The Daruma 45 article (Restoration) discussed the significance of condition when evaluating
a print, and mentioned the issue of trimming, a sad affliction which, to one extent or another affects the vast majority of
19th century ukiyo-e.
The main reason for so many reduced dimensions (often a centimeter or two or more lopped off) was the propensity of collectors
in the Edo period to mount their prints in albums.
Mounting techniques varied, but the most common ones result in loss of paper on two sides — due either to the interlocking
sheet cutting and pasting process itself, or to the inability to separate individual sheets cleanly when an album eventually gets
broken up. Top and bottom areas of the prints often wind up trimmed as well, probably thanks to the tendency — still prevalent
in Japan today — to make the finished package as compact as possible.
There seem to have been few rules or restraints regarding trimming; folk blithely snipped away at their Hiroshige's and Sadanobu's
as readily as we digitally crop our vacation snapshots with the click of a button in Adobe Photoshop.
When a woodblock's design incorporated a printed line border, many would halt their blades there. But if the demarcation was less
obvious, color fields and lines stretching unevenly toward the edge — actually a hallmark of the medium — much more
of the interior was at risk. With extreme Edo Scissorhands types only the central portion of the composition was safe.
Paper, scissors, irony
Present-day print enthusiasts recoil in horror at all this, and yet we must be grateful to the album makers, too. In an irony of
art history, without the creation of the albums with their semi-durable covers there would be very few prints still clean and unfaded.
Being mounted in an album does not guarantee a print surviving with its original look intact, of course. How often the album was thumbed
through and where it was stored play huge roles in determining that. But it does greatly increase the chances compared to the usual
alternatives of the age.
For example, ukiyo-e once made into hanging scrolls or glued onto folding screens today appear severely toned and brittle, if
not torn, punctured and water-stained. And those that were pasted together in continuous rolls (makimono) are invariably ragged,
wrinkled and riddled with wormholes.
As for the prints left stacked for decades on storehouse shelves: In addition to many of the above problems, count on their showing signs
of mildew and accumulated grime, and occasionally chew marks and fecal insults from rodents and cockroaches.
Indeed, once you have seen how wretched an ukiyo-e sheet can look after exposure to air, light, dust and bugs, you may stop cursing the
collectors who sliced a few centimeters off their prints in the innocent pursuit of portability.