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About JohnTo

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    Jo Saku

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    Dorset, England
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    Mainly tsuba but some swords and other koshirai

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    John B

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  1. Ooops, Sorry Chris, Getting names mixed up while rushing around. This is the first time that I have seen one of these tsuba actually mounted on a sword or tanto. It would be very interesting to see a picture of the tanto koshirae and blade. Best regards, John
  2. Hi Steven, The signature on your fuchi says Soheishi (Mogarishi) nyudo Soten sei. But I would not take much notice of it. Here is a tsuba with his 'signature', currently for sale at over £2000. But it looks like Mr Suzuki's 'signature' has been obliterated! Thanks for the additional example of Mr Suzuki's work. Best regards, John
  3. I am adding these two examples of Nagoya-mono style tsuba to my post separately as I don’t want them mixed up with examples from Mr Suzuki’s workshop. They are also from my collection. The first is a really awful example of a cast tsuba that appears to be identical to my example #9 in my original post. The casting is bad and the black patina looks like paint. In addition the punch marks are missing from the nakago ana, so maybe its one of Mr Suzuki’s rejects that someone else finished! The second example is similar to example number #3, flowers in a basket on a wheelbarrow, but there are significant differences in the design that show it not to be cast from the same mould. This represents one of the superior examples of Nagoya-mono. Unlike the typical examples from ‘Mr Suzuki’s workshop’, the punch marks around the nakago ana are different. In addition the patina of the metal looks a bit more like shakudo, so perhaps there is some gold in the mix. There were good examples Nagoya-mono tsuba in the Compton Collection. So, if they are good enough for him to have collected….. I hope that this shows that not all Nagoya-mono tsuba were cheap Goto knock offs, some were quite good but others were awful. Regards, John (just a guy making observations, asking questions, trying to learn)
  4. I have written this post as an aid to tsuba newbies, like myself, who may buy Nagoya-mono tsuba while mistaking them for Mino Goto shakudo tsuba. Examples of Nagoya-mono tsuba have been discussed many times on the NMB and I offer this post as a collation of examples from what I believe is a single workshop. Nagoya-mono (alternatives Nagoyamono or Nagaoya mono) literally means ‘Nagoya object or thing’, i.e. something from Nagoya. Sometimes they are called ‘shiiri-mono’; literally ‘thing off the self, or stock item’. There are various types of Nagoya-mono and this post is a collation of the wakizashi size, mokko shaped soft metal tsuba that superficially resemble Goto workmanship that I believe were produced in the same workshop. I must declare at the outset that I am not an expert on the subject and the notes below are based upon my observations and what little information I have been able to glean from the literature. So please feel free to correct and comment. I first came across these tsuba two years ago when two were offered for sale at a large London auction house and catalogued as ‘Mino Goto shakudo’. Fortunately, a slow internet failed to register my over the top winning bid. A couple of months later I purchased two (a lot cheaper) as part of a mixed lot and others keep popping up in online auctions both in the UK and abroad, including Japan. This prompted an interest (though not a love) in these tsuba and a concern that they were being (possibly inadvertently) advertised as more desirable Mino Goto tsuba. For example, there is a tsuba of this type to which has been added a ‘Soten’ signature on Ebay for over £2000! The general features of these particular Nagoya-mono are: 1 Mokko shape and wakizashi or small katana size size (my two are 6.8 x 6.1 cm). 2. Although looking like shakudo, the metal is probably nigurome, an alloy of katashirome (tin and lead) and copper, which only becomes shakudo after gold (3-7%) has been added (Christies Compton collection description). Whether this is true nigurome, i.e. the base alloy for shakudo, or a similar alloy better suited to casting and patination I cannot say. 3. The colour of the body (ji) of the tsuba resembles the blue black of shakudo but lacks the depth of colour and often has a brown tinge to it. The seppa-dai is always chocolate brown in the ones that I have seen. 4. The ji is not perfectly flat, as in Goto works, but often shows shallow undulations caused by uneven casting. 5. The nanako finish is not great. I thought that it was probably cast rather than made with a punch. However, comparing the nanako on one of my tsuba with that of a photo (on-line) of an identical tsuba showed differences. This may indicate the nanako was applied by hand (using a punch), or from using different moulds when casting the tsuba. 6. The mimi and hitsu ana are usually surrounded by a gold gilt finish that initially looks like regular nanako, but on closer examination looks like a lizard skin, i.e. shallow and with bigger oval spots (see pic). 7. Most have a single kodzuka hitsu ana, but some have both kogai and kodzuka hitsu ana. 8. Silver and gold gilding looks as if it has been applied by painting with a mercury amalgam and then heating to vaporise the mercury. I have not seen any evidence of gold foil peeling off the tsuba. I conclude that although cast, individual tsuba are finished and decorated by hand. I have not seen seams from the mould either, unlike cast iron tsuba. 9. Lastly, these Nagoya-mono tsuba have a characteristic pattern of ten punch marks around the nakago ana, viz: three at the top, two on each side at the bottom and three along the bottom. These differ slightly in position, so were evidently made individually and some have been altered. I think that these were quality control marks to indicate they were deemed good enough to sell. As soon as I see these I want to shout ‘Ah, another tsuba from Mr Suzuki’s workshop.’ Note: I don’t actually know the name of the workshop owner. So, who originally bought these tsuba? I don’t think it was tourists (Japanese or European) as has been suggested. There were few in the Edo period. Poverty and starvation were rife in the 17th and 18thC, so they may have been bought by poor samurai or by wealthier wannabe merchants, who were allowed to wear short swords. A bit of bling to wear on Saturday nights maybe. Many men throughout history and throughout the world have woken up after a night on the town only to find that they had ‘mislaid’ their money, valuables and sometimes their clothes. A wise man would leave his valuables at home. Although dismissed by many on the NMB, I see no reason why a collector should not specialise in Nagoya-mono, especially if they are not wealthy enough to buy genuine Goto works and have no interest in ‘bits of old iron’. However, some of the ones I have seen for sale have gone for over £300/$400, which I think is way too much! There are plenty to study in addition to those from Mr Suzuki’s workshop. So here is my collection of 16 designs (there are others) that I have come across in the last few months, all apparently from ‘Mr Suzuki’s workshop’. Two of them are mine (they were just included in job lots, honest!). I have also included a picture of the ‘lizard skin’ nanako on the mimi of one of mine for reference. 1. Takarabune (treasure ship) with the character Hoo (treasure) on the sail. This tsuba is mine 2. Chrysanthemum, birds and fence. This tsuba is also mine 3. Flowers in basket on wheelbarrow 4. Tadamori catching the oil thief 5. Man chasing snake 6. Pagoda and water wheel 7. Shishi 8. Ho-o bird on branch 9. Chrysanthemums 10. Meadow flowers 11. Five Chinese sages 12. Thatched hut scene 13. Two deer and flowers 14. Dragon 15. Lady Murasaki Shikibu writing 16. Peacock Regards, John (just a guy making observations, asking questions, trying to learn)
  5. Jesse, No one seems to have mentioned the obvious test. Put a magnet on it. Its an obvious fake and I doubt if its even iron. Hopefully you did not pay a lot of money for it a a major auction house. Best regards
  6. As said above, this tsuba is a Nagoyamono (lit. Nagoya thing or object) and made as an affordable copy of Goto work. They are often described as shakudo but are actually nigurome, the copper base alloy before gold is added to make shakudo. Hence the brown rather than blue/black patina. Quality varies, yours (and mine attached) are mid range. Although the plate (ji) is decorated with nanako I've always found that the rim (mimi) has a gilded lizard skin nanako finish (as do the rims of the hitsu ana). Although this quality tsuba was almost certainly cast, the gilding and nanako seems to have been done by hand. So, not the best quality, but not cheapo castings either. My tsuba has Soten style samurai on it and I have seen a very similar example on a Japanese website described as Soten. So I' don't know if the Soten school were involved in making Nagoyamono or whether the craftsmen just copied Soten designs. Best regards, John
  7. Marcos, Steve, Thanks for the updated information. Sotherby's gave him the dates 1835-ca. 1909, but Steve's kanji look right, so I'll update my inventory. Thanks, John
  8. More information on the (possible) maker of this tsuba was supplied by Marcos on his recent New Year Ox Tsuba post (Jan 2021) as follows . Ikedo Minkoku was a great tsubakō, kinkō and ginkō formed in the Fine Arts University of Tōkyō where was taught by Unnō Shōmin, but after that he continued his formation with him at his atelier. The problem for Minkoku was the time where he lived, where tsuba orders were very few so, as many other artists, including Shōmin, he worked on incense pots, silver jars, tabakoire kagamibuta and so on. As Mr. Ōkawa told me, things were not easy as well for Minkoku student and Ōkawa san sensei, Ametani Yūmin, who mainly made rings, collars and obitori. Even Ōkawa san told me that, if you're not hired by a institution like Tōken Hakubutsukan or Bizen Hakubutsukan, is impossible to live as a tsubakō, so he also made jewellery till 50 years old. Congratulations about your tsuba. I think I saw time ago, in some auction a kagamibuta made by Minkoku and, regarding the piece, the price was so high, maybe because there is few works made and signed by him, so you're lucky. Marcos I have a couple of updates myself, so I thought that I would add them to my original post. The first concerns the design on the reverse of the tsuba, a pine tree. The relevance of this has puzzled me for over 10 years, but I think I found it last year amongst some haiku written by my favourite poet, Kobayashi Issa (literally one cup of tea, 1763-1827). The haiku is: ‘Hotoke mo narade uka-uka oi no matsu (Not yet Buddha, mindless old pine)’. I believe that the artist is effectively reversing the question, or Zen koan, asked on the front. The main design asks if a sacred carving of Buddha can be regarded as a piece of firewood. The reverse is asking whether a live pine tree has attained the Buddhist state of ‘no-mind’ and whether its fate, after being chopped down, is to become a sacred carving, or end up just pieces of firewood. If I’m right, I think that the design concept is brilliant, especially as the story of Tanka is my favourite Zen koan. The second update concerns whether it is genuine or a modern fake. It looks as if Sajid Javid (UK Home Secretary 2018, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2019) may have posed as the artist’s model for Tanka!
  9. Hi Marcos, Here is one of mine. Sorry, but the oxen is a little shy and is just being coaxed out of his barn with a bucket of food. Its just a wakizashi mumei piece but in the theme of oxen. What really made may day about your post was the reference to Ikedo Minkoku. I have a tsuba inscribed Funakoshi Shunmin, and alternative name used by Minkoku, according to Sotherby's. I've posted it before, it was one of the first that I bought. It shows the famous story of the zen monk Tanka chopping up a wooden Buddha for firewood to keep himself warm while staying at the Yerenji in China during the 9thC. I have never seen another tsuba by this artist, though museums (Boston, Brit) have tobacco pouch clasps and inro by him. I was beginnings to doubt that he ever made tsuba (I'm not saying mine is genuine, but the workmanship is great and I've never seen the design elsewhere). Thanks for the info. Best regards, and happy New Year. John
  10. Following the link I saw that there were two volumes of the NY Met tsuba collection for sale at this site. I looked at the preview and it showed pics of tsuba with a full description, so I bought Volume 1. I am totally disappointed with it as the majority of entries are like the one attached, just a list of the metal and size of the tsuba plus who donated it. Like many of the tsuba, the ones pictured are signed, but no translation of the signature is given. The photos are of such poor quality that the signatures cannot be read. Without even a tentative identification of the school, artist and subject it is just a picture book as far as I am concerned and little use in furthering my knowledge. Sorry to be so hard, but at £50 I expected a more scholarly book. Best regards, John
  11. JohnTo

    Omori Hisanori?

    I came across a version of this tsuba in a small auction in the UK a couple of years ago and wondered if it was genuine and decided it wasn't (Only saw pics on the internet). By coincidence I picked up an old Bonhams New York catalogue (16 Oct 2012) on the same day and there was a version of this tsuba (lot 1062, signed Umetada) that went for big money (over $1000). It also had provenance: ex St John's University Collection, so maybe it was the real deal. I will emphasize that I am not saying the Bonhams tsuba was a fake. I have also seen similar copies for sale on the internet for less than $50. My concern is that some NMB correspondents seem to be declaring with some certainty that various tsuba that sold for big money were in fact fakes. I wonder if the purchasers of these tsuba are NMB readers and might take them back to the auction house with a 'Hey, this tsuba I bought here is a fake. Joe Bloggs on the NMB says so.' Are we stirring up a hornets nest? best regards, John
  12. JohnTo

    Christmas Quiz

    Malcolm, Thanks for the link to Joly's book (Looks good and its free!). I've downloaded it and transferred it onto my Kindle. My mother bought me Joly's Sword and Same back in 1973. He must have been a great Japanese scholar. Pity he was before my time. best regards, John
  13. JohnTo

    Christmas Quiz

    Mark, You are right and I have been mistaken. What a quizmaster I would make. Its HOMMA MAGOSHIRO SHIGEUJI, a story I was totally unaware of, but the bird does have something it its claws (as does a couple of the other pics sent in). But thats what NMB is all about, learning and admitting when you are wrong. Hopefully the mistake does not merit seppuku. thanks again everyone for your input and information, I'll try to do better in 2021. John
  14. JohnTo

    Christmas Quiz

    As expected it did not take you guys to solve the quiz, but we can’t have anything that taxes the mind too much at this time of year. A special thanks to those who knew the answer, but restrained themselves to give others a chance, and to those posting more pictures relating to the subject. When I have this tsuba on display and we have visitors I often offer them £10 if they can guess what the target was. I still have the £10. I believe that the tsuba depicts a scene from the Gempei War (1180-1185) at the battle of Yashima on 22 March 1185. On-line accounts differ, but the gist seems to be that the Taira (alternative name Heike) army, having been effectively defeated by the Minamoto (alternative name Genji) fled to the safety of their ships. According to the Heike Monogatari a very beautiful lady in one of the Taira ships placed an open fan (with a red sun’s disc design) atop of a pole and challenged the Minamoto to knock it off. The gesture may have been a bit of chivalrous rivalry between the two clans, or more likely a ploy to taunt the Minamoto samurai into wasting their precious arrows. A young (18 year old) Minamoto samurai, Nasu no Yoichi (Nasu Munetaka), accepted the challenge. He rode his horse into the sea and shot the fan cleanly through. Nasu won much fame and his descendants took a fan with sun’s disc as family mon. I believe that his descendants could walk into any bar in Japan, declare their lineage and expect that someone would buy them a drink. One account says that Nasu Munetaka used just one arrow to hit the arrow and that the arrow was fitted with a humming-bulb, and not the Y-shaped rope cutter shown on the tsuba. The Minamoto went on to destroy the Taira in the famous sea battle of Dan-no-Ura a month later (25th April). Broken fans became associated with the defeat of the Taira and are often depicted on tsuba. My wife bought me an iron sukashi one (see attached) which shows a broken fan in waves together with two arrows. As there are two arrows, I assume that the design relates to the battle of Dan-no Ura rather than Yashima. I have attributed this tsuba to the Kyo-Shoami School about 1700. My attribution is based upon the open nature and relatively thin mimi (Kyoto work), plus the 3-D, rather than 2-D (flat sukashi) carving of the design (Shoami) using Yagyu like waves. The tsuba also has just one tiny spot of gold nunome on each side for the rivet of the fan. The iron is very homogeneous, so I have put it as a mid-Edo piece. Comments and critiques on my attribution always welcome. That’s how I learn. With regard to the Shoki and Oni tsuba, it seems that tsuba workshops in the Edo period turned out lots of copies of popular tsuba. It don’t make them fakes, but losing their ‘uniqueness’ would undermine their value IMHO. All the best for the New Year John
  15. Hi Luis I have seen tsuba similar to this for sale described as both Mino and Nagoya, and are probably offshoots of the main Goto family. However, it seems hard to get definitive information for us collectors in the west who's Japanese is not too good. By coincidence, I was about to post a Christmas quiz tsuba for a bit of light relief. This tsuba appears to have little in common with yours, except for the seppa-dai and nakago. The seppa-dai is chocolate brown, rather than the blue-black of shakudo. This effect is interesting me at the moment as it may mean that the metal is nigurome rather than shakudo. Secondly, the punch marks on my tsuba are virtually the same as yours, especially the open pair at the top. I believe that these are just a decorative pattern that was used by the workshop in Nagoya, Mino or wherever rather than a signature. I have also been looking at cast Nagoyamono tsuba and they also have a distinctive (but different) pattern of punch marks. More research needed, as they say (no doubt it is all written up in some Japanese book). Best regards, John
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