ALERT - Faked Watanabe Early "C-seal" Found!!

(Tokyo -- February 1, 2003)

Faking pieces of art is as old as the art world itself. This applies to Japanese prints as well, be it old "ukiyo-e" prints from the 1700-1800's, or as we have found out recently, faked seals on "shin-hanga" prints of the 1900's. In the field of shin-hanga -- and of course also for other prints -- typically "early" or "first editions" are more appreciated and subsequently command higher prices than for later editions or posthumous prints. Particularly, this rule applies for prints published by the Tokyo-based publisher Watanabe. Here, the earliest Watanabe-published editions, made before The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, deservedly fetch the highest prices, followed by the pre-War prints with their typical variety of "oblong" Watanabe publisher's seals (which we now assume are known to the readers of this article). Finally, post-War editions of prints from the Watanabe Publishing House bring still lower prices compared with the early versions.

(Before continuing, this discussion again assumes that the reader of this article has some "reasonable knowledge" of the various seals used by Watanabe, along with an understanding of "where and why" these various publisher's seals appearance would be expected to be appropriate. To learn more, please see our reference article titled "Watanabe Publisher Seals." It is further assumed that the reader also realizes that while print's "margin-dating" and "titles" are permanently carved INTO a print's black "key-block," the typically encountered "margin publisher's seals" (as well as "carver/printer seals") are HAND-APPLIED, being added to the print's margins once the printing of a print's many colored blocks has been completed.)

Unfortunately -- and complicating matters somewhat for collectors -- a small portion of the prints published by Watanabe (being mainly Hasui prints) do not carry any publisher's seal. Our considerable experience tells us that, having judged many of these prints from both their paper and condition, many appear to be post-War and are therefore often available at relatively modest prices. As a result, these (unsealed) print's pricing and occasional availability also makes them "inviting and tempting" to shady sellers who may try to increase these print's value by putting an appropriate early "pre-War" (counterfeit) seal onto their empty margin. Additionally it seems, today's digital imaging and printing technology now perhaps makes this deception easier to achieve.

Already in recent years, we have occasionally doubted the "authenticity" of several "old Hasui prints" offered at various Internet auctions, as "things just didn't seem quite right." In several cases, we have observed where a pre-War Watanabe seal (usually the Watanabe "C" seal, or so-called "Sausage-Seal") was seen on a print TOGETHER with a round 6mm seal, which itself is definitely a post-War seal. In another case, an "oblong" Watanabe cartouche was placed onto the verso of the print. "Hmmm.... strange" we thought--but still, it could have been correct. After all, we certainly could not exclude the possibility that a pre-War print with the "oblong" cartouche, which was kept safely by Watanabe during the War, might not also have received an additional 6mm seal at a later date. Similarly, we could also not exclude the possibility that the verso-stamped print, by chance, was carelessly stamped on its reverse side.

Now however (in early February 2003), we have found a piece of evidence in Tokyo which, without any doubts, alerts us to the fact that Hasui prints carrying a faked Watanabe seal do exist in the market!!

Want to know why we are so sure?

Well, that is easy. Faking a print's seals certainly requires not only some knowledge of HOW TO DO it in terms of craftsmanship, but, on top of that, also some knowledge of WHERE TO APPLY. And, in the case of this newly discovered print, our "culprit" simply did not fulfill the latter condition. His mistake: He put the WATANABE seal on a Hasui print, which for more than seven decades the blocks of which have been owned and continuously published by the DOI Publishing House!! As an analogy, this would be the equivalent of faking Dollar denominations onto pre-existing Yen bills--or (for you "car guys") putting a "Ford nameplate" onto a "Chevy" automobile. Just makes no sense at all.

This seal-forged Hasui print (seen left), mentioned as D-6 in the Narazaki listing, is titled "Spring Moon" and in brackets "Ninomiya Beach." It's original margin-dating is "Showa 7," or 1932.

Usually prints from the Doi Publishing House are seen to also carry the publisher's, carver's and printer's seals in the left lower margin, as well as often having the typical round "Doi watermark" in the upper left corner. However, recently many Doi prints without any seal, often in a lower quality, float the market. For cost reasons (as we have learned directly from Mrs. Doi) paper without a watermark did get used occasionally. Both these facts further invite forgery.

If this was a print of the 1929 to 1941 period--an experienced collector would perhaps have noticed this deception immediately, provided he held the print in hand. This print's paper is thinner than the typical Hasui prints of the 1930's, and lacks that certain "age-toning" which usually exists as a matter of natural paper aging that occurs after 60-plus years. Finally, the quality of the impression is a bit shy from that of an early original print of the 1930's period.

The "faked seal" itself appears somewhat "soft", not really stamped with crisp lines. Instead, it rests just on the surface of the paper, perhaps done with a rubber-stamp or by ink-jet printing.

The greatest risks and dangers which we see are not in the direct "over-the-counter" art business done in a shop or gallery directly between seller and buyer, but rather, sales conducted over the Internet. Here, if you don't really see the print, do not hold it in your hand, do not feel it, smell it or whatever else, there is always a certain risk remaining -- unless the seller (as we do for all sales here at Ukiyoe-Gallery) offers you a full refund for the print purchased without any reason.


It seems, that the seller of this doubtful piece -- a Tokyo-based art dealer of definitely a high reputation (name withheld) -- also himself felt suspicious about this print. Although he mentioned Watanabe as publisher, he carefully stated on the print's sales label in the right part of the third line "sen go suri," meaning "printed after the War". And, together with its low sales price (being even less than for a recent reprint of the same design), there definitely did not seem to be any attempt on the part of this seller to achieve a price level typical expected of PRE-War Hasui prints. But still we wondered, "Why did the dealer (who obviously noticed the "faked seal") accept this consignment at all and offer it for sale?"


The right photo shows the verso of the print, upon which we can faintly recognize the vague shape of the Watanabe seal. However, this outline is NOT the bleeding-through of the faked seal recto recto -- rather, the "contact" transfer from another seal. Obviously, SEVERAL prints, freshly "aged" (forged) with the added "early Watanabe C-seal" were stacked upon one another while the ink of the just-printed seals still was still wet. This of course raises our suspicion that growing numbers of prints with faked seals must be out there awaiting unsuspecting collectors!!

Here then (as always) is our recommendation to buyers: Be careful and buy prints only from reliable and knowledgeable sources!

For the moment (at the time of this writing 2003)--We at Ukiyoe-Gallery plan to retain this print for purposes of study or comparison (and will make it available upon request). However, we do NOT have any imediate plans to sell it, in order to avoid the further circulation of faked pieces of art.

(Final Note -- We will attempt to add additional details to this article as more information is learned.)

For a perhaps somewhat related situation--that of "double-sealed" Watanabe Publisher prints--CLICK HERE on this link.

(c) Andreas Grund and Thomas Crossland, February 2003

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