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Kawa

Honesty in Selling or Collecting - For yourself and others

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I have been quite vocal on the NMB about certain practices I see that goes against the spirit of education that these types of forums and societies should be about when it comes to the collection of Nihonto and Tosogu. I get called names and berated for being a loudmouth anarchist so let me try an approach that perhaps goes above the intellect of most beginners and will no doubt ruffle the feathers of dubious sellers of which there are some online.

 

A note on collecting swords:

 

I began collecting swords some 20 years ago, in that time I had very little information on what a good Nihonto was and as a University student definitely did not have the budget to buy what I buy today. So, the inevitable happened, I went into martial arts, Kendo and Iaido which eventually led me to buy Chinese made Paul Chen swords and later Bugei versions of the same for Tameshigiri. I thought “What a great sword” later I was introduced to a fellow called Don Bayney who explained the difference between Nihonto and China made swords used for Tameshigiri. He showed me a traditionally forged Gendai blade and I immediately saw a difference in the steel, I was hooked. I couldn’t afford that sword so the next time I went around to his small store he had a Mantetsu waiting, rusted and in terrible shape he lauded its historical significance (even mentioned the railway) and then sold it to me, caked in rust for 250 British pounds. I was over the moon. Fast forward to today and I can say that the fact it took me 13 odd years to get woke about what a good Nihonto is, is a crime on the community and the only reason I am still into swords after being burned to a crisp for 13 years prior is because I know if you keep looking you will see and have the chance to buy great swords one day. It may only be one but if you keep at it you will get the one someday. To date the most I have shelled out on a Nihonto has been for my Fukuoka Ichimonji TJuyo which was considerably more than the Mantetsu all that time ago, Incidentally, I held onto the Mantetsu, eventually got it polished, found the right fittings for it, had it remounted and sold for 4500 USD (I should have put 250 GBP in Amazon quite frankly, but you know, hindsight).

 

In his article Collecting nihontō – what, how and who? The author Guido Schiller explains:

“The collector who boasts "I don't know anything about nihontō; I just buy what I like" makes a statement that is not very profound. Of course he buys what he likes. If he doesn't buy what he likes, what does he buy? If he doesn't buy what he likes, he had better not collect. The collector who doesn't know anything about nihontō will benefit by learning.”

The first step to collecting must and always will be learning. How do we learn if not by observing the mistakes of others and trying our best to ask the right questions in order not to make cock-ups. Learn, buy books and speak to those that have experience in order to learn so that you can build an internal library of what you envisage your collecting journey to be. The direction may change over time but that is OK, as long as the direction is onward and upward.

Collect as an investment, it is a rule I have always lived by and this rule teaches one to respect the hard decision. The hard decision is when someone who knows more than you tells you that you just bought a turd and no matter how much gold you try to dip it in, it is going to be at its core a turd. When an investment is going south and the analyst is telling you there is no means to recovery because of these fundamental facts you know you can either hang on for the ride down or you can cut the loss and put the money into something better later (or sooner) and the market always exists it just depends where you play in this market. Collecting as an investment also shows you respect yourself and your money. Even though I burn bridges I can acknowledge that on the NMB I have met great mentors and some real crooks to boot.

 

“Often dealers, and some collectors, too, advise neophytes in maxim form: "buy your

experience". It's a variant of "learn by your mistakes". They mean by this that the toll for

mistakes exacted by the purse makes the most unforgettable lesson of all. This advice

is tinged with cynicism. It is true, of course, that experience is a great teacher and we

must all learn from her, but there is no wisdom in buying first and discovering the

mistake second. As the Chinese sages reasoned, the experience by which one learns

need not be one's own. One can learn from the experiences of others and save oneself

costly errors. The capsule advice of the numismatists "buy the book before the coin" is

much sounder advice. The coin book distinguishes the genuine from the counterfeit

and gives dates, identification marks, and values. The coin collector avoids mistakes at

the small cost of the book and the time to study its pages. In the same way the cost of

a good library on nihontō is in most cases much less than that of the purchase of one

nihontō that was priced for fine quality, but was actually inferior.” Guido Schiller

 

NB: The cost of a good library will set you back up to 25K USD so take the direction in pace. What is possible is buying a good book or 2 every month.

There have been members on the board that state one should research before buying an item. Well research, knowledge is like financing, it is relative. The reason people come to the NMB is to be educated so if the sellers are selling one thing and teaching another well, that 13 year degree I have received kind of a mute decade to be honest. Research is important but more important is being taught how to research (will do something on that later)

There are elements to evaluating a good sword and these rules should be followed with conviction:

- is the Sugata right?

- Look at the Jigane and the condition of the steel

- Observe the Hamon

- Look at the condition of the Nakago

 

On the Sugata the sword is the sum of all, all, its parts and that includes the Nakago and the Mei should it have one. Never say that the Nakago of a sword is not important, it is the fundamental area that rests in the hands of any warrior and their mark is left on it for generations.

When it comes to value and should you be paying X or Y for said sword that has its own scale. For example to make the field level we should look at what makes an item of antiquity valuable:

 

https://www.sothebys.com/en/series/the-value-of-art

 

Do not take my word for it, above are detailed rationale from the industry experts.

In my next post I would like to talk about Suriage swords and then about Mumei swords. I hope I have not ruffled too many feathers.

 

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Ray, 

 

That was a very interesting post and I’m eager to read more. However, we have a main point of disagreement about investment. You make it clear in your book and I know a lot of people  agree on that point . I collect other stuff than swords, much less expensive and see also many collectors with "investment" in mind.

 

That is really something I don’t share. For me, a collection is first and foremost a hobby and a pleasure. In my other collecting area, sculpting is important. Although my family situation prevents me from sculpting anymore, I was rather good at it. Some people were as or more talented than me and did sculpts they sold for $100. Now, these weren’t the original sculpts but casts from the original. I always thought they were thieves. I was doing the same, selling casts, at cost for $25, shipping included worldwide and was still making 5 to 10 dollars. 
 

The reason for this example? For me, this was a hobby, not a run for money. I consider that when a hobby becomes a business, you change. You don’t do it anymore for pleasure but in your head, even if the pleasure is still there, it also becomes a financial issue.

 

I'm not an advanced, knowledgeable collector as you know. I won’t ever have the money you have spent in swords. I would probably lose some if I sold my swords or just come out even, but that’s not important. I did get them because of love, and frankly, selling even my first mistake would feel like parting with a side of myself. We learn from our mistakes. That first mistake is here, with me, as a constant reminder, and never mind if that sword was just a run down Showato. I still love it because when I hold it, it reminds me what I felt that day when I got it. I was Indiana Jones with the Grail in his hands. Memories don’t have a price. Money has to be secondary to a passion.

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Well Jp You cover a lot of ground in your statement. However, imagine this scenario:

 

1) You still keep your first purchase, the one that ignited your passion

2) You learn and learn (and at the same time you save and save) remember I say 13 years

3) after you have saved you buy something even better in provenance, quality and condition ....

 

Is this scenario incorrect to propose?

 

Everything in my life is an investment, but remember the definition of investment to you is different to the definition of investment to me, so we can share a common ground in that we are different

 

 

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We all pay our "dues" one way or another.

Rich

 

P.S. I still have my first Nihonto 🙂

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I can go with that, Ray,

 

I was just thinking investment in a monetary way when it’s also investment in learning, in a passion. That is absolutely correct. And you are right. So far, my meager collection is more and more a case of selection. But I think that one of the most important incentive is in fact something that isn’t related to knowledge or money  (though both are necessary to achieve it): purpose.

 

I started collecting haphazardly, buying, as you said, "what I liked". Until I saw what Jean and you had achieved, which gave a purpose to my collection. I will never be able to afford Juyo material, nor do I really care. Jean wanted to have an example of each tradition, you have a collection that covers the whole sword history spectrum. Now, what I’m striving to do modestly is something like that, a sword from roughly every period or typical of an era. I’m almost there. It won’t be THE collection, just mine, but the purpose has given it a way to follow. I enjoy it for what it is. I’m missing the earliest parts (I will never be able to afford Heian , Kamakura and Nanbokucho, but I’d be satisfied with an ō-suriage transitional Bizen Kamakura/Nanbokucho) but I’ll save it as the last because I don’t know how I will ever afford it.

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I think this is the scenario of quantity over quality and vice versa, but I may be mistaken. 

Linear example. 

If you had twenty average swords and they were each worth $2500 you have $50,000 to buy one or two good quality blades. 

However depending on your mindset which would give you the more enjoyment. 

That is the measure of each collector. 

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Correct Adam, and if one sees one amazing high quality sword, they will go home and have a stiff drink to drown the sorrows of the 20 bad ones, even if they do not admit it.

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You are both correct.

 

But I don’t think I’m the same kind of collector as you are. You obviously are art collectors. I am not. I’m a history collector. For me, what the sword has been through is as important, even more important than its quality. I see a lot of Juyo swords on the web. They are beautiful, but are they really that more beautiful? What makes the difference is who made the,, who possessed it, etc... and let’s face it, you never see a Juyo that belonged to Samurai X, it’s always a great warrior, a Daimyo, from a great name...

 

To me, it doesn’t matter that much. When I teach history at school, I always like to try and establish a relationship between my students and History . I show Them objects, tell them everyday life stories of that time. I try and make History alive by mixing it with Storytelling. I think that when a link is established, things get more personal and relatable.

 

For me, swords are the same. I’m a dreamer. I far prefer a simple koshirae with iron fittings to a gilded, adorned Tsuba and saya. Those speak more of everyday's life, of Everyman.

 

But don’t you think that this is the beauty of a hobby? We are all here, sharing the same love for swords, but for different reasons. You get to meet people with an incredible knowledge in art, or steel properties, or the knowledge of stamps for the WW2 collector. This is just like being a kid in a candy store here. Everyone can get his helping of his favorite sweet and compare.

 

This is also why we need to respect everyone's view or opinion here. No one is right or wrong, we all see different perspectives of a same passion.

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We almost all start this way, unless privileged. I look at tosogu in a different way than I used to and once you have seen a lift in quality it's impossible to go back. Buy one high quality piece and your other pieces pale into insignificance.

I still "buy what I like" stating the obvious.

It's just what I like is of a higher quality now.

I do know that even what I have collected, in even higher collectors  circles would be considered relatively tat.

 

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Our dearly departed friend, Arnold Frenzel, would often participate in discussions about the economics of buying swords, swords as an investment and the importance of liking what you buy.  For those that don't remember him, his NMB handle was seattle1.  Worth doing a search, as he had sage advice.  One thing that he always said is that buying swords is not an investment, and one's motivation should be from the joy that owning whatever swords, schools or makers you like should be the main motivation.  

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Bob, I beg to differ. I think one can combine acquisition of what one likes with these “likes” being sound investment pieces. In your statement you ignore the timing and evolution factors, which is what Ray and Adam refer to.

In essence, with the passage of time and evolution of one’s taste, one tends to go after more sophisticated pieces, which tend to hold their value better. Commodity, commonplace items just do not hold value so well. To some, extent this is affected by the fact that this is a “zero sum game” since the number of old swords is finite (this excludes shinsakuto, which are still being forged). 

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I treat my nihonto hobby as both a passion and an investment. My rule is to generally make sure I do not pay for more than half of what I believe I can reasonably sell for later. However, I have made exceptions for things that truly inspire my interest and I cannot let slip by (my uchigatana being a prime example) or pieces where the value in learning from them justifies the cost. Even when treating this as an investment, I still get great enjoyment out of it. Though sometimes, I have to use my rule of buying as a way of reminding myself that I need to temper my appetite and let certain blades go and for the most part, it has helped me avoid costly mistakes.

 

Do I feel pangs of regret in sometimes letting a fairly-priced piece slip by? Yes. But, later I look back and think to myself, "It was the right call." Living on an income that is nowhere near the caliber of the cost of high value pieces means I must adopt these buying rules if I want to enjoy my hobby; otherwise I would spend 10 years before I could afford a higher-end piece, something that would ultimately quell my interest in the hobby. Someday, perhaps I will get lucky and discover the juyo-quality piece hiding in some grandfather's closet like I sometimes see spring up here. That's the dream, isn't it?

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Buy what you like, tempered by what you can afford. Sooner or later you will no longer be here, you will be gone and the collection will be dispersed. Do what you enjoy under the circumstances you are in, your life will probably have greater quality to you and you may even live longer.  :)

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Honesty and collecting, is that even possible?

The first step towards honesty would be to say: no! As a collector, I have to know that emotions and passion are valuable, but unfortunately also dangerous companions. They can blind you and trick you into lying to yourself.

Then there is money, a lot of money. An explosive mix!

Then there is greed, status, recognition. Some things affect you more, some things affect you less. But it affects you.

Knowledge is important, but relative. Even after 30 years I sometimes have a blade in front of me and a big question mark over me.

But even 30 years are relative.  About 20 years ago I called a collector near me whom I didn't know personally before. I was interested in meeting. The first thing he told me on the phone was that he has been collecting for 25 years. On site I quickly realized that he had actually been collecting for a long time. He also had a high opinion of his swords. In fact, he knew next to nothing, unfortunately, only what others had said about some of his swords. For example, as soon as I took a closer look at a particular blade, I noticed his suspicion.
Well that was 20 years ago and this collector has been collecting for 45 years. As I hear from him now and then, I know that he hasn't really developed since then.

But do I really have the right to judge it? Everyone pursues this hobby for a variety of reasons. And may everyone be happy with it in his own way.

My goal was less to collect, but to study the Nihonto. I hated getting three different opinions from three different "professionals".
 
So I had to study and, above all, train my eye. Yes, books are good, but they are of limited help in the beginning. That's why I don't like the often read phrase "buy yourself books first".
It is more important to see blades. Lots of blades, and especially good blades. I did that at meetings of the NBTHK EB. I'd seen a lot of blades before, but they weren't the same. It was like a revelation!
 
I started all over again and really began to learn.
But in addition to "seeing" it is damn important to "let your pants down" and fill out and hand in your Kantei slip of paper. I learned a lot here, especially when I was wrong. But Mr. Hagenbusch always tried to deduce why you wrote down xy although it was yz.
But unfortunately this Kantei game was not always popular with other members.

Yes, I have collected. I was a hunter. I had good pieces and wanted better ones. I was never really satisfied. That´s the dark side...
But more than 10 years ago I made a cut and sold almost everything.
That gives me a freedom that I don't want to miss anymore! I enjoy seeing good blades and continuing to learn. I don't have to "own" it anymore. It gives me a certain unpredictability in judging blades.

But in the end I want to be honest here too. You can't get rid of the virus. And when I see good blades, the little devils on my shoulder give everything.
So much for passion and emotions.
That was a couple of thoughts from me. Please excuse my bad english!
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Thomas S, 

 

1. Your English is perfect.

 

2. Michael Hagenbusch had one of the best European collections, built with the help of top Japanese dealers like Kurokawa san and Iida san. He was also chairman of NBTHK EB and very close to the NBTHK Honbu and knew a lot through those associations. 
I am sure you learnt a lot from seeing his collection and it is a pity it was recently dispersed.  I wish I could have seen it, but it was a bit before my time and I also did not travel to Germany for these sessions (work, family, etc) despite being a member. 

3. Your pursuit of better and better blades is understandable. It is like an addiction - once you “know” quality and your eyes can detect it, you tend to gravitate to it. Unfortunately that is often proportional to financial stress. That is where the shrewdness, careful planning and budgeting and trying not to lose (too much) money, which the original post implied, all come into play. Of course, often this comes with experience. 
 

4. I believe one can be honest and be a good collector or member of such forums and societies. It is better that way, even if one makes less money. Works from a collector point of view but less so (if at all) from a dealer point of view, even though it is practised by some dealers.  Sometimes lines get blurred and collectors become dealers and vice versa.
 In other words, honesty and integrity might become challenging when people aim to consistently and repeatedly generate profits from trading swords, as that is not (always) possible if you are a collector (since usually there are at least a couple of dealers’ profit margins embedded in the price you have paid, save for the exceedingly and increasingly rare military veteran bring-backs). 
 

5. I think the most liberating act is to realise that a moment comes when one’s taste and knowledge far exceed one’s financial ability. Then it becomes futile to chase all the great blades and is more imperative to study and view items even when they belong to others and museums. Having a few good items does not shackle you. What mentally fetters one is the “hunting”, the obsession with owning, the instinct to accumulate and hoard, the desire to spend when one has a few spare £/€/$/¥ (i.e. “itchy hands”). That is when mistakes can creep in. 
 

The above are merely my perspectives and others can approach the subject very differently. Overall, what always prevails is consistent studying and self-improvement, which should mitigate chances of being “mislead” inadvertently or deliberately by others. 

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Ray raises very interesting points and discussion with the opening post. I do agree that it would be very important to be able to recognize the pitfalls that might trap new people entering the hobby, as they are few in number it would be good to keep as many in the hobby as we can. I do agree that we as a community should do the best we can to educate people entering this hobby but it is also a two way street as people need to be open to receiving information as well.

 

I understand the point Ray is making about being more vocal when seeing bad and wrongly represented deals. I think it is noble act to correct the wrongs. Unfortunately I am quite neutral person and would rather only answer about those if asked. Asking advice or chatting is free and it can create relationships. I do often feel I dislike the financial part of the hobby. I think we as collectors sometimes are too fixed on what something is valued at market and we get caught up on pricing so it overrides and actual item. I think Ray wrote a good bit in another topic about "cheap for Jūyō" and you could also have "cheap for smith/school" there too, while it could be possibility that the seller has severely underpriced their item, you should also research how that particular item is within similar reference work. And yes I have been quilty of that several times, and will be in the future too. Often when browsing Japanese sites I might encounter an item that seem to be too cheap for certain attribution/attribution level. I know that I might be able to possibly make a small profit in reselling some of them, I do feel that is a risk I will not want to take as I would not have true studying or collecting purpose behind them, as that would be almost purely financial potential buy.

 

I do must say that "commodity" items are a difficult to navigate through. There are thousands of these average swords being offered for sale all the time. You can collect the average stuff there is nothing wrong with that but I do think there should be some idea behind collecting, as I do think Ray was meaning with envisaging the journey. There are lots and lots of interesting mid-level items but you need to find items you have interest in and reasoning why you are interested in them. One problem is if you don't do your research first and buying is so easy in todays world if you have money, you are jumping in the water and letting sellers help you out, so it will be extremely important to know who to trust. I think Ray is trying to make sure newcomers or even experienced collectors don't get taken advantage of in the process. There is almost "endless" supply of low-mid tier commodity items and someone is making profit in every sale and majority of times it is not the buyer...

 

As for books, I cannot really say how I feel about recommending them to new collectors. I am a sword book collector and my books surpass my swords by large. I would agree what Thomas is saying that seeing swords in person is good for newcomers (well good for everyone), then after a bit if collecting interest is still going strong you can start to get deeper and deeper into the hobby and hopefully find a direction you wish to pursue.

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So Rayhan (Kawa now?), you beat the drum for honesty in sales and collecting - sounds very good and noble.  Do you follow your own advice?  When you find a sword that is a bargain, do you tell the seller that it is under priced (before purchasing) or that he or she has missed something in evaluating the sword?  Don't you have the same obligation of integrity that you are preaching from your soapbox to everyone else including sellers (whether dealers, old Veterans, flee market  sellers, pawn shop owners, etc.)?  I'm not a dealer or seller (nor am I beholden to any of them), but I am getting tired of your pretentious sermons and disruptions of a Board that already has a good ethos.

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George,

 

We all experienced what happened the other time. It’s left bruises, more than What shows on the board, and I was one of the targets for a moment. But why not say this is water under the bridge and start over as if nothing had happened, this is an entertaining subject, it shows the diversity of ideas on this board and all of them feel legit to me. And it’s really interesting to see how we all have a different approach to the subject, the money, the knowledge, the way of learning, all this tempered by opportunities we create or experience. Let’s be positive! 🍻

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Dear JP,

 

You play by those rules (of accepting diversity of thought) and so do I, but unfortunately Rayhan (Kawa) does not.  It is clear, to him it is his way or none at all - that's what I can't stand.  Everyone else started over but he's still doing the same thing.  I think that you know me from many years on the NMB - I always try to help out.  However, I'm getting tired of him trying to ruin our community and speak down to us like he's special - he is not special that is clear by his behavior.

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What I don't understand here, is that if a person does not like the context of a post, they don't have to read it.

It's not like someone has a gun against their head.

 

But then if they do read it and after reading something they don't like, that ultimately, by their own words is never going to affect them, they feel the need to vent off and respond in a non constructive way, then surely you must ask what exactly is Wrong with Them .

I think this is an interesting conversation that's why I'm following it.

Those that do not, can certainly go read another post. You are not under any obligation to read or respond.

Just like me.

 

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Look guys, I know full well what happened and where we are. I am trying to judge where we are going, and it would be nice if people wouldn't instigate. I agree some were attacked, and some unfairly treated.
I would ask people to just sit this one out for now while I work out the way forward. Consequences...there will have to be some. But now is not the time.

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Uh I don't think I know what happened Brian. 

It might help if I did or are we talking snowflake?

 

I still say we don't have to read what we don't like or comment on it. 

Healthy debate is a way of enhancing knowledge. 

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Yes it is me, and I make no apology for what happened. The practice of posting bad items for sale here and allowing them to be bought is a separate issue and if action needs to be taken, please take it. However, I still believe that this is a place where people come for information and it should be given in the correct way without collusion and definitely not behind closed doors through messages, etc. I am not trying to ruin a community, just call out the bad apples who are profiting from your community. There should be a seperate discussion on if I should be allowed on here, start a poll and vote me in or off?

 

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I'm sorry everyone but if done correctly and without aggression I agree with Ray.

 

I know it's controversial and I've had plenty of nasty PM's about my opinions but we do need to be very careful what we say in our sales.

 

I've contacted by PM and got the non committal reply that indicated the seller was apt to allow a potential buyer to think an item signed as never investigated or quite possibly”right".The price certainly sat between Gimei and genuine papered examples to enhance this perception of belief.

I have even bought whilst in hand an item as part of a deal where the seller has stated to my face a Goto item has never been checked out.

I knew he was lying the quality was just not their, but the deal was good, the Gimei a bonus for mounting on a less desirable blade..

It is the less experienced I worry about.

They listen and learn from everything in these forums .

 

Anyway I digress, so back to the subject matter.

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Adam, your thoughts and opinions are welcome, but please resist the urge to respond to every post or thread. We know the usual outcome of that here.
Less is more.
As for Ray..there won't be any poll. It's simple. Your opinions and posts are welcome as long as they remain per the last few. We are happy to listen to advice and commentary from those with access to fine swords.
But the second you (or anyone) crosses that line like last time and starts insulting people or handing out pure vitriol, I will be testing this forums lovely moderating and ban controls.
But you have toned it down and I beg you to continue on this vein. I'd rather have you here. But if you insult people (or they insult you) I won't hesitate.
Let's see if everyone is able to rein in their emotions.

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Posting items for sale on here is perhaps the fairest platform available, as anyone who senses something wrong or suspect will speak out on it. Unlike a website/auction site/ebay etc. etc. where if your item is suspect/ludicrously priced or simply fake it will probably not sell. Here it will not sell and you will also have every man and his dog tearing it apart with gleeful zeal and quickly find yourself a proverbial leper in the community.    

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John is right. A quick look at the Muramasa tanto for sale is the proof of it.

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13 hours ago, 16k said:

John is right. A quick look at the Muramasa tanto for sale is the proof of it.

Damn, I was just about to buy that Muramasa tanto... 🤣

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