Ukiyo-e Forensics

Ukiyo-e Forensics

In my search for prints, I often come across prints that are misrepresented as "original". This is usually because the seller is mistaken or just doesn't know, as opposed to having some malicious intent (my optimistic nature). So with every print I get, I do some research to confirm it's authenticity.

This is also a learning opportunity since many of the prints have great backstories and often lead to new discoveries. The authenticity of woodblock prints can be quite hard to track down. There are often multiple publishers over 200+ years. Publishers may use an identifying seal or may not. Add to that the shabby quality of some of the prints and that I don't read Japanese, and you can see how a simple purchase can lead me on a forensic journey through an unfamiliar landscape.

Here are some of the tools I use to aid in my investigative search.

Google image search. This allows me to search for an image "like" my mystery print. It's fast, and seems to work 70% of the time. I can then click on the images in the search result and find a website that has accurate information on the print. I can then crosscheck that if I'm not confident. is a wonderful resource that has an image upload feature that compares your image with the over 220,000 images in the archive. It then displays the similar images from various museums and collections.

woodblock print japan authentic Website Search Interface

This works about 80% of the time. If your image can't be found, you can upload it to their forum which is frequented by print experts that provide generous free advice on the print. You can read an article on this here I purchased a print that was represented as XXX and couldn't find any information online. When I uploaded it to, one of their experts wrote that it was a completely different artist and image. As you may know, the publishers seal is very important in establishing provenance. Unfortunately it's often hard to make out the smudged and faded seals from "shabby" prints. But that's the task at hand.

Try for images of all the publishers seals.

woodblock print japan authenticity 1

A Few of the Publisher's Seals

Feel free to let me know if you have found a good resource for artists and prints. You can also check out my Resources page here for a more robust list of helpful websites.

Happy collecting!

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