Dating Prints Marked "Doi Hangaten"

The seal configuration pictured to the right is very commonly seen by shin-hanga collectors, especially those interested in prints designed by Tsuchiya Kôitsu. The Japanese characters in the upper box read "Hankenshoyu Doi Hangaten" which translates to "Copyright owned by the Doi Print Shop". The offset boxes below name the carver (Harada) and the printer (Yokoi).

The prevailing point-of-view amongst most shin-hanga experts is that any print with these markings was produced after the early 1950s.

It is generally asserted that:

  • there was a single point in time when the company stopped marking their prints with the name of the founder, Doi Sadaichi, and began to use the name "Doi Hangaten" on all newly produced prints, and
  • that point in time was in 1945, a year which saw both the end of the war and the death of Doi Sadaichi, and
  • in order for a print to be considered a pre-war issue, it must be marked with the publisher name, "Doi Sadaichi", and
  • starting in 1945, the early "Doi Hangaten" prints had printer/carver seals which were vertically aligned, rather than the offset design seen here, and
  • the offset "Doi Hangaten" seals started to be used in the early to mid-1950s.

My own opinion is that Doi's transition from using the founder's name to the name of the print shop was a gradual one and that prints with the markings pictured to the right may have been produced as early as 1936. The purpose of this article is to present the reasoning behind my point of view.

Database of Doi-Published Kôitsu Prints

The green and yellow stripes to the left are a compressed version of a database of 61 Doi-published Kôitsu prints. To view a legible copy of this compressed version, place your mouse pointer over the image and click. To view the entire database, click here.

The database was originally built and is continually maintained by Tosh Doi, a shin-hanga collector and researcher from Tokyo. (Please note that Tosh is not connected with the Doi family of publishers, except for carrying the same surname.) It represents several years of multiple sightings, for each print design, by a small group of watchful contributors, keeping track of the publisher/carver/printer markings.

The green lines are for prints where we have at least one sighting of the print bearing the publisher markings of Doi Sadaichi. The yellow lines are for prints where we have not (yet) found a copy with the "Doi Sadaichi" marking. The prints are arranged chronologically according to published date. The earliest date, at the top, is January, 1933, while the latest date is July, 1941.

Those who are committed to the concept of a transition having happened at a single point in time, after the war, say that all of the yellow lines to the left will ultimately become green ones. They maintain that we haven't yet had enough time to find all of the "Doi Sadaichi"-marked versions of these prints.

If that were true, I would expect the distribution of yellow lines to be a random one. As I look at the interweaving of the yellow and green lines, it is clear to me that it is not a random distribution, but rather represents a gradual transition. In my opinion, the reason for the concentration of yellow lines toward the bottom is that many of those prints were originally issued with "Doi Hangaten" markings and that there are no "Doi Sadaichi"-marked prints to be found.

Yokoi Giichi's Timeline

Yokoi Giichi was born in 1894. He was trained as a printer under Washimi Tokutarô in Nagoya, where he lived until 1936, when he moved to Tokyo to work for Doi. It is unclear exactly how long it took for him to become the principal printer for Doi, but I believe that all researchers would agree that he was a very productive printer from the beginning (in 1936) and was promoted based upon his productivity. In 1955, Kenji Seki became an apprentice to Yokoi. Yokoi retired from Doi in 1965, at which time Seki became the principal printer for Doi.

Yokoi's time at Doi lasted 29 years, 3 of which (the war years: 1942-1945) weren't very productive. His productive years would have been 6 years before the war and 20 years after it.

In the database above, most of the green lines for prints published since early 1936 have "Doi Sadaichi" / Yokoi seals. Most of the yellow lines for prints published since 1938 have the "Doi Hangaten" Harada/Yokoi offset seals. This confirms that Yokoi was the principal printer for Doi from 1936 until the war.

However, in today's marketplace, it is very rare to see a "Doi Sadaichi" publisher seal with a "Yokoi" printer's seal. Also, we have never seen Yokoi as the printer in a vertically aligned carver/printer seal set with the publisher name of "Doi Hangaten". Today, the great majority of Doi prints appearing for sale printed by Yokoi have the "Doi Hangaten" Harada/Yokoi offset seals (pictured above). I have concluded that the great majority of Yokoi's productivity took place while this seal combination was being used.

If we are to believe the common wisdom that the Harada/Yokoi seal combination first appeared in 1952 (or even, as some say, as late as 1956), we need to have an explanation for what happened to the prints produced by this printer prior to that. It just doesn't make sense that most of the output of this highly productive printer prior to the 1950s has been effectively lost. The only explanation which is consistent with the evidence is that this seal combination was used well before that time.

In Conclusion

Shin-hanga collectors are always looking for ways to assign production dates to our prints. Sometimes there are viable rules to determine pre-/post-earthquake or pre-/post-war dating of our prints; sometimes not. I believe that the desire for a clean set of rules has led to the prevailing, commonly accepted rules outlined above. However, these rules are contradicted by the facts.

Based on the above evidence, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • All Doi prints marked with "Doi Sadaichi" as publisher can safely be considered to be pre-war prints.
  • Prints with the "Doi Hangaten", and "Harada/Yokoi" offset markings were produced somewhere between 1936 and 1965. I suspect that the date range should really start at 1938, but there is no proof of that.
  • If this interpretation of the data becomes accepted, some aggressive sellers will be incorrectly offering Kôitsu prints with the "Harada/Yokoi" markings as pre-war prints, even though they could have been produced in the 20 year period after the war. Aggressive sellers tend to do that...

Your Thoughts

I welcome your
emailed comments, questions, and suggestions. Please let me know if it is OK to publish your thoughts here or if you would rather not.
Thomas Crossland 12/21/2003 I agree
Andreas Grund 12/29/2003 Closer to the truth
Don Rothenbaum 02/01/2004 Still possibly post-war

Home  Copyright 2004 by Marc Kahn; All Rights Reserved