ADVICES FOR NEWBIES BUYERS - RULES OF THUMB
Posted 29 September 2013 - 11:54 PM
SOME OF THEM
Buy always the best you can afford,
Never buy unpolished blades,
Starting Muromachi, don't buy any shortened sword
Buy certified blades when signed
BTW: avoid ebay if you are not an expert
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Posted 30 September 2013 - 01:37 AM
Dr. Brian Barrett,
Posted 30 September 2013 - 02:14 AM
Buy the best. I agree with this, though it is a long evolution for most collectors to arrive to this view.
No unpolished blades. It depends on what you mean by unpolished. There are many blades in good old polish that one can enjoy. In addition, it is possible to pick up unpolished blades with famous names or osuriage that turn out to be good. Most of the best blades in my collection were bought in an unpolished state.
No shortened blades after muromachi. I totally agree. I avoid cut down shinto in nearly all cases. Every now and then you can pick up a blade by a wonderful maker (Tadayoshi, Yasutsugu, etc.) that is suriage and therefore a fraction of the cost.
Papers when signed. My solution to this has been to build a great reference library. Unpapered blades can be very real and relatively cheap. The ebay swords that I have bought (after careful study of the mei) have papered in nearly every case. A recent example of this is a great Kanesada wakizashi that we discussed on the NMB (viewtopic.php?f=3&t=15329&st=0&sk=t&sd=a). I haven't yet submitted this one, but have no doubt that it will paper. Another example is a Mutsu Tadayoshi wakizashi that went dirt cheap at the starting bid and has since papered. There are dozens of examples of this. The kind of study that we did (after the fact) on the Terukane/Kanesada above is what is required though, and one must have access to the blade in hand or great photos. It does relate to your rule on polish though. The blade should be in a state of polish good enough to get NTHK papers prior to making the dive to send it to Japan for restoration, in my view.
Avoid ebay if not an expert. I partially agree with this statement, yet, I have bought the bulk of my collection on ebay and defend it as a source for great blades over the last decade or so as the last of the GIs went to their maker. It has clearly dried up of late though. I don't consider myself an expert however, and have certainly made some costly mistakes on ebay. On balance, it has been great.
Posted 30 September 2013 - 07:07 AM
It goes without saying that collectors at a certain level normally won't be interested in collecting these swords. This gives other collectors an opportunity to own examples of a level of quality, or of a level of swordsmith, that would otherwise be beyond their reach.
I do agree with this rule of thumb (as stated by Jean) in most cases though, especially for new collectors...
Posted 30 September 2013 - 12:06 PM
thank you for your thoughts which may be helpful to many beginners. I am sure you developed your ‘rules of thumb’ over long years of studying and collecting, and as we all know, experience can not be transferred from one person to another nor being learned from books.
My personal experience in this field is that when I dived into these vast and deep waters some 40 years ago I had almost no money, but many swords and TOSOGU seemed cheap in relation to today! I had no real knowledge, so I bought what seemed to be nice in my uneducated eyes and what was affordable.
Looking back I can say that I did not make too many mistakes (which has to do with the low level of my purchases), but learned a lot from what I was able to hold in my hands for a long term study. Now I have a different look at the items on the market, and I feel that it has become much more difficult for beginners, not only more expensive! There are so many modern fakes which we did not have in the mid-seventies! They are easily identified by educated collectors, but may deceive beginners.
So I think that your recommendations make sense but are only applicable when you start to collect on a relatively high price level. Many new collectors are probably not able or willing to do so.
But this is the same as in most collecting fields. If you were interested in old classic cars you would get the recommendation never to buy a restored car if not all replaced parts were absolutely original and genuine. So you have a threshold where you find your new hobby starting at € 50.000.— (or the double, in $ or GBP). The alternative would be a cheap old car on which you work on weekends and with some luck end up by really driving it (which may be the greater pleasure for some collectors).
In theory, practice and theory should be the same, in practice, they are not….
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Posted 30 September 2013 - 12:22 PM
READ ALL THE ABOVE AND DONT BUY ANYTHING UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND FULLY WHAT AS BEEN WRITTEN!!!!!
YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF, DO YOU REALLY HAVE A PASSION FOR NIHONTO??, OR IS IT JUST A PASSING STAGE IN YOUR LIFE, IN OTHER WORDS, ARE YOU BEING IMPULSIVE???....IF YOU DONT HAVE A PASSION, AND FEEL YOU ARE BEING IMPULSIVE THEN DO NOT BUY ANYTHING, YOU WILL REGRET IT!.
I would say, as a newbie then you should only buy a SIGNED ubu blade, with PAPERS, in FULL polish with no FLAWS. If you dont, then as a newbie knowing DIDDLY SQUAT you will buy something you may well REGRET. More expensive, but if your serious and take on the hobby you will be glad you chose WISELY.
There is nothing better than owning a QUALITY, sound blade with PROVENANCE. The more INFORMATION you have, the better.
This is just my opinion, that of a newcomer myself.
Posted 30 September 2013 - 02:53 PM
- buy the best you can afford : it means you will learn thousand things you won't on low end blades
- buy polish blades: I have seen thousand of project blades (bought out of price for a piece of rust) destinated to be polished and never being, just kept in a drawer. You will never learn something from a bit of rust. Except for a few blades, the restoration of an unpolished blade, far exceed its value, above all for:
- non ubu swords whatever they are (one exception among thousand) starting Muromachi.
- Paper blades:
- signed ones: you will be unable to know if it is gimei or not if not papered
- unsigned ones : you must know the attribution if you want to learn something about
the school characteristic and understand something in Nihonto.
- learn the market price by looking at on line commercial prices
BEWARE THAT OFTEN BLADES SOLD BY NON SPECIALIZED ANTIQUES DEALERS SHALL BE OVERPRIZED.
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Posted 30 September 2013 - 05:35 PM
Be aware also that a signed papered blade from a dealer is also likely to be overpriced since they are firstly recouping the price of the polish they had done on the blade plus what they paid for the blade, plus a tidy profit which is often inflated out of proportion by the rank of the school/smith that the blade is attributed to. The desire to 'make a killing" is alive and well among many dealers.
I do not begrudge a dealer the profit he makes if it is reasonable. This middle man inflation however is what has taken good quality nihonto beyond the reach of most newbies and many of the seasoned collectors, many of whom previously looked upon nihonto as an investment.
In just two days from now, tomorrow will be yesterday.
Posted 30 September 2013 - 06:54 PM
It means more than 3000$ for an unpapered blade. Add the cost of papering shinsa, shinsa agent, ...
=====> BETTER BUY A PAPERED POLISHED BLADE
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Posted 30 September 2013 - 06:58 PM
Posted 30 September 2013 - 07:12 PM
DON'T COME TO NMB AFTER BUYING
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Posted 30 September 2013 - 07:22 PM
Many people go on to become good and serious collectors afte making these mistakes. The ones that have thick skins and can listen to advice are the ones who will benefit later.
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Posted 30 September 2013 - 09:23 PM
While I agree generally with your view my last sword purchase was a mumei wakizashi that needed polish. Once purchased, I put in the hands of the right people to do the restoration (Brian Tschernage for habaki and shirasaya and Takeo Seki for the polish). I will ge the sword back in about a year. It will then go to shinsa. There is always risk when getting a sword polished but I believe that I found a winner and acted accordingly. I have the advantage of being in this hobby as a serious student for a long time.
Posted 30 September 2013 - 09:38 PM
Not to mention the books are now taking on a life of their own in terms of a collection.
So...for every dollar you wish to spend, invest a proportionate amount into books. May not be quite on subject, but certainly bares mentioning.
Good dealers are worth the extra money when starting out. Build the relationship as they are an incredible wealth of information. People like Ed Marshall and Andy Quirt are more than willing to aid in making an educated and informed decision, and their experience and professionalism are money well spent.
Posted 30 September 2013 - 09:53 PM
What a fun topic! It is obvious that there is a lot of good and well intentioned advice, some doubtless tempered by the school hard knocks, offered. Here is my two cents worth.
1. Join a club or group of local collectors. There are some terrific groups in the US and Canada and the way to find them might be as simple as to ask someone with a few swords on his table at a local gun or antique show.
2. Join the Japanese Sword Society of the US, the Northern California group, the NBTHK, the NTHK, etc., and there are other worthy groups. You will get a publication full of interesting stuff, show announcements, buy and sell, etc.
3. Attend the major sword shows in the US for a starter: Tampa, Chicago, San Francisco, and others. Keep your wallet in your pocket, talk to dealers, and others wandering around. Most table holders are more than happy to show you material, but be sure you know how to properly and safely handle anything you are allowed to pick up before you do it, and always ask for permission, sign or no sign. In a couple of years off to Tokyo for the Dai Token Ichi held at the end of each October. I think it is a diet a little too rich for a first year newbie, but maybe not.
4. Start building a library. Some books are quite reasonable, some quite expensive, but they all tend to hold their value. Buying them is almost like a refundable deposit you might pay for something borrowed at a resort, as you can always get your money back; and maybe more, much more. To mention only a few I would recommend: Nakahara. Facts and Fundamentals of Japanese Swords: A Collector's Guide; Nagayama. The Connoisseur's Book of Japanese Swords; NTHK. Novice Course (as reprinted by the Northern Callifornia JSC); Yamanaka. Nihonto News-Letter ("News-Letter is a major misnomer as it ran monthly for years and is a rich source of sword and sword smith information); Fujishiro. Koto and Shinto volumes; Nihonto Koza as translated by Harry Afu Watson (5 volumes on swords); Iimura. Koto, Shinto and Shinshinto volumes; Kataoka. Koto and Shinto Zuikan. This listing runs roughly from the less to the more expensive.
5. I would suggest that a newbie find a reliable dealer. Dealers are often the kicking boys of the sword world, and that is a mistake. Yes, there are dealers who will take advantage of new, or any collector, as the knowledge difference is very asymmetric; some will bend or really twist the truth and might see a greenhorn as an easy mark, however that kind of thing gets around and pitfalls can be avoided. To state the obvious dealers are market makers, they sell and they buy, the buying or taking of trades is the often forgotten side of the coin; they know what is where and will help collectors to achieve their collecting goals. Most that I know are honest and helpful people and their word is their bond. A really amazing amount of money changes hands in the sword world on nothing but a promise to deliver or a promise to pay. If one wanted to do a study of ethics by hobby activity, that would be the place to start.
6. When the newbie has his goals in order and if they include buying unpapered pieces, don't forget the shinsa. If a newbie buys an unpapered sword, other things equal, the risk is greater and that should be incorporated into the price. The resolution is the shinsa and the cost should be implicit in the purchase price. While the NBTHK hasn't done a shinsa in the US since the early 80s, both versions of the NTHK do them more or less regularly. While no shinsa is perfect I believe their judgments, particularly on signed blades, can be taken at face value. Often they are given out of polish mu mei blades of very poor quality, and they can only more or less guess. A collector should not expect miracles as only the smith, the person who shortened it and God knows for sure who made any unsigned sword.
7. Finally the new collector should think about collecting goals and collecting criteria. If he wants only signed blades that will rule out many fine Heian to Early Kamakura swords, but after that if an unsigned blade is purchased its cost should significantly reflect that fact, particularly if it is a Juyo. For some, unsigned Shinto are okay, and more so if only suriage to a limited extent, but the rate of discount should clearly be there; however I believe unsigned Shinto are a dead end Most collectors will want ubu signed and dated shinshinto and gendaito. I believe serious thought should be given to whether post war, that is "post use" swords are on the menu. Once that gate is opened supply is large and price can paradoxically be very high.
Just some thoughts.
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Posted 30 September 2013 - 10:01 PM
This is aimed to people/newbies who are itching to get their first swords without reading or going to Nihonto fairs.
Do you really think you can put on a disguise and pass for a beginner to my eyes. :D
Remember the title "..... For newbies"
Edit to add:
This post, as written above, is destinated to all newbies who appear more and more on NMB with a first post requesting information about their last purchase and have no idea of what is Nihonto
Posted 30 September 2013 - 10:23 PM
The thread seemed to me to have broadened. I can eliminate the post if you want. I agree that newbies would pass this sword by as many did as did experienced collectors.
Posted 30 September 2013 - 11:52 PM
Join a nihonto club and visit nihonto fairs is the second most important advice to me (can't appreciate them as you should, if you have one at a 1000km radius).
Her high mountains eagle-shaped, rows of vines at the volcanos and the houses more white near the great blue's edge...
Odysseas Elytis - Axion Esti
Posted 30 September 2013 - 11:55 PM
I am going to tell you what irks me, waste of so hard earned money, absolutely no notion of what is worth what. There is nothing wrong paying 10 bucks/quids for a junk. Paying hundreds for a junk is a crime.
These new members know NMB:
Either before buying but subscribing after their purchase. In this case, if their purchase is a fake they should be hanged (regular past tense only for capital execution - see Proper English thread )
Worse: People buying and then searching the web and finding NMB asking if they have paid the right price
You are right, Barry, the title of this thread should be changed and I am going to do it. Thanks for pointing it
Please reread my first post changed in light of what Barry has written
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Posted 01 October 2013 - 12:17 AM
I hate capital letters but this is an important topic. I am going to put Arnold post in Grass :D
Posted 01 October 2013 - 12:52 AM
The basic "rule" I'd give to a new collector is
Have a reason to buy the sword (tsuba/yoroi/whatever) you are buying.
When you get home you should be able to complete the sentence, 'I bought this because...". If you answer that by saying "It looked good to me", or "The seller said it was good." and YOU know you don't know very much, then you should get smarter or make sure that you have a big basement.
It is easiest to have an answer to this question if you have:
1) bought and read some books,
2) met and assessed some other collectors and their collections,
3) figured out how Japanese swords are bought and sold.
As an aside, I will add that IF you buy something because it is cheap, you better be sure that you know how to SELL Japanese swords.
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Posted 01 October 2013 - 01:05 AM
Whiilst all the foregoing advice is both wise and sound, I am surprised nobody has advised the beginner to find a teacher and go to Japan for advice and to and handle truely great swords. He will then know what good swords are like and be in a better place to buy. Events such as the DTI and the NBTHK taikai in a few weeks are ideal and should not be missed by any of us! If he can't afford to go to Japan then he probably can't afford to collect decent words, maybe harsh but true.
Posted 01 October 2013 - 02:27 AM
I'm still a newbie nihonto collector, but I think I've gotten through the first phase (wanting to buy everything), as I'm having quite clear vision what I'll be buying in the future, and even very minor things affect on my purchase decisions.
However not all collectors will ever want to get into connoisseur style of collecting. They are just happy that they own authentic Japanese sword. I can perfectly understand that philosophy as I collect swords of various cultures. I tend to buy Indo-Persian junk that true collectors of those weapons won't think highly, as I'm saving my money towards nihonto. So I'm actually doing the stuff that was described but I'm doing it with weapons of other culture, of course I do research as much as I can, but I'm buying junk. I enjoy the fact that I'll be getting a real antique sword for very affordable price, and that fills my Indo-Persian collecting need. If those were nihonto of same quality & condition, I wouldn't even consider them but while I do this with other weapons I can understand perfectly how somebody thinks the same way about the Japanese swords.
Heck, my first nihonto purchases were done bit hastily as they were on online forums and back then I didn't have that many references. If I hadn't done those first purchases and learnt from the mistakes I did, I could have ended up collecting European swords, or swords by some other culture (well my passion towards Japanese swords would have drawn me into them in every case, but trying to make a comparison here). You have to take that first step sometime, and once you've taken it, you'll start another learning process. Once you do mistakes they will teach you the most. Even though we try to help others not repeating the mistakes we personally have made, they will do some eventually, and it will be great learing process. I've done my share of mistakes, and I'll do more in the future.
I agree with Peter that once you have a reason to buy a sword, that's all you need. Granted most of the members of this forum are "hardcore" collectors, there is another breed of casual collectors and both have usually different reasons to buy a sword. For many casual collectors just having a sword is enough, they don't want to know all the details of it or the full history behind it. Lately I've noticed I sometimes envy the casual collecting mindset. It's just so relaxed, as you don't have such high standards.
Age and the maturity of the new collector are also important factors. I started collecting swords at very young age. As a kid you can't handle the critique very well, as you are not mature enough to understand the wisdom behind it. And therefore I personally don't want to give harsh critique as I know how important own swords are to a person, lots of critique will put the person in defensive mode. Light and constructive critique is ok, and it helps in understanding.
Very good advices in this thread though, my post was more about different collectors, as Brian said it well that many newbies will evolve into serious collectors.
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Posted 01 October 2013 - 07:04 AM
There is another issue worth mentioning, though perhaps not of relevance to the novice collector. If one only buys papered and polished blades, then one is not directly contributing to the preservation of the Japanese sword. By that I mean that I feel some drive to identify blades worthy of preservation, confirm that view by NTHK shinsa, and then have the blade properly restored. Both NTHK and NBTHK have the "hozon" in their names, emphasizing the importance of preservation. It is very satisfying to have found a wonderful blade in a poor condition and have it restored, realizing that by so doing you may have saved it for literally centuries to come.
Just some random observations, and of little immediate value to the newbies that you originally posted for. But today's newbies become those who maintain the field tomorrow.
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Posted 01 October 2013 - 09:55 AM
Unfortunately, most of the newbies may not be interested in becoming connoisseur and prefers buying a sword than going to Japan. They may not have the cash too.
I'll be curious to know how many of the subscribing newbies are still there one year later.
If you read the thread, it is clear that these are newbies buying rules advices.
I am focus minded in my purchase. I am not one that can be called a newbie. I got my first blade 40 years ago, at a time when Nihonto were very very expensive in France, unlike in the States, a Nobutaka.
The "preservation" word is historical and has his roots in the aftermath of the WW II. I don't feel an obligation to save Japanese swords. I am not belonging to the local "Salvation Army Counter". This notion is typical a western attitude. I buy polish blades because in my Country you seldom find unpolish blade and if any not worth the polish. I am practical. I don't need paper to buy but I paper my blades that's why I buy in Japan. By experience the cost of purchasing a full polished blade in shirasaya is inferior to the cost of buying an unpolished one (you have to have it polish, new habaki, shirasaya). Very often (above all in this time of crisis) the cost of restoration far exceeds the value of the blade. If the blade is not papered, it easier and less costly to go to NBTHK.
I will never have the occasion to find a diamond in the mud in France.
Being a collector I never buy at random.
Rule of thumb: whatever the field of collecting I never buy without reading, discussing and talking with senior collectors. This is what I call being adult. Money is too scarce.
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Posted 01 October 2013 - 10:44 AM
In REALITY, i would say the vast majority of newbies wont have the inclination, or the sense to read into the subject before buying. I would imagine that a great many swords are not sold to collectors, but to someone with spare cash who just wants a "REAL" samurai sword. The newbie will see a sword on a website, phone the dealer and the dealer (if wrong dealer) will tell the newbie all kinds of interesting tales, but he will not bring up talk of gimei...
Obviously, there are newbies, with more sense.., i might add..
Knowing nothing, the less sensible newbie will look for a dealer, usually in his own country and if he is lucky enough he will find a good dealer. If on the other hand, he stumbles across the wrong dealer, then it is highly likely he will pay over the odds.
note to "NEWBIE" only....important...make sure it sinks in!.
BEWARE DEALERS WHO ONLY STOCK NON PAPERED BLADES AND GIVE THE REASON FOR DOING SO AS "SHINSA COSTS TOO MUCH, AND IS TOO MUCH HASSLE"
I may also add, that there are a great many excellent dealers, all the folk on here know who they are, so newbie, if your lucky enough to read this post before buying, then find out who these dealers are, and deal with them...
Posted 01 October 2013 - 05:00 PM
I agree with you totally and cannot fault your advice. The points you make are repeated often in numerous posts here
Likewise Clive's point is perfectly valid, there is no substitute for seeing good quality swords at events in Japan.
While I agree with these points now, it isn't how I started.
My first sword was bought spontaneously when I saw a dealer draw it from it's saya. I knew nothing and had studied nothing. I bought it because it was probably the most beautiful sword I had ever seen (at that time) it was pure instinct.
Since then I have devoted many years and a lot of money on books and looking at swords. Regrettably I have never seen swords on my few trips to Japan (always business and short on time) I hope to correct this failing next year.
Despite my dodgy start and lack of Japanese visit experience I enjoyed the process, learned a lot and enjoyed the effort. I have made numerous mistakes but probably learned more from them. I have also put together a small collection I continue to enjoy.
So while I think Jean and Clive are absolutely right I wonder how many of us, who have started a long time ago actually followed such advice when we began?
Posted 01 October 2013 - 05:50 PM
Forty years ago, internet did not exist at a large scale (TCP/IP. 1982), information is available everywhere today.
BUT IT IS NOT A REASON FOR NEWBIES NOT TO FOLLOW THESE ADVICES.
Posted 01 October 2013 - 06:29 PM
I think what I am saying is that it is not unusual for a first purchase to be an impulse buy.
What is criminal is when the same approach continues and the buyer fails to learn and take good advice. On a number of occasions in the past I have watched people jumping again and again hoping each time they had found a treasure when in fact they just bought another fake.
Starting is often more emotional than objective. as one progresses (we hope) greater understanding and objectivity kick in.
Buying what you like is fine but the more you study the more you will understand why you like what you buy
p.s. many thanks to whoever was responsible for adding the spell check, it will save numerous edits and acute embarrassment on my part
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