermark paper in edition IV. (See the discussion on the subpage for designs 2 and 68.)

Determining the Edition Using the Signature and Seal: Unfortunately, Western-style framing often covers the lower margin with a mat (or worse, cuts it off!). It is also notoriously difficult to read the watermark from a normal photograph. However, for most designs it is still possible to determine the edition from the signature and seal combinations. Note that a few of these combinations occur in more than one edition, and for those the edition will remain ambiguous without reference to the watermark. (Check the signature illustrations and seal illustrations in Part II.)

If a copy has a signature with three characters, it is almost always from edition I. However, caution is necessary since there are a few examples of signatures with three characters which were reused in edition II, and two which were repeated in edition IV.
If a copy has a signature with five characters, it is not edition I or edition IV, and it is either edition II or edition III.
If a copy has the five characters signature
楽山篁子生, Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei, it is either edition II or edition III.
If a copy has the five characters signature
三拙庵楽山, San Setsu An Raku-zan, it is edition III.
With the exception of design 95 which never has a signature, lack of a signature indicates a copy which was never intended to be circulated individually. For example only the last stage of a process set shows the signature.

If a copy has either seal G or seal H, it is edition I.
If a copy has seal A, it is either edition I or edition II (or edition IV, for design 68 only).
If a copy has seal F, it is either edition I or edition II (or edition IV, for design 2 only).
If a copy has seal B, it is not edition I or edition IV, and it is either edition II or edition III.

Although the signature and seal criteria have been listed separately, it is always a good idea to check the entire combination to help eliminate ambiguity. For example, although both are individually ambiguous a five characters signature with seal A (or seal F) can only be edition II, etc.


100 SERIES EDITIONS: The three editions are separated temporally as well as by their attribution markings.

Edition I (1929-1933): This first edition includes not only the first print run of each of the designs but also any reprintings done before the last of the one hundred designs had been published. Up until the middle of 1933 Rakusan reprinted certain popular designs up to two or three times in full two hundred copy print runs. He usually took great pains to insure that copies from these early reprintings were as similar as possible to those produced in the first print run. As a result, nearly all edition I copies of the same designs look alike. (However, there are a very few designs, including 2, 6, and 50, where printing flaws were sometimes corrected and somethimes not. These discrepancies may distinguish different edition I print runs.)

Edition I is the only one in which all one hundred designs were represented. Several of the more complex designs proved to be uneconomical to print, and those were never reprinted. A few other designs were apparently less popular, and a need to print additional copies for sale never materialized.

Edition I copies of each design are overtly marked by use of particular signature, seal, and watermark combinations which are unique to that design during edition I. Note that the illustrations on the 100 Series gallery pages on this website are exclusively of copies with edition I markings, and those are also the main illustrations on each of the individual design subpages. Any differences from those markings illustrated indicate a different, later edition.

Edition II (1935-1941): During 1933-1935 Rakusan's studio operations were concentrated on producing his next publications, the Fan Series and the 36 Series. When Rakusan resumed reprinting 100 Series designs in 1935, he modified the markings of each design so that the signature, seal, and watermark combinations are unique to edition II. Early edition II reprintings are otherwise closely similar to their edition I versions, and were apparently produced in the same two hundred copy print runs.

There are actually four sub-editions within edition II, but except for the last one, their temporal sequence is not well understood. World War II actually began in Asia in 1937, and the sequestration of war materials soon made it impossible for Rakusan to obtain many of his familiar supplies. As those ran out, he was forced to make substitutions and to reduce the number of copies in each print run. Several of the last edition II reprintings from the period 1938-1941 have fewer (and sometimes different) colors, lack glitter or metallic inks, and some were printed using significantly simpler techniques. Different weights of paper from different suppliers were occasionally used. The war also drastically curtailed sales and eventually forced Rakusan to shut down his studio and close out edition II.

Note that designs were not reprinted in edition II if Rakusan still had sufficient stocks of edition I copies (or if the designs were too difficult to reprint economically). Because their print runs were small, it is likely some additional examples of late edition II reprintings remain to be discovered.

Edition III (1948-1955): After World War II whenever his generally poor health permitted, Rakusan again began issuing 100 Series reprints. Rakusan never again worked with any helpers, and he was forced to reduce the amount and complexity of his printing operations to what he could handle alone. Many of his pre-war supplies and suppliers were no longer available, and Rakusan had to make many changes to the appearance and production of the prints.

Rakusan was well aware that the quality of this postwar printing would not be equal to what he was able to accomplish before the war. Accordingly, he again modified the signature, seal, and watermark combinations to those unique to edition III. Edition III reprinting continued up to 1955 when Rakusan closed his studio permanently and ceased all printing activity.

Not all designs were reprinted in edition III, and because all edition III print runs were small, many examples of edition III designs remain to be discovered.

Edition IV (2021- ?): In 2015 the famous Kyoto publishing house Unsōdō Co., Ltd. (芸艸堂), bought all of the original Rakusan printing blocks and several example prints. In 2021 Unsōdō began issuing for sale reprinted copies of designs 2 and 68. These new copies were printed for Unsōdō using the original Rakusan blocks by the well-known contemporary Kyoto woodblock printer, 中山誠人, Nakayama Masato. This new posthumous edition IV is readily identifiable by the Unsōdō attribution markings printed in the lower portion of the left margin. The inscription reads: 芸艸堂版 摺 中山, unsoudou-ban suri nakayama, 'Unsōdō edition, printing: Nakayama'.

100 SERIES WATERMARKS: In the lower margin below the image in each print there is a watermark (technically a countermark) which is almost always diagnostic of the edition of the print. The watermark appears as a translucent set of kanji characters which is often overprinted in part by the gray ink of the title-caption. The watermark characters are large, 3 centimeters square, and are about the same distance apart. They can best be seen by holding an unmounted sheet up to a strong light. If the print has been framed or backed, the characters may still be seen in oblique light by observing the changes to the paper surface. There are three different watermark texts (one for each of the three original editions). Four similar but slightly different fonts are used (edition III uses two fonts; the others one each).

All of the watermarks are designed to be read from right to left, and nearly all watermarks are oriented properly on the paper relative to the later woodblock printing of the title-caption text and image. However, the paper looks and feels the same on both faces, and in a few rare examples the later woodblock printing was accidentally done on the wrong side of the paper. In those instances the watermark is mirror-image backwards when seen from the printed face of the paper.

Edition I Watermark: The edition I watermark, 楽山花鳥畫譜, Raku-zan Ka-chou Ga-fu, is Rakusan's original title for the entire series, here translated as Rakusan Flower and Bird Print Series. This title also appears on other material associated with the set. The six characters in this watermark are read from right to left. All edition I prints have the edition I watermark.

However, very late in edition II Rakusan printed some copies of edition II reprints on his leftover stock of paper with edition I watermarks. Currently, the only known examples are from a partial print run of 61. (See the full discussion on the subpage for design 61.) Regardless of the paper used, these edition II copies of 61 have the same later edition signature and seal combination and therefore cannot be mistaken for edition I copies.

Edition I Watermark

Accidentally Reversed Edition I Watermark (rare)

Edition II Watermark: The edition II watermark 楽山篁子生, Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei, combines the two most common print name aliases. The five characters are read from right to left. All currently documented examples of the edition II watermark are properly oriented, but a few accidentally reversed copies may exist. An edition II watermark is found only on edition II reprints.

As noted above, some late edition II prints were printed on leftover stock of paper with edition I watermarks. Those late edition II prints always have edition II signature and seal markings.

Edition II Watermark

Edition III Watermark: The edition III watermark 白蛙老楽山, Haku-a-ro Raku-zan, includes the late print name alias roughly meaning 'White Frog Old-Man'. The five characters are read from right to left.

At the time the Rakusan studio closed in 1955, there was a supply of unused paper with edition III watermarks. In 2015 Unsōdō purchased this leftover stock of edition III paper. In 2021 they began using it to reprint their posthumous edition IV of designs 2 and 68 with different attribution markings (q.v.).

The same edition III watermark text occurs in two different font variations, probably indicating at least two different paper sources. All known designs with edition III and edition IV reprints have copies with the regular edition III watermark in the font shown immediately below.

Edition III Watermark

Exceptionally, design 47 (see also below) also has a second, differently marked, (and perhaps later) edition III version which instead has the edition III watermark (variant font) either properly oriented or reversed.

Edition III Watermark (variant font)

Accidentally Reversed Edition III Watermark (variant font) (rare)

100 SERIES SIGNATURE AND SEAL COMBINATIONS: There are five different signature and seal combinations used during edition I. However, each design always has the same signature and seal combination on all copies of that particular design. That is mostly also true within the later editions. However, a few designs have variants with two different signature and seal combinations within the same later edition. Since all of the illustrations in the main image gallery are of edition I copies, any difference in signature or seal from those shown must indicate a later edition.

100 Series Signatures: Rakusan's 100 Series primary signatures are almost always woodblock-printed. However, late in edition III Rakusan added his 三拙庵楽山, San Setsu An Raku-zan, signature in his own handwriting on a few different designs. The kanji characters that form the signatures on ninety-seven of the designs are always in black ink just above or to the left of the red seal within the image area of the print. Exceptionally, the signatures on designs 53 and 96 are always in gold ink instead of black; and on print design 95 (which always has a gold seal instead of a red one) there is never an accompanying signature. (Note that in the lower margin the horizontal row of characters printed in gray ink are the title-caption for the print - not a signature.)




San Setsu An
Rakuzan (var.)

San Setsu An
Rakuzan (var.)

100 Series Signatures
signature number of characters edition I edition II edition III edition IV
楽山居, Raku-zan Kyo 3 x x (rare) - x
楽山作, Raku-zan Saku 3 x - - -
楽山篁子生, Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei 5 - x x -
三拙庵楽山, San Setsu An Raku-zan 5 - - x -

The signature 楽山居, Raku-zan Kyo, is usually an indicator of an edition I print. It was the original edition I signature on seventy-seven of the one hundred designs (1-14, 16-78) where it occurs with one of seal F, G, or A. It was also reused with seal A in edition II in conjunction with an edition II watermark; and with seals F and A in edition IV in conjunction with an edition III watermark.

The signature 楽山作, Raku-zan Saku, occurs only on edition I prints. It was the original signature on twenty-two of the one hundred designs (15, 79-94, 96-100) where it only occurs with seal A.

[Note that the one remaining edition I design (95) never has a signature.]

The signature 楽山篁子生, Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei, is by far the most commonly encountered signature used on reprints in both edition II and edition III. It usually occurs with seal B, but in edition II there are several designs where it instead occurs with seal F or seal A. Although this signature was never used during edition I in the 100 Series, it is by far the most used signature in edition I of the subsequent 36 Series.

The signature 三拙庵楽山, San Setsu An Raku-zan, is uncommonly found only on edition III copies and only occurs with seal B. Unlike the other 100 Series signatures which are woodblock-printed, this signature is only known in handwritten form.

100 Series Seals: The seals used by Rakusan have been assigned letter designations to make it easier to refer to them. Some of seals are restricted to a single edition and others occur in more than one. [Note that the seals shown here are not all to the same scale. See also the separate article on Rakusan Seals for additional seal illustrations.]

Seal F

Seal G

Seal A

Seal H

Seal B

Seal C

100 Series Seals
seal letter edition I edition II edition III edition IV
F x x (uncommon) - x
G x - - -
A x x (uncommon) - x
H x - - -
B - x x -
C x (secondary only) x (secondary only) - -

In edition I seal F appears on the first ten designs (1-10). In edition II seal F is also used on some of these same designs but with a different signature, as well as on a few other designs which had different seals in edition I. It is also found on the one design reprinted in edition IV.

Eight of the next nine designs in edition I have seal G (11-14, 16-19). During the same time period seal G was also used on each of the thirty-six 100 Series Alternate designs. Seal G was never used in reprinting later editions.

All but one of the remaining designs in edition I have seal A (15, 20-94, 96-100) for an edition total of eighty-one seal A designs. Seal A also occasionally occurs in edition II where unusually it has either of two different signatures. It is also found on the one design reprinted in edition IV.

Seal H is the only 100 Series seal printed in gold ink or occurring without an accompanying signature. It occurs only on edition I of 95, a design which was apparently never reprinted. The other ninety-nine designs have red seals in all editions.

Seal B was never used during edition I. However, it is the predominate seal used in later edition reprintings. In fact to date all documented individual edition III prints have seal B. Seal B is also the most commonly encountered seal used in the subsequent 36 Series.

The preceding seals are all primary seals which were woodblock-printed at the same time as the production of the design image. Unlike those, seal C is used in the 100 Series only as a hand-applied secondary addendum without a directly associated signature. It is included in this list because (like the primary seal) it is also included within the image area. (Secondary seals applied as part of a personal dedication appear only in the print margins and are discussed elsewhere.)

Rakusan had used seal C as a primary seal in 1934-1935 on newly published prints in his Fan Series and 36 Series. Probably either just before or just after World War II, Rakusan revived seal C as a secondary addendum placed within the image area on a group of 100 Series prints. On these copies a secondary seal C has been added to otherwise normal edition I and edition II prints which already had primary signature and seal markings. The group was broken up, and at least two copies were in a museum collection by 1951. The circumstances of this use of seal C are unknown, but because no duplicated designs have been documented, it is possible that only one 100 Series set was involved.

COLOR AND TECHNIQUE VARIATIONS: There are generally no (or only very minor) variations in the printed image between edition I and early edition II copies of the same 100 Series design. The ink colors are usually the same and the few differences are ones of technique. As war approached Rakusan found it difficult to obtain his accustomed supplies. As a result some later edition II prints may lack metallic inks, have less (or no) metallic glitter scattering, and/or substitute different ink colors and types of papers. After World War II many of the edition III images were routinely produced using ink colors and techniques strikingly different from those used earlier. These variations are especially obvious in the choices of backgrounds.

In the main image gallery all of the 100 Series illustrations are from edition I. However, making conclusions about observed differences in color using photographs is chancy since many colors look very different depending on the lighting. Many apparently different colors are actually the same when photographed under the same conditions. Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to include images of all known color and techniques variations on each of the subpages, and those will be added as opportunity arises.

Here is one of several examples of a design where the colors are sufficiently different to be edition-diagnostic:

47 (edition I)

47 (edition III-a)

47 (edition III-b)

PAPERS: The paper used in edition I, in addition to having the same watermark, is all of a uniform weight, color, and finish. During the later portion of the edition II period Rakusan had troubles getting his preferred paper stock, and many different papers were used. Some of these papers were noticeably heavier and stiffer than the type used for edition I. The two papers used in edition III are similar to each other and to the edition I paper. Leftover edition III paper was used to print edition IV.

LATER SECONDARY ADDENDA: Primary writings on Rakusan woodblock prints are those produced as part of the printing process used to make the image. These include the watermark, as well as the woodblock-printed title-caption, seal, and signature (if any). Secondary addenda are any writings which have been applied later, and in some cases much later. In addition to the extra seal C noted above, there are also dedications, dates, and translations. Two additional and much more common types of secondary addenda described here were added for different, quite independent, reasons. Copies known to have been distributed during the edition I period never have them; so these represent practices which only first appear later on. Note that the presence of secondary addenda does not necessarily indicate anything about when the original copies were actually printed or sold - only approximately when and how they were intended to be distributed.

City-Name Stamps: Around the time of World War II, Rakusan was required to add a maker's stamp to prints he was selling, but the exact details of when and why are uncertain. The stamp consists of a vertical column of tiny machine-made characters (rather like a miniscule typewriter font) which read from top to bottom: 京都 土屋楽山, Kyouto - Tsuchiya Rakuzan (Kyoto,the city where Rakusan lived, and the Japanese form of his name). (There is also an extremely rare variant with seven characters, but the extra one is unclear.) This stamp is always in red ink and is located in one of the corners of the design within the image area.

100 Series edition I and edition II copies known to have been distributed before 1941 never have this stamp. Postwar Rakusan souvenir prints (unrelated to this series) and at least some (if not all) of the 100 Series copies distributed in 1947 have city-name stamps; but at least by March 1948 city-name stamps are no longer used. Although 1947-1948 apparently marks the end of the period that city-name stamps were required, it is not currently known when they were first mandated. City-name stamps were applied to some edition I and some edition II copies from back stock in anticipation of their sale during this interval. However, not all prints marked with city-name stamps were distributed during this time. Some were sold later, and others remained unsold.

Rakusan did not begin producing edition III versions of 100 Series designs until sometime after city-name stamps were no longer required. Therefore, any copy which has a city-name stamp cannot be from edition III. Because some signature and seal markings are shared by both edition II and edition III, the presence of a city-name stamp can be used identify that copy as edition II by ruling out an edition III printing.

Cursive Romaji Signatures: Rakusan regularly added a secondary handwritten romaji signature to prints intended to be sold through Walter Foster. (See the Foster article.) The art name Rakusan was written in cursive Western script, most typically using a nearly dry brush and dilute black sumi ink and placed just inside the image area along the lower margin.

Rakusan used this particular method of signing prints only during the period when Foster was acting as his sales agent for woodblock prints in the USA, perhaps as early as 1948 but primarily in the 1950s and perhaps into the early 1960s. During the Foster era this Rakusan signature was pre-applied to selected small batches of prints intended to be sent on to Foster. Because Rakusan continued to sell his prints directly to studio visitors, copies from the same print run were sold either with or without this signature depending on what was readily at hand at the time.

Foster Rakusan signatures were added to prewar edition I and edition II designs for which Rakusan still had a large enough number of copies to be sold through Foster without reprinting. Since Foster was a strong financial supporter for the edition III reprinting, it is not surprising that the majority of edition III copies have Foster Rakusan signatures. Some copies with cursive romaji signatures were left over when the Foster arrangement was ended. These continued to be distributed from the Rakusan studio (often years later), and others remained uncirculated. However, there are no records of such signatures being applied to additional prints for sale to later visitors.

Although the later signatures for Foster (including all of those for edition III) have a loose, assembly line sort of informality, the earliest of these signatures are much more carefully executed. The earlier lettering is darker, smaller, and is in a more calligraphic style which closely resembles signatures seen before the war on winter cards, and on dedications and translations in pencil or pen after the war up to 1947-1948. Unlike the later Foster version which is invariably within the image area, the early signature versions were instead placed below the image within the bottom margin. In addition to the Rakusan signature the Rakusan Tsuchiya version also occurs during this early period. The early signature version is restricted to edition I and edition II copies of particular designs printed before World War II. At least some of these early signatures were applied at the time of sale while the customer watched.

ASSOCIATED MATERIALS: FOLIO ENVELOPES & COLOPHONS: For local subscribers and clients Rakusan had his major series prints hand delivered packaged loose in large red Manila-paper folding folio envelopes. The folios were large enough that the prints would be able to be delivered without being creased or folded. Unfortunately, these envelopes were usually discarded as packaging, and few have survived.

On the outside of the envelope was a woodblock-printed series title label based on Rakusan's own calligraphy. Many subscribers removed and retained these labels for later reuse as titles on boxes or albums used to store their Rakusan prints:

Series Title from Folio Envelope: 楽山花鳥畵譜 (楽山花鳥画譜), Rakuzan Kachou Gafu (reading right-to-left)

Pasted onto the inside of the folio envelope (or under the flap) was a specially machine-printed colophon label which included a table of contents for the current installment, a series description, printing and publication information with dates, and a preview list of the contents of the next installment. The very few colophons which have survived are extremely important for establishing the timelines and procedures and for for determining the history of the first print runs of the various designs. However, because nearly all are no longer in direct association with their original prints, they are typically not available to help date individual copies.

ASSOCIATED MATERIALS: 100 SERIES ALTERNATES: Beginning in September 1929 and continuing through February 1931, two preview prints were added to each of the regular installments delivered to all subscribers (see 100 Series Alternates). Only enough prints were produced to distribute to current subscribers, and the designs were never reprinted. There is no evidence that any copies of the 100 Series Alternates were ever separately sold. Because there was apparently no other way to obtain the preview prints, their direct association with particular collections of 100 Series prints indicates that those 100 Series prints are from original subscribers and probably represent first print run copies.

© 2016 (original © 2005; revisions © 2014, 2019, 2020, 2021) Dr Michael J P Nichols