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paulb

A not commercially desirable sword

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Some while ago I wrote about a sword I had bought from a dealer in the USA. I thought it was possibly worth revisiting the subject.

 

On first review this was not a commercially attractive proposition.. It is a fairly short ubu, mumei katana dating from the end of the Edo period. The sword had been on a well known dealer website for some time, it had been shown at several arms fairs and been largely ignored. Based on this experience and the fact one is repeatedly told not to buy unsigned shinto or shin--shinto blades this was not a collection enhancing proposition.

 

So I bought it, What I saw in the images on the website were interesting and it had a number of features I liked. I have listed a description below, which incidentally  I think forms the basic information a seller should supply when advertising a sword for sale here or anywhere else.. 

Description:- A Shin-Shinto Katana Ubu, shinogi-zukuri iori-mune, chu kissaki. A very shallow sori which is slightly Koshi-zori. In shirasaya.

Dimensions: 
Sugata 65.5cm        Sori 1.2cm
Motohaba 2.7cm    Sakihaba 1.8cm
Kasane 0.68cm

Jigane: Extremely tight ko-itame and ko-mokume with frequent ji-nie and chickei. Closely resembling both Enju hada and Hizen Konuka hada

Hamon: Chu-suguha in ko-nie with tight nioiguchi and much activity in the form of kinsuji, inazuma and sunagashi. Very bright and clear ko-nie throughout.

Boshi; Ko-maru with slightly elongated return

Nakago: Ubu mumei with Sujikai yasurimei possibly with kesho but indistinct.

 

If I am honest with myself I bought this sword firstly because I wanted to compare it to much earlier Yamashiro based work I had and secondly because it was offered at almost half the original price! having spent time with it I have reached the conclusion that it is a very well made blade. The hada is clear and bright with chickei and ji-nie. The nioiguchi is bright, tight and beautifully interspersed with ko nie.  All in all it is a good thing. It is also unmodified and healthy so it appears exactly as the maker intended. 

post-15-0-41458200-1594391258_thumb.jpg

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 we are frequently and quite rightly advised to seek the very best we can afford a strive to improve our collections. This is advice I give to people regularly. From a purely commercial point of view buying this sword was not a good decision. It was of unpopular form, it would be difficult to sell on and it does not enhance or add greatly to my collection. However it is also extremely beautiful. It has numerous features and activities that one would want to find in a much more highly regarded work. 

 

The reason for posting this is not to decry the advice given as to what to buy. It is given based on sound experience and understanding and aimed at preventing less experienced people from making an error that they would regret. However we should also remember this is not a purely commercial activity. we buy swords because we are interested in them they have features we enjoy and we want to study. On occasion such a sword appears and we need to be open to the possibility that something that does not conform to all the good and sound advice can still deliver an incredible experience.

 Edit:

added a tiff file of the sugata to give a clearer image:

shin-shinto1.tif

 

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Hi Paul, "dating from the late Edo period" does it have papers?

 

Best

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Hi Peter

Yes it has NTHK NPO papers to Hosakawa Tadamasa dated to about 1860.

To be honest and perhaps a little cynical it is one of those "safe harbor attributions" such as Echizen-seki, Shoami or Bungo Takeda. I looked up the school and this man was supposed to be the son of Hosakawa Tadayoshi but there is nothing i can see in the workmanship that explains how they reached that conclusion. I am not saying they are wrong I just don't understand the attribution. I think the date is reasonable though.

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I appreciate your sentiment Paul. Most, if not all, my swords are in my collection because they are special to me, or affect me, in one way or another. I know we're all different in our collecting principles, but for me, the future value of my swords were never a consideration in my purchases. They are valuable to me.

 

Great topic!

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Sentiment indeed. Paul, may I ask "If I am honest with myself I bought this sword firstly because I wanted to compare it to much earlier Yamashiro based work"  The sword has papers to a smith who's school is specialized in varied works of construction. Did the sword have papers when you bought it? 

 

"It is also unmodified and healthy so it appears exactly as the maker intended. " As we know if the maker was indeed happy with this work then they would have signed it as was the practice in the Edo period, swords were mostly signed if they were made to the standards outlined and approved by the makers. This was not, were you present when the sword was made and the not signed, or is the statement in fact just an assumption to justify a bad purchase?

 

Knowing that the sword is papered to shinshinto and not to any specific Yamashiro based Edo smith or school, can I know exactly what enlightenment you have gained by "studying this blade?" 

 

As someone I used to respect for their leadership of the Token Society of GB seeing this type of post and using it to say " Buy what moves you" however what is also on a discount is a bit of an oxymoron do you not think, you clearly state that the price was a consideration in making an uninformed and skeptical purchase but you reasoned that the purchase was "OK" because the price was low, how does that help education? 

 

Is it not the same as saying go to the cheaper college and pay for it rather than aim for a scholarship in a top tier University?

 

If one wants to study swords in any capacity they can see great swords in Museums via their societies (if societies cared enough to organise the viewings, you will no doubt point to the fact the TGB does this) so why influence a purchase that will point to no real teaching material and is just nice to look at? I can look at a Monet and it will move me, and knowing it is signed by Monet will move me further, because it is the real deal. I can look at a print of Monet and it will still move me, but it is still just a print. 

 

You do not need to own a masters work to be moved. 

 

This leads to your post on addiction and if you are in fact an accumulator or a collector, it seems this post has answered that in full light, has it not? You accumulate, rather than nurture Do not get me wrong, I have done the same (not with mumei Edo) but with swords that just had no place in my eventual goal. http://www.militaria.co.za/nmb/topic/32510-am-i-an-addict-or-not/

 

It is unfortunate that "collectors" here would rather justify a bad purchase than simply state that they did so based on a weighted average of coin vs time and that is what you are showing here. The sword was available at a time that you had a few bucks to spare and instead of saving to get a Shinto Yamashiro piece from the school of Umetada Myoju you did this....you scratched an itch.

 

The Token society is truly looking like a joke every week that goes by....This post is tantamount to Trump coming on here and telling everyone to use bleach to cure corona

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Oh Dear,

I must admit when writing this yesterday I partly anticipated this type of response Ray but sort of hoped not. I am either an eternal optimist or stupid.

I regret that I appear to have lost your respect.

What is not acceptable is making statements such as "The Token Society looks like a joke every week that goes by" and comparing what I am saying to Trumps comments on Coronavirus.

This is both inaccurate and extremely insulting.

Taking the core point which I have either explained very badly or you have chosen to miss.

I said very clearly that advice to buy the best you can is correct and what I also tell people to do.

That does not mean that there are no works in existence that cannot be enjoyed even though they do not meet the established criteria.

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Also I am not trying to justify a bad purchase, because it wasn't one. The comments regarding comparison to  Yamashiro work wasn't because of what the papers said it was based on what I could see in the images. The educational aspect (for me only) was to try and compare the way this smith had tried to create a very tight itame hada and nie based suguha hamon.

Would I have bought it at the full asking price-no probably not. Was it worth buying at what I paid for it to let me examine and compare close up I obviously thought so. I did not (as I said) buy it to add to or enhance a collection.

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Paul, nothing wrong with your post.
Rayhan, your posts make me sad, because they are poison to the forum and have caused significant damage to the forum in various ways.
While I understand your viewpoint about what should be bought and studied, it is simply not practical for most collectors. Only the very top level of collectors gets to maintain your desired way of collecting, and those guys don't need a forum.
If I was able to buy only papered and high level swords, I wouldn't be here chatting about them, I'd be flying to Japan monthly to view and purchase, or just study.
We are not here to promote the top 10% of swordsmiths and declare the rest not collectible.
I have tons I'd write about this subject, and may well do so. But now is not the time.
Now it is just time to mitigate some of the damage, and put you on moderated replies, so that we will have to authorize any posts manually. I am sorry...but I can't lose 14 years of time and effort and chase away members.

In 2 weeks, I'll be spending a lot of money I don't have to improve the forum, with many new features and sections.
There may well be areas for the type of collecting you advocate. I will look at that shortly.
But for now, no more insults or controversy. Paul has done a TON for the forum, and I enjoy his posts and articles. He does not deserve that.
I beg you to take a breath and work with us instead of against us. Your passion is for Nihonto, we all know that. But your methods are contrary to the spirit of enjoying collecting (or accumulating)
Sorry, but your posting privileges are now restricted and must be authorized by a mod. You don't leave me much choice. This "all or nothing, won't budge an inch" way of tackling the situation is not in line with common sense or decency.

 

Brian

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" As we know if the maker was indeed happy with this work then they would have signed it as was the practice in the Edo period, swords were mostly signed if they were made to the standards outlined and approved by the makers.

 

Dunno about that ?, see many good swords from the Edo period that are not signed,

 

 

Ps, Rayhan. Think i saw your collection a good while ago, to me, not as impressive as you may think, but all personal choice (if you get my point)

 

Buy what you like, good sword Paul.

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 'Snowflake' ,  The arrogance displayed in you letter beggars belief. Firstly you appear not to have the courage to identify yourself, hiding behind a pseudonym, and then proceed to dictate what somebody should buy and collect and finally denigrate a group of people who happen to meet to exchange their views and knowledge. By all means give someone the benefit of what I assume is your encyclopedic knowledge of swords if they ask for your advice, otherwise it is non of your business what someone chooses to spend their money on. You might note that this forum, and the ToKen Society of GB is dedicated to the study and preservation of Japanese swords, a term that embraces everything from the finest blades to the simplest tsuba. You say you can see great swords in museums and that is true if you have the time, money and opportunity to visit those museums. And even when you do, will the museum allow you to handle and examine the swords in sufficient detail or must you be content to limit what information you can glean by peering through the glass at those aspects of a sword that are visible? I am fortunate enough to have handled Kamakura armour and some of the treasures owned by Tokugawa Ieyasu, including his personal collection of blades, all of which sadly were damaged in a fire, but I have probably learned far more by sitting quietly in my study gazing at blades I have acquired without the unwanted advice of someone else. 

Ian Bottomley 

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The post by "Snowflake" is a calumny on any and all collectors.  That his presence on the Board began so well and degraded beyond the bounds of proper discourse so dramatically is distressing in the extreme.  To imagine that Paul's most interesting story should be maligned in this way is unbelievable, inexcusable and unacceptable.  That not all swords perceived as "good" were signed by their makers is a well-known, if perhaps apocryphal, accepted part of sword history - the "schema".  Are all mumei swords clearly made as utsushi to be consigned to the dustbin of history??  I think not.  Paul's sword, in fact, in one aspect bears a distinct trait of Ko Mihara swordsmiths.  I should know, I have two of them.

 

The greatest refutation of "Snowflake's" diatribe is that it is the ordinary but keen and studious collector who, in their persistent winnowing of swords "in the wild", may stumble over the next missing National Treasure, Juyo Bijutsu Hin, or important Daimyou sword, whether mumei or signed by the swordsmith.  I am aware of numerous examples in the West where this has occurred.  I doubt any Japanese sensei would be demure over the social status and methodology of the collector concerned.

 

It is fit and proper that "Snowflake" be consigned to the strictures of a moderated member. 

 

Barry Thomas.

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I do wonder what has soured you, Rayhan. Although we've never corresponded, I remember enjoying your posts, & am sorry that has changed 180 degrees. Rather have you back in the fold, but, if not possible, then depart, quietly, without forcing Brian to take sides.

 

Ken

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Ok, let's leave it at that and not create a pile-on since Ray cannot respond. Let's get back to discussion around Paul's original post.

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I’m going to try to tread lightly so as not to push my luck with Brian when he is clearly already dealing with a difficult situation... and please accept my comments with a grain of salt and a bit tongue and cheek as they go against what we usually speak of around here... but I’ve always wondered what should REALLY happen to the blades that collectors like Rayhan feel are beneath everyone? Should they be melted down?, used to chop weeds in the garden?, thrown in a pit?, can I sharpen them just for fun to see what happens? We tell people all the time around here to not touch ANY blades for good reason... but then we are told by our betters that these blades are useless and have no value... so should we REALLY care?

 

Did Rayhan never buy lesser blades? Was he always the perfect collector? And if he did, did he later destroy everything that was beneath his collectors sensibilities rather than inflict them on the great unwashed? Or did he sell them at the time?... and then have the added benefit to denigrate those that bought them for being uneducated? Being critical, dismissive and judgmental about the blades you want to collect is perfectly fine. Being critical, dismissive and judgmental about other people based on blades they have is rather... you fill in the blank.

 

I guess we seem to be a slob if we own them, a crooked thief if we sell them, uneducated if we discuss them, and clueless if we cast our gaze upon them. So what should happen to them? And what level blade is it finally ok to not worry you will get a kick in the nuts from the Illuminati?

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I think Mark that it stems from different underpinnings as to why people collect.

 

It's not my place or anyone else's to say what anyone should collect, but I think we can make observations on what people with particular goals actually do collect and if their purchases align with their goals long term.

 

I would guess that a part of the perceived elitism stems from the belief that this forum is devoted to collecting Nihonto. I would argue that it's actually much not inclusive than that.

 

There are people who collect swords in general, there are people who collect military and historical artifacts, there are art collectors and there are Nihonto collectors.

 

My belief is that most people who are true Nihonto collectors would be best served to buy papered blades which correspond well to established Japanese notions of assessment criteria. The so called 'lesser' blades are perfectly adequate for other types of collector. *By which I mean that they will likely be pleased with their purchases long term, not that they are deserving of a lesser standard.*

 

I also believe that Paul's blade in this thread is a special example and it would require Paul's level of knowledge (which most of us here lack) to make a properly informed assessment of the piece. Hence why the post was interesting and informative.

 

*I'm not meaning to imply any kind of heirachy of collectors, just trying to put labels on things for the sake of clarity. I would consider myself to be more of an art collector than a Nihonto collector.*

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Brian, I am sorry I did not see your ‘move on’ post before I posted my comment. If you feel the need to remove, please do. I meant no disrespect.

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Mark H

I am both I think. I have been interested in fine art since I was a 5 or 6 year old. I have been a collector of firearms n the past but only those relating to a specific period in history. But my overriding passion for the past 35 years or so has been Japanese swords. 

I do believe in aiming for as high as you can and that it is better to have a few outstanding pieces than many mediocre (as I keep boring everyone by telling them) But life is not that black and white. I have bought sculpture from contemporary artists such as David William-Ellis and Hamish Mackie but also carved wooden work from amateur sculptors because what they had made was attractive, skillful and pleasing.

Likewise with swords. I have a number of blades that I made considerable effort to acquire and they form a core collection of blades from a period I am particularly interested in. I also have several that are no where near that standard but have something of interest and merit. 

I do agree with Ray I see no merit in buying something just because it is cheap. There are always apparent bargains and they are usually that for a reason. However there are some that do not conform that are not top tier but that can still teach something (to me anyway).

What I am totally against and I think in line with Ray is when people oversell what they have, make unrealistic claims about them and take advantage of the inexperienced. Such practice in the long term is totally destructive and damaging to the subject. Regrettably it isn't unique to swords. 

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Makes a pleasant read Paul,

 

Nice to see an experienced collector buying a "not a commercially viable" sword and giving a reason why.

 

There is more to this hobby than trying to nail it with "a few outstanding pieces", a myriad of swords with differing details. Im ok with "good", opens more doors, like the sword you bought.

 

Known experienced folk with great collections, but not all their items are "great", but thats just collecting.

 

Sometimes, something attracts you for different reasons, 

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Textbook example for a nice well made and enjoying Katana from this period. Nice buy Paul  :thumbsup:

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What can I add that hasn’t been added. I agree with most of the posts above and think that there are swords for every collector and every level. I know that I like both Paul's story and sword. I also feel saddened that we’re losing the great knowledge of Ray because of reasons that elude me. I know that deep inside, he is a nice person and I fail to understand what is happening . Whatever is happening to you, Ray, I hope you sort it out and come back the great scholar you were and that we miss. As one other member would add:

 

Peace...

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As this is a gentlemanly/ gentlewomanly forum, unashamedly abrasive posts, disguised as analysis, are not great. Surely we want informed but free expression, in order to explore ideas.

 

Apologies if this is an obvious point. And I am partisan, Paul, thank you for all your work.

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I knew a reformed smoker who had the habit for 40 years. Once he had given up smoking whoe betide any other smokers around him. Dirty, smelly, disgusting Habit he used to say to other smokers he later met.

Perhaps it's a bit like this. The mediocre swords that were once beautiful become old junk as your education and tastes change. But then the others coming in at those "lower" levels see beauty and art.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I don't doubt many of my swords would be considered junk by some high end collectors but to me they give great joy.

If what you have brings you joy then how can anyone say this is wrong. Especially in such difficult and trying times when we must find enjoyment and inspiration wherever we can.

Almost everything I buy appealed to me in some way. But that's stating the obvious.

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To add I do not have the honour of knowing who the gentleman snowflake is but I do find that his attitude is counter productive to the community and our goal and expectations and it seems to be deliberated and posted to instigate conflict. Then the post sours considerably.

Far better that you just ignore the criticism.... and he may just go away.

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I think that's a vital point Adam. How long we expect to stick around and continue to learn about this subject.

 

We have the expression “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” but perhaps we should also have its inverse: “Start learning a new language or an instrument, and make small talk with a stranger, because life is long, and who knows what joy could blossom over many years’ time.”

 

When balancing favorite experiences and new ones, nothing matters as much as the interval over which we plan to enjoy them.

 

A sword doesn't need to be anything special to please someone who spends an hour looking around before buying and then brings it out once a decade for a few minutes to examine. But for someone who puts a few hundred hours into it, many of those pieces may become unacceptable.

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Oh I've only four swords and I bring them out every few days I really do get much enjoyment from just looking at them.

I diversified to tosogu a long while ago and I've been tempted to become what snowflake has ergo judgemental and possibly appear arrogant , but I resist because it's not right I allow my standards of craftmenship to judge anothers treasured items. Yet now I only see the beauty in a higher skill level in tosogu.I hope this doesn't come across wrong but if it does that's how one might interpret it if that was their mindset.

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This is Paul's post and I liked it a great deal. I hand it back for constructive comments

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Paul, regardless of what has been said. I think it is a perfectly fantastic blade and I would be happy to own a blade like it myself! I am very definitely on the low-end of things. I see blades that I like and can learn from that are in need of rescuing from their current situation. Everyone here knows I tend to find blades that are not in polish or papered (or they find me) but I find that they're worthy of saving. Once something historical is gone, its gone forever. I learn on a budget and I attempt to follow some common-sense financial and collecting rules to avoid getting burned. If I had been offered that blade like you were, I think I would have went for it too! (providing its within my shoestring teacher budget) :laughing:

 

No matter what 'tier' you collect, find joy in it and disregard those that disparage; they're probably just jealous or snooty.

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No matter what 'tier' you collect, find joy in it and disregard those that disparage; they're probably just jealous or snooty.

 

Sums it up for me Chris, although always take constructive criticism on the chin, we all need it sometimes.

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