A GUIDE TO JAPANESE PRINTS - BASIL STEWART
ON THE FORMATION AND CARE OF A COLLECTION
Growth of Interest in Japanese Prints - Cost of Forming a Collection - Chinese Colour-Prints - The Landscape Prints of Hiroshige - How to Repair and Mount Prints - Their Value - The Care of a Collection - Public v. Private Collections - Cataloguing a Collection.
THE collecting of old Japanese colour-prints, formerly the hobby of a select few, is today finding an ever-increasing number of votaries. As their beauty and charm become more widely appreciated, so do more art-lovers desire to possess them. The result is that prices, particularly for prints by the early masters-known as the Primitives - and for rare examples of later artists, have been greatly enhanced within recent years, so that to form a collection of the first rank nowadays would require very ample means. Added to this is the fact, already referred to in our introductory chapter, that collectors in this country, owing to the later period as compared with their French and American confreres at which the serious study of these prints was first taken up in England, have a more limited field of choice.
The would-be collector, however, whose means are limited, need not at once conclude that it is hopeless for him to gratify his desire to acquire these artistic treasures. Thanks to their enormous production originally, no pictorial art covers so wide a field as that of the Japanese colour-print, nor can any other offer such a varied choice, so that almost any taste and any purse can find material wherewith to form a collection.
By the exercise of care, and by seizing opportunities as they occur, a collection can be formed for a relatively modest outlay which will be a perpetual source of pleasure to its owner and his friends. The one point to bear in mind is that discrimination is the essence of all collecting; aim at acquiring copies as near their pristine state as possible, unless a print is some great rarity, when a relatively inferior copy, that is somewhat faded or discoloured, may be preferable to none at all.
Collecting is an art in itself; time and experience alone, aided by a certain amount of native intuition, will tell a collector what to acquire and what to reject. What constitutes collecting depends on the point of view from which it is regarded.
There is vicarious collecting in which people employ others to collect for them, a system of mere accumulating which anyone without any knowledge of the subject, but with sufficient money, could follow. The true collector, on the other hand, is anything but an accumulator, but is one who makes his own purchases at first hand with the discretion which his knowledge and experience give him, and who has learnt to recognize opportunities when they occur and when, again, he can afford to wait.
Further, personal taste is of more moment than mere value. To some Sharaku's actor-prints, for example, which are extremely rare and cost anything over forty or fifty pounds apiece, will appear as masterpieces to be had at all costs; others will think them merely ugly caricatures, and much prefer a good landscape by Hiroshige at as many shillings.
It is of course desirable, as far as one's means will allow, to have examples of all types and periods, even by relatively minor artists, for the sake of study and comparison. When one has acquired, as a foundation, a collection of, say, a hundred and fifty to two hundred prints of moderate price, up to five pounds each, one can then become more discriminating, and purchase only an occasional fine example by such artists as Kiyonaga, Shuncho, Koriusai, Harunobu, Yeishi, Shunsho, and so forth, and the rarer prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige. Many a collection has been improved by throwing out the inferior choices of early days.
A. Davison Ficke, in his Chats on Japanese Prints, gives the following advice to the collector. He gives a list of thirty-two artists as being amongst the most notable, and says: " Each one in the list is important, and a collection that contained even one fine example by each of these designers would represent very fairly the whole scope of the art. In fact, the beginner will not go far astray if at the outset he confines his purchases to the work of the men here listed. . . ."
While this advice is perfectly sound up to a certain point, we beg leave to criticize more particularly that statement in it which we have italicized, on the following grounds.
Of the thirty-two names in the list more than half are so rare that many a collector has had to wait several years before the opportunity has occurred to acquire even a single example of their work; to others, perhaps, the opportunity may never come.
Also, to form a collection by only acquiring masterpieces presupposes a knowledge and discrimination which a novice cannot have, and which can only be acquired by experience. It also assumes that the beginner is not hampered in his choice by being obliged to restrict his expenditure, but is prepared to give fifty pounds or more for a single print, if necessary. Of the remaining names, four can be readily acquired by a beginner, viz. Hiroshige, Hokusai, Toyokuni, and Utamaro. Four others, Kiyonaga, Harunobu, Toyohiro, and Yeishi, require the exercise of patience and opportunity in varying degree for their acquisition.
We consider it more practicable advice for the amateur to start his collection with good examples of the lesser artists, and then later, with these as a basis, to become more discriminating, and restrict himself to the really important masters in Mr. Ficke's list, otherwise he will find it difficult to make a beginning.
It is but fair, however, to quote Mr. Ficke further, as he makes it clear that to obtain examples of the thirty-two artists he mentions is not an easy matter. He says: "A collection containing a really brilliant example by each of these thirty-two men would cost from three hundred to three thousand pounds to bring together, depending upon the quality and importance of the prints selected." At the same time, we still consider his advice more appropriate to the mature collector than to a novice. Mr. Ficke's book, which was published both in America and in this country, embodies the views and aims of American collectors, and is more particularly addressed to them. As we have stated in an earlier chapter, American collectors are more fastidious in what they admit to their collections, and have had better opportunities than their confreres in this country for the exercise of such discrimination.
The period at which the Japanese colour-print was at its best, the golden age of the art, lay between the years 1765 and 1825, that is, from the time of the invention of the true polychrome print, about 1765, under the sway of HARUNOBU, down to the death of TOYOKUNI I. This is, perhaps, extending the period to somewhat greater limits than is usually allowed, 18o6, the year of Utamaro's death, being generally considered its end. While, however, it is true the art showed signs of decay as early in the century as this, particularly in the later work of Toyokuni, yet certain of Utamaro's pupils, and other artists, continued to do fine work even after the death of the latter, so that we have considered it legitimate to extend it to about 1820, taking the date of Toyokuni's death (the leading artist after Utamaro) as a definite landmark. After this event the decline of Ukiyoye became really pronounced.
Even this era of sixty years was not equally brilliant throughout. It rose to maturity, remained there for a few years and thence gradually declined. Its most notable epoch lay between the years 1785 and 1800, during which there existed a rivalry of all the greatest talents of Ukiyoye - Shunsho, Shuncho, Kiyonaga, Utamaro, Sharaku, Choki, Yeishi, Toyokuni - to mention some of the chief.
Examples of the work of this half-century can still be obtained at quite reasonable prices, some of course more readily than others; but a collector should have little difficulty in acquiring a fairly representative set of prints issued between these dates.
The varying degree of readiness with which prints by the foregoing artists may be obtained, and their approximate value, will be indicated later when dealing with them individually.
The writer's experience is that, amongst non-collectors, the impression prevails that the collecting of Japanese prints is an expensive hobby, and many would-be collectors are consequently afraid to indulge their artistic tastes therein. To remove this conception is one of the objects of this chapter.
While, speaking generally, the values of Japanese prints have, in common with other articles de vertu, risen considerably since the day when they could be had for as many shillings as they now fetch pounds, they are still, in proportion to their artistic merit and the pleasure they give to the collector and his friends, far cheaper than any other form of collecting wherein a person may indulge to satisfy his artistic tastes.
It has been stated to the writer that Japanese print-collecting has had its day, and its place is being taken by Chinese prints. Apart from the question whether Japanese prints are becoming less sought after or not, there is one fact which negatives this statement forthwith, and that is the extreme rarity of Chinese prints, which, apart from those in books, are almost unknown. The collection of these prints in the British Museum runs to but seventy examples, of which about half are in colours, and are mostly book-illustrations, yet it is probably the best collection of its kind in existence.
Of this collection Mr. Binyon, in his Introduction to the Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Woodcuts in the British Museum, says: "The few specimens described in this catalogue were obviously cheap and ephemeral productions; so cheap and common, in fact, that no one thought them worth collecting; and for that reason, like old broadsides with us, they have become excessively rare. The popular theatre in China, as in Japan, created a demand for colour-prints illustrating or advertising favourite plays....
"The finest known examples, however, of Chinese colour-printing are the woodcuts of flowers, fruit, birds, etc., described in this catalogue, which have been in the museum since its foundation. In these woodcuts, which are in a brilliant state of preservation, as many as twelve colours are used, and ten further tints obtained by super-imposition. Gauffrage is also employed with rich effect."
These prints, which are presumed to have been brought from Japan by Kaempfer in 1692-1693, originally belonged to the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, which formed the nucleus of the British Museum.
Chinese polychrome prints, therefore, were produced considerably earlier than their first appearance in Japan; in fact the Japanese discovered nothing in the process of the evolution of the colour-print which had not been known in China many years previous. There is, however, this great difference between Japanese and Chinese colour-prints. While thc Chinese were first in point of time, they never brought to such a degree of excellence the combined art of designer, engraver, and printer which the Japanese did. The best Chinese colour-prints are simply reproductions of paintings; in Japan, on the other hand, there arose a whole school of artists who designed expressly for the wood-engraver. It is this fact which raises the Japanese print to an altogether higher level than the Chinese, both from an artistic and technical point of view, and it is an additional reason, we think, even if that already given was insufficient, why we may doubt that it is likely to be supplanted in the estimation of art-lovers by the Chinese product.
As stated above, Japanese prints can be had at all prices, from a few shillings to many pounds.
While low-priced prints contain much worthless rubbish, excellent landscape subjects by Hiroshige can be obtained for two to five pounds, and sometimes less, provided discrimination is used, as there is much work (generally late reprints) bearing his signature on the market printed after his death, which is better avoided.
A comparatively cheap print, provided it is a genuine old one and in good condition, is preferable, from an artistic point of view, to a modern reproduction of a rarity.
It is difficult to give any general indications as to what should be paid for prints; the amounts given here can only be taken as a rough guide. Much depends on circumstances, and everything on condition and quality of impression. According to its state, a print might be worth fifty pounds, five pounds, or only two pounds. Good first edition copies of prints by Hiroshige may sometimes be picked up for twenty-five to thirty shillings each, for which twice that sum might be given in the auction room under certain circumstances; but the collector who obtains a really fine Hiroshige print from one of his rarer series in good condition for less than three or five pounds is lucky.
Prices obtained at auction sales are apt to be misleading unless the prints sold are seen, and other circumstances known; at one sale competition might happen to be keen, at another the opposite might be the case.
There is an enormous number of inferior Hiroshige prints in existence which, from an artistic point of view, are of very little value. So great was the demand for his work as a landscape artist (due chiefly to the fact that, for a certain period, from 1842 to 1853, prints of courtesans and actors were forbidden by law) that, in order to produce prints in sufficient quantities, the printing was hurried, so that the outline and colours did not register, neither were the colours well graded.
Again, many of his prints were reprinted in subsequent editions after his death, when the blocks had become worn through constant use, or were recut from an old print, and when European aniline colours were becoming much used in Japan. Such late editions and reprints can be readily detected by the coarse outlines and vicious, staring colours.
Prints of this nature will frequently be met with in his "One Hundred Views of Yedo" series, almost the last work he executed. Copies of the first edition, in fine state, are comparatively rare, and out of the total of 118 prints in the complete set only about a third of them can be described as masterpieces in which the design, printing, and colouring are excellent. Many, however, are inferior, notwithstanding the fact that Hiroshige himself regarded the series as a whole as the "masterpiece of his life," as he so states in the title-page, while certain plates, such as the inane "rear view of a horse" or the "boatman with the hairy legs," and a few others equally catastrophic, are evidently the work of his pupil, Shigenobu (after-wards Hiroshige II, whose aid he sometimes called in, as it seems impossible from their crudeness to imagine that they can be the work of the great master. These remarks also apply to certain views in his final series, "Thirty-six Views of Fuji," a series which he did not live to see completed, and also to his "Sixty Odd Provinces" (1856), and "Views on the Tokaido" (upright, 1855). This last-named series, however, is generally recognized nowadays as mainly the work of Hiroshige II, though the master signed it when completed. This fact accounts for the poor design of certain of the views in it; well and carefully printed copies are rare, whereas poor ones, with crude colouring, are common. In fact, almost all the later work of Hiroshige bears evidence of the handiwork of his pupil, who seems to have been called upon from time to time to assist his master, owing, no doubt, to the very large number of plates contained in certain of the series, or perhaps from temporary incapacity through illness; such work is known as daihitsu ("drawn for another") or hohitsu ("assisted by pupils").
Mr. Happer, of New York, was the first collector to investigate thoroughly, chiefly by the date-seal found on each print, the question of the authorship of the various upright series signed Hiroshige. Previously it was thought all vertical prints so signed were by Hiroshige II, but this view is now generally abandoned, at least in Europe, though judging from sale catalogues of auctions in New York which have been examined, many such series are still (though wrongly) attributed to the pupil in America.
Prints in which some large object, such as a tree-trunk, the mast of a ship, the body and legs of a horse, is thrust prominently into the foreground, blotting out the view, and thus spoiling the whole effect of the picture, may generally be ascribed to Hiroshige II; the method of indicating the foliage of trees may also sometimes serve to distinguish between master and pupil. Prints of this nature often occur in the "Hundred Views of Yedo" series, which, being the most extensive, contains a larger proportion of the pupil's work. His best contribution to this set is Plate 48, Akasaka Kiri bata, which he supplied to later editions to take the place of the original block by Hiroshige, which was accidentally destroyed, probably by fire. It is signed "Hiroshige 2nd," and is considered amongst his best work. It may be distinguished from the first edition, which is very uncommon, by being a rain-scene.
In all the foregoing series first edition copies only are those worth collecting, later issues being of little value, either materially or artistically. First edition copies in perfect state are comparatively rare, whereas later and inferior impressions outnumber them at least fifty to one, perhaps a hundred to one. The former may be recognized by being carefully printed and the colours well graded. Later impressions often have an entirely different colour-scheme, while the repellent harshness of the colours, often from European aniline dyes, betrays them at once.
In the "Hundred Views of Yedo" series, the date-seals will be found on the margin of the print (see Plate 28A). Sometimes, as when prints of this series have been mounted in a book, the margins will be found to have been trimmed, thereby entirely or partly cutting off the seals ; an otherwise perfect impression may thus be spoilt.
And here let us add a note of warning: never cut or trim prints in any way. To cut down, or in any other way mutilate, a print or picture is one of those unforgivable offences which go to prove how easy it is for a vandal to spoil in a moment what may have been an inspiration of the artist, quite apart from the spoiling of the harmony of the design. It is bad enough to cut down a margin that is blank; to do so when there is a design or mark on it is doubly so. Prints are so often found thus mutilated, that this warning seems very necessary.
Torn or rough edges may be covered by a mount; holes in the print itself can be patched from the back, and for this purpose an old worthless print can be kept from which pieces of the right colour can be cut wherewith to make repairs. But beyond this a print should not be touched in any way, and if the collector confines himself to selecting only copies in a good state of preservation, there should be no necessity to do more.
Dirty or creased prints are improved by immersion in water, but they should only be left in long enough to become soaked right through. They may also be damped and pressed between clean white blotting-paper, which should be changed several times until the prints are dry. Wet prints should be handled very carefully, else they are easily torn, particularly if they are very thin. They should then be allowed to drain, and afterwards spread out to dry on a flat surface, such as a clean sheet of white cardboard. When dry, it will be found all creases have disappeared. If pressed between two pieces of board, some of the colour will soak out. Most colours are fast, but the blue in the later prints of Hiroshige, and the purple often found in prints by Utamaro and Toyokuni, are liable to run, particularly the latter colour. Surimono, which contain colours from metals, and which sometimes have a very delicate blue tint, known as surimono blue, should not be wetted at all.
But the novice should not touch a print in any way nor attempt repairs unless he is quite sure beforehand what he is going to do and how he is going to do it. If at all uncertain of what the results may be, he should practise on an old worthless print kept for making repairs with. But if a print requires touching up in any way, it is best to leave it in the hands of someone competent to handle it. Even the apparently easy process of mounting a thin print on another sheet of Japanese paper to strengthen it, is by no means as easy as it sounds if it is to be done smoothly.
In mounting prints, the print should be lightly pasted at the two top corners to a sheet of good drawing-paper, and a white board mount (size 22 in. by 15 in.) put over it with an opening to fit the print. This is the most effective method of mounting prints if they are to be framed ; but as a collection increases and the prints are kept in portfolios or cases, such mounting will make them very heavy, and necessitate several cases in which to keep them.
It is then better to put them between a folded sheet of thick drawing-or cartridge-paper, with an opening cut in the top sheet to show the print; this will effect a great saving in bulk and weight.
It is a mistake to paste down each edge of a print to its mount, in order to keep it smooth and flat. This procedure, owing to the print and the mount being unequally affected by the dampness of the atmosphere, does not always have the desired effect; while a future collector into whose hands the print might come might object to this treatment, and injure the edges in separating them from the mount. It is not unlikely that the cause of so many prints being found with the whole margins cut off is due to their having been at one time pasted down in this fashion, and were so cut to remove them.
But the chief objection to this practice is that it prevents an examination of the back of the print, an important point when testing for genuineness. It is sufficient to very lightly paste down the two top corners only; the paper can then be turned over and properly examined, if necessary, and the print can be detached easily without injury.
The best method, and the one adopted by the writer, and which allows removal as often as necessary without any injury to the print, is to affix the two top corners to the mount by means of a thin paper hinge such as stamp-collectors use to mount stamps in albums.
Owing to their size when complete, triptychs are best kept separately like single prints, and so mounted that they can be put side by side to show the complete picture when being inspected.
Seals, and other marks on the margin of a print, outside the picture itself, should not be covered up, but the mount should be cut to show them.
In the "Sixty Odd Provinces" series the seals appear sometimes on the print itself, and sometimes on the margin (see Plate 26, page 158).
While on the subject of date-seals, it should perhaps be pointed out that the seal by itself does not necessarily prove a print to be a first edition copy. Copies of many dated prints, particularly in the "Hundred Views" series, are met with which, by the poor printing and crude colours, cannot be first edition copies. As the date-seals were cut on the block at the time it was engraved, and not stamped on the finished print after being "pulled" from the block, the date thereon is no evidence as to the time of printing, which is the point of importance for the collector.
A dated print, therefore, should be judged by its condition to determine if it is a first edition or not; that is to say, the printing should be well done, the register good, the colours carefully graded and not staring aniline dyes. At the same time, a collector who sets out to obtain a complete set of a series must not expect to find even all first edition copies of uniform excellence; the masterpieces are, unfortunately, few. This may have been due to the artist superintending the printing of those views only which pleased him most, or which he thought would be more popular.
To revert to the question of prices, experience is the only real guide as to what should be paid for any particular print. Provided a print is in good condition, colours fresh, outline sharp, paper not discoloured nor worm-eaten, it is as a rule worth its price. Fresh colours, however, are not in themselves evidence of an early impression. As a block required recharging with fresh colour after each impression, a late impression might easily show good colour: one should look instead at the sharpness of the outline, though even this cannot always be taken as a sure guide owing to the practice of recutting old blocks (or revamping as Americans call it), whereby the outline will appear as sharp as from a new block. In such cases comparison with an undoubted early impression is the best test, when small differences of detail will be noticed, coupled with a different colour-scheme. Thus sharp copies of Hiroshige's "Tokaido" views have proved on close inspection to be merely late reprints from revamped blocks which seemed at first sight to be early impressions. Reprints of this particular series are very common, and they may be detected readily by the very thick border line round them. Revamped prints are the bugbear of the collector till he has acquired sufficient experience to detect them.
Poor copies, in which colours are badly faded or the printing is faulty, or in which other defects are apparent, are best left alone, unless the print is some rarity, when moderate defects may he overlooked, though of course the reason for its rarity should be kept in mind.
Thus, Kunisada's portrait of Hiroshige is rare, not only because of its actual scarcity, but because such copies as are in existence are highly coveted by collectors by reason of the subject, and therefore rarely change hands. This particular print, therefore, is valued more by reason of the subject it portrays, than because of the fact that it is by Kunisada, whose prints are amongst the commonest.
A print by an artist not in the first rank, or by one of whom little or nothing is known, even though examples by him are very uncommon, is not necessarily of a high value. Thus, work by Yeishin, for example (a print by whom is illustrated in colours at Plate C, page 32), a pupil of Yeishi, which is even rarer than that of his master, is not rated at as high a value as its scarcity and merit would lead one to expect.
In the same way, the collector may be fortunate to pick up an example by the artist Choki for a sum very modest in comparison to the rarity of his work, notwithstanding the fact that he is a foremost artist. His very rare silver-prints, however (that is, prints with a silver background), are very highly treasured, and must be numbered amongst those desirable art objects which the average collector will probably never have the opportunity to acquire.
Fashion seems, in some degree, to determine the value of certain prints. There will, perhaps, be a boom in a particular artist at one time; yet at another values will drop for the same examples. The rarer and really fine prints, however, will always fetch their price, and will always increase in value as time goes on. The writer, however, does not, on this assumption, advocate collecting as a source of investment. While, no doubt, a collection made with care and discrimination will also prove a good investment from a material point of view, if these prints are not acquired for the pure pleasure of their beauty and charm, they are better left alone. Otherwise the perception to sift the good from the bad will be lacking, and without such discrimination no collection is likely to give any real pleasure to its owner or ever be worth much.
The two chief points to be considered in the value of a collection are (1) rarity of the specimens, and (2) their condition.
As to (1) rarity is not, as is often imagined, a question of age, but of quantity. Many people seem unable to grasp this simple fact, but think that because a print is old it must be rare, and therefore very valuable.
Rarity, however, in its turn, must not be confounded with value, a quality which often depends on the foibles of fashion, or because a particular artist happens to be in vogue at the time, quite apart from the rarity, or otherwise, of his work. It sometimes happens, therefore, that a relatively common print will fetch a higher price than another scarcer example.
And here again it should be pointed out that scarcity does not necessarily depend upon the number of copies originally printed, but upon the number available in proportion to the demand for that particular print. This fact - the demand for a print - accounts for the relatively low value of a print which is really rare by virtue of its actual scarcity (such as the example by Yeishin mentioned above) as compared with another of which many copies still exist but for which there is keener competition.
The collector should remember, however, that the second quality - condition - is the more important of the two, and he should aim rather at obtaining prints in as fine condition as possible in preference to mere rarities. Should he have the good fortune to procure a print combining both qualities, he will have attained the highest desideratum of every collector.
Though there are some people who prefer faded or discoloured prints, because of the mellowness thereby imparted to them, this point of view is, we think, a mistaken one. The chief object of a collector should he to obtain prints as near as possible in the pristine condition in which they left the printer's hands, so that we may see in them the artist's individuality. To prefer discoloured or badly faded prints (slight fading due to age is not detrimental, as the colours all tone in an equal degree) to fresh ones is akin to choosing a piece of cracked porcelain in preference to a perfect specimen.
Certain colours, however, particularly in prints by the earlier artists, undergo a complete transformation in course of time. Thus a certain blue may change to a light yellow; pink, one of the most fugitive colours of any, fades altogether. White - but very rarely used - and a certain orange-red (tan), both made from lead oxide, turn black with exposure. A rose-red, used in the early two-colour prints, like that illustrated at Plate G, may turn a yellowish tinge.
An instance of the rare use of white as a pigment is given in a well known snow scene by Hiroshige from the very rare series "Eight Views of the Environs of Yedo" (Yedo Kinko Hak'kei), "Evening Snow, Asuka Hill," in which, owing to decomposition, the flakes of snow, originally white, have turned black.
Surimono, in which colours were employed made from metals, e.g. silver, gold, and bronze, are even more susceptible to light, and extra care should be taken to preserve them in all their original brilliance.
For this reason, therefore, it is best not to keep prints - and certainly not the better examples in a collection - hanging on a wall for any length of time, and under no circumstances to allow bright sunlight to fall on them. If a collector wishes to decorate his walls with them, they should be hung where no bright sun will fall on them, and they should consist of comparatively cheap examples of which large numbers exist, so that should they fade in course of time, no particular material or artistic loss is occasioned.
The better and more valued treasures in a collection, particularly if they are unusually good copies, should be kept out of the light in portfolios or suitable cases. For the collector should remember that he is laying by treasures for future generations; that these prints represent what is a lost art; and that as time goes on they will become scarcer and scarcer. Upon the care, therefore, expended upon their preservation today will depend the enjoyment of art-lovers of future generations.
Japanese colour-prints are, by their peculiar nature, far better in the hands of private collectors than in public museums and institutions where they do not always receive the care which is their due, and it is, perhaps, to be regretted that such a large proportion of the number of prints still in existence are held in museums, and continue to find their last resting-place therein, either by purchase or bequest.
If they are hung in galleries exposed to sunlight they fade and will in time disappear altogether, while the general public will pass them by as something they neither appreciate nor understand. They are, of course, readily placed at the disposal of the interested enquirer, but the proportion of collectors and students who are able to avail themselves of the opportunities they offer must be limited.
For their study and proper appreciation, Japanese prints require constant examination and comparison at the hands of those who take a close interest in them, and they can only receive such study in private collections; in museums they are lost as in a tomb as far as the collector is concerned, while to the general public they are a matter of indifference.
This opinion (and one that was held by the late Edmond de Goncourt), that prints are better in a private collection than in a public museum, has been criticized on the ground that there are many people of taste who cannot afford to be collectors, and who manage to get much real pleasure out of a museum. The writer would be the last person to quarrel with this statement, but while museums are most appropriate for the display and study of art objects in general, they are not, for the reasons given above, a suitable repository for colour-prints, even when special precautions are taken for their preservation.
Mr. Ficke, already quoted above, expresses similar opinions as the writer as to the desirability of prints being in private collections rather than in a public museum. He says : "In public collections the prints are of service or pleasure to almost nobody; while in the private collections their service and pleasure to the owner and his friends is great, and the same opportunities are easily opened to any one who is qualified to profit by them. Therefore it seems better that, upon the death of a collector, his prints should be sold; in order that, as Edmond de Goncourt directed in the case of his collection, those treasures which have been so great and so personal a delight to the owner may pass on into the hands of such others as will find in them the same satisfaction." "`My wish is,' he wrote in his will, `that my prints, my curios, my books in a word, those things of art which have been the joy of my life - shall not be consigned to the cold tomb of a museum; . . . but I require that they shall all be dispersed under the hammer of the auctioneer, so that the pleasure which their acquisition has given me shall be given again . . . to some inheritor of my own taste.' "
It is interesting to note that this view of museums is also held by certain collectors of old books, which, like prints, they consider are better in private hands than in public institutions. Mr. Edward Newton, a distinguished American bibliophile, and author of The Amenities of Book Collecting (London, 1920), is another collector who is of the opinion that de Goncourt was right in instructing that his art treasures should be publicly dispersed.
Old books, like old prints, are of little interest to the public at large and even less understood, and their dispersal at auction is not only more in keeping with bibliophilism, but helps to extend a personal interest in old volumes, which results from change of ownership.
The same principle was adopted in the dispersal of the great Huth library, for while the British Museum was allowed to select fifty volumes (a mere fraction of the huge total) which should rightly be in their keeping, and so prevent their leaving this country for America or elsewhere for all time, the remainder of the collection was dispersed by auction amongst collectors and booksellers at large.
As to the best method of cataloguing a collection, particularly one which is being added to from time to time, the writer, after trying various methods, has found a loose leaf book (size 4 in. by 7 in.) the best, in which each print has one page allotted to it, containing all information, such as title, when and where obtained, and so forth. Each print as acquired can then be entered in the catalogue in its proper place, under its particular artist, and in its correct series, if it belongs to a set such as Hiroshige's "Tokaido" views, or Hokusai's "Views of Fuji." Abbreviated particulars are also entered on the bottom of the mount under the mat, and prints are numbered consecutively as acquired.