Otokodate itsutsu karigane (Karigane's five brave and chivalrous men: 男作五雁金) was written for the puppet theater by Takeda Izumo II, who also managed the theater and was a co-author in 1748 of the wildly popular play Kanadehon chûshingura (Writing manual for the treasury of the loyal retainers: 假名手本忠臣蔵) or "Forty-seven rônin." Otokodate itsutsu karigane premiered in 9/1742 and quickly became one of the most popular Karigane gonin otoko mono (Karigane's five-men plays: 雁金五人男物) about the so-called otokodate (chivalrous commoners, literally "standing men": 男伊達 or 男作) in both the puppet and kabuki theaters. The real-life Karigane gonin were members of a loosely knit gang of 11 or more outlaws led by Karigane Bunshichi. Guilty of beatings, theft, and murder spanning several years, they were executed on 8/26/1702. Takeda's drama helped to mythologize these criminals and transform them from street thugs into heroes.
Each of the Karigane gonin were associated with a particular emblem or crest: Kaminari Shôkurô's two crossed drum sticks; Karigane Bunshichi's stylized triple-geese hexagon; Anno Heibei's ideograph reading an ("tranquility"); Gokuin Sen'emon's crossed mallets over a character from his name, reading sen (thousand); and Hotei Ichiemon's fan and sack. Hotei's namesake is one of the Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin) who is typically portrayed with a treasure-sack of precious things (takaramono).
This print is one of at least four known designs from a series titled Kyôfuku tôsei kurabe ("A comparison of contemporary mirror covers": 鏡覆当世競) for performances of different plays spanning 8/1840 to 9/1841.
The corpulent lucky god Hotei and his treasure sack can be seen emblazoned over the right shoulder on Ensaburô's kimono. The poem (布袋市こぞる十日の恵比寿かな) is by the artist Sadahiro, signing as "Hiiki" (ひいき, hiragana for 贔屓), that is, friend or patron. This inscription is accompanied by a seal reading Konishi Gochô (小西五長), which in turn has been the subject of speculation that not only does it represent Sadahiro but it is also identified with the artist Hirosada — who used the same seal on some of his prints.
This is the same impression as illustrated in Schwaab (see OSP below), and thus formerly in the Haber collection. The freshness of the colors and deluxe printing make this an especially fine example.
References: IKBYS-III, no. 45; OK, p. 112, no. 102; OSP, no. 191; KNP-6, p. 427; HSH, no. 80; TWOP, pp. 210-211; HOP, pp. 24-25